October Reverend Reflections

Hello First Presbyterian Church,

In our vision statement we have specified that over the next five years we will cultivate an awareness of God’s presence in our lives through a renewed engagement in the spiritual discipline of prayer. I have been thinking about this recently and I want to encourage you in this effort to pursue frequency of prayer and not length. This is my recommendation because it appears to be the recommendation of Jesus himself. Jesus is not interested in long, elaborate prayers. Longer prayers full of emotion are not more effective than shorter prayers sincerely spoken. In fact, Jesus openly discourages the longer, emotional variety of prayer in Matthew 6:7-8.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” 

Jesus then proceeds to give them the Lord’s Prayer in the next verse—in Matthew 6:9—and it is telling that the Lord’s Prayer is a relatively short and succinct prayer. In Luke’s gospel he tells them, “Pray this prayer.” In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is teaching us what to pray. He gives us a specific prayer to pray that we notably did not create. In Matthew’s gospel, however, Jesus gives the disciples the Lord’s prayer and he tells them to, “Pray like this.”  Jesus, then, is also telling us how to pray. We are to pray short and sincere prayers.

In both Matthew and Luke Jesus echoes the sentiment of Ecclesiastes 5.

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.”

Let your words before God be few, but let them be frequent. In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of a persistent widow. The purpose of this story is told beforehand. Luke 18 reads, “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” The purpose of this story is to encourage frequency and constancy in prayer. The story goes like this:

“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’”

This promotion of frequency and constancy in prayer is promoted elsewhere in Scripture as well. 

In Romans 12 we are told, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

In Ephesians 6 we are told, “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints […]”

In Colossians 4 we are told, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5 it is just, “Pray without ceasing […]”

Clearly God desires frequency and constancy in prayer and not length. It is also clear that He desires that your frequent prayers be made in a spirit of reverence and sincerity rather than a show of emotion and passion. Jesus prescribed a prayer for us that is difficult to pray in any animated way, but it’s because he is not concerned with animation. He is looking for humility and reverence from those who approach him with requests. 

This is not to say that emotion will be absent from all sincere prayers. Rather God is not influenced by feeling or rhetoric, but by faith and reverence. In Hebrews 5 we are told that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” Jesus expressed strong, demonstrable emotion in his prayers, and yet the verse goes on to tell us that his emotions were not the reason his prayers were answered. The verse continues, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” 

It was reverence that made his prayers acceptable. His reverence was accompanied by great emotion and sincerity and so God listened.

As we seek to fulfill our vision of cultivating a sense of God’s presence through a renewed engagement in the spiritual discipline of prayer, I pray that you would pray without ceasing and with words that are few yet reverential and sincere. 

Grace and peace,
Jonathan +