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Sometimes all we can pray are simple prayers, and that is okay.
As a Christian, I think it can often be perceived that our prayers need to look a certain way. Some say they have to follow a certain formula. Others believe your eyes have to be closed, and your hands have to be in your lap. Most believe that prayer needs to end with the words “Amen.” But recently, God has been redefining my view of prayer not by complicating things, but by simplifying them.
A Simplified Prayer
In Matthew 6:5-8 of the New Living Translation, it is clear that prayer is important to Jesus. Not only does He partake of it Himself, but He gives us the Lord’s Prayer as a model. What many may miss, however, is the simplicity of the verses prior to that model.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 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, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8, New Living Translation).
When I used to read this verse, I struggled to see how hypocrites could relate to us today. Sadly, they are more common to society than we’d wish they’d exist.
Where Is Your Heart?
The simplicity of these statements is the heart behind them.
While the hypocrites were great at long-winded public prayers, Jesus explained that many of them knew nothing about a personal, intimate, and flourishing relationship with Him. This is why Jesus said that the best kind of prayer is a private prayer that does not babble on and on, but tells God honestly what you need. The Passion Translation of those same verses says it this way:
“Whenever you pray, be sincere and not like the pretenders who love the attention they receive while praying before others in the meetings and on street corners. Believe me, they’ve already received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your innermost chamber and be alone with Father God, praying to him in secret. And your Father, who sees all you do, will reward you openly. When you pray, there is no need to repeat empty phrases, praying like the Gentiles do, for they expect God to hear them because of their many words. There is no need to imitate them, since your Father already knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8, The Passion Translation).
While prayer does not have to be in your room with the door shut, it is in the quiet, focused, and sacred spaces that the Lord is able to communicate with us the best. Not because we are necessarily isolated, but because then we aren’t focused on what others are thinking if they see us, we are merely focused on what Christ sees coming from within us.
What He Desires
The most beautiful thing about simple prayers is not that they are simple or come from the heart, but that they are what Christ desires of us. Many times when I go to approach prayer I feel frustrated because I feel like I need to say the perfect words. Or, if I do speak what is really on my heart and in my mind, I am so stressed and anxious that I feel like I cannot concentrate. But by recognizing that God doesn’t ask for perfect words or a perfect mind to communicate with Him, I can begin to hear Him more clearly. I can begin by talking to Him right where I am, as I am.
It is through prayers like, “Lord, help me,” “God, I am not okay,” “Jesus, I need you,” “God, I am so overwhelmed,” that I know He sees me, hears me, loves me, and knows me. He is not ashamed of my simple prayers, nor is He judging me for them. He desires to hear from me, and if I speak to Him in simple prayers, that is better than speaking the same line ten thousand times just to look like I am spiritual.
The True Heart of Prayer
The true heart of prayer does not look like posting winded sermons on Facebook, quoting Scripture on Instagram, or praying loudly at family dinners. Sure, God can use each of those things to work through and in you, and surely He works in our prayers, but my point is this:
The true heart of prayer begins with raw, simple, honest, and unperfected prayers. It begins in the surrender of, “Lord, help me,” or the brokenness of, “God I am not okay.” It thrives in, “Jesus, I need you,” and, “God, I am so overwhelmed.”
In Matthew 23:14 of the Amplified Version, the Scriptures state that one of the eight woes Jesus has against the Pharisees is their bad habit of praying long prayers just to appear “Christian” to others.
“[Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you swallow up widows’ houses, and to cover it up you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation]” (Matthew 23:14, Amplified Version).
While some early translations do not include this verse, I believe that its importance remains: We cannot cover nasty hearts with long prayers any more than we can cover insincere prayers with length. It is the heart of our prayer that God looks at, not the length, audience, volume, voice, or pitch. It is the way we showed that heart towards others, not the number of Scriptures we quoted to look good along the way.
There is Hope
Today, I want to encourage you before you make that post, quote that Scripture, or pray that mundane and routine prayer, to think about the condition of your heart and the motive behind your prayer.
If you are posting to get likes or look good to others as the Pharisees did, I want to motivate you to take a step back and ask the Lord to work on your heart. It is more important to be right with God than to look right to those whose opinions really don’t matter.
If you are praying a mundane and routine prayer that you don’t know why you are saying what you are saying, but feel like you have to, I also encourage you to tell God that. Tell Him you are struggling. Tell Him you want your prayer life to be more than a list. I know this is something I am even working on in my prayer life!
But because I know that God would rather hear my simple prayers than regurgitated ones I have no recollection of saying, I am more inclined to speak frequently and honestly with Him. I know that God would rather hear my simple prayers from my broken heart than see that I could quote a thousand Scriptures. I know that God would rather I truly love those around me than merely appear as a Christian on social media. I know that God would rather I talk to Him like a friend than as a stranger.
And at the end of my life, I want to know that my prayers mattered. That my prayers were honest, broken, raw, sincere, and real.
That my prayers were broken pleas, heartfelt cries, and fragmented realities.
That my prayers were less than beautiful on the surface, but worth gold to the One who desperately heard them from within.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:13, English Standard Version).