“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
Have you ever been at a Christian meeting of some sort and the person praying turned into the Energizer Bunny and just kept going and going and going? I’m not offering up any judgment about the person’s heart, but I wonder if God ever thinks to Himself, “Enough, already! I got it!”
Or how about those cute, memorized prayers? “Good food, good meat, good God let’s eat!” Perhaps this one will ring a bell: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray my soul the Lord to take.” I always thought that one was depressing. I think my family used this one when I was a kid: ” God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands, we are fed. Thank you for our daily bread.”
For young children these may be fine, but do you really think God wants us to talk to Him this way? Would you want YOUR children to talk to you this way? Of course you wouldn’t, and that is the point of today’s passage.
My wife grew up Catholic so she did a lot of repetitive prayers, and the Bible does not explicitly denounce those, but it does if they are not from the heart (babbling). The famous pastor C.H. Spurgeon said, “Quality not quantity; truth, not length.” Whether you are Catholic or Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian, we can all fall into the trap of lengthy prayers or repetitive prayers that have little or no value because they are not from the heart but from a guilty conscience or some mundane sense of duty. Even the “Lord’s Prayer” can fall into this category when our hearts are not in it. Motive matters, and this is what Jesus is calling to our attention.
Are all long prayers wrong? Is all repetition wrong? No, but both of them take us into dangerous waters where we can easily move from conversation to meaningless babble. Our friends may be impressed, but God isn’t.