Jesus taught his disciples saying, “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask” (Matthew 6:7-8).
The problem with the “Gentile” way of praying is not that they use words, or even a lot of them. The problem is that
- the words are empty (jabbering on with no connection to the heart), and
- the words are a tactic to get God to listen (revealing a false assumption about who God is).
We know the problem isn’t simply having words to pray, because Jesus goes on to give his disciples a liturgy to guide their prayers. Any liturgy can become “empty words”, of course, but that’s not necessarily the fault of the liturgy itself. Liturgy isn’t empty or full, alive or dead. Liturgy can be good or bad, but it’s the person praying that determines whether the words are empty or not.
So Jesus teaches his disciples, and us, to pray simply, according to this pattern (liturgy), trusting that God is not a busy bureaucrat who must be pestered sufficiently before we’ll be heard, but rather a Father in heaven who already knows what we need, is already paying attention to us, eager to care for us and meet our needs.