Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
‘For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’
Jesus said: When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.
Given the choice, are you a ‘quantity’ person, or a ‘quality’ person? Do you like to count and measure things, or do you prefer that which is more subjective? You do not have to search very far before you find many quotes that place quality in a commanding lead in the choice between quantity and quality. Jesus’ words that open today’s reading could be placed amongst them.
Today we hear Jesus giving us his perfect model for prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is a succinct compendium of intercessory prayer. Within its well-known phrases there are prayers of worship and praise, prayers of hope, prayers of need, prayers of forgiveness, and prayers of deliverance. In its brevity the Lord’s Prayer demonstrates the discrete value of ‘quality’ over the brute force of ‘quantity’.
Today’s reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount. It is situated in the midst of Jesus’ teaching on almsgiving, prayer and fasting. It sits comfortably alongside Jesus’ teaching that our relationship with God should be personal and private, and not a matter of public show.
In my ministry I have encouraged many to take on the role of intercessor in the context of public worship. Very often that invitation has been received with a sense of trepidation, even fear. As we have talked about how intercessions should be led it has not been unusual for me to hear of others whose eloquent verbosity has been seen as setting a gold standard in public prayer. Today Jesus makes it clear that that is not the way in which we should pray, and neither is it the way in which we should lead others in prayer.
When today’s reading is put back into context (Matthew 6.1-18) it is possible for us to see that our prayer should be direct and conversational, as with a loving parent. Rather than focusing on fancy language, possibly of another age, we just need to take our praise, our hope, our needs, our desire for forgiveness and deliverance from evil to God in the simplest of terms. Then we need to pause, in silence, and listen for God speaking to us.
And when we are tongue-tied and don’t know what to say … Well, there is always the perfect model to follow … the Lord’s own Prayer!