“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them…” (Matthew 6:7-8)
Jesus warns us against praying like the ‘pagans’ - like the nations or people-groups who don’t know God. These people pray and perform religious rites. To our shame, they can sometimes be more devoted than Christians are! We must be careful that we don’t learn from them. One tenet is the belief that quantity and volume will give us spiritual success. A great example of this is when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal,
‘Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.’ (1 Kings 18:26-29)
Many Christians believe that praying ‘morning till noon…shouting…dancing around…shouting louder…physical discomfort…frantic prophesying’ are marks of outstanding prayer. Jesus, however, makes it clear that true prayer is simply coming to the Father.
This is not to dismiss passion and perseverance. However, our confidence that our prayers are heard are in Jesus’ righteousness - gifted to us by faith - which gives us access to the Father.
‘Babble’ (Greek Battalogeō) means to pour out words without our minds and hearts being properly engaged. Babbling can be used like a hammer in order to try to bang our will into being God’s will. Babbling is a sign that you don’t trust that your Father loves you and will meet your needs.
What Jesus forbids is any kind of prayer when the mind and heart are not engaged.
Are we engaging our minds when we pray? Are we praying with sincerity in public and in private?
Here’s a great text which speaks of what we are doing in prayer and the way that we should think about it,
'Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings…’ (1 Corinthians 10:19-22)