In Search of a Better Country

Prayer Contra Gentiles

Now when you are praying, do not babble like the Gentiles, for they think that in their many words they will be accepted. Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:7–8

The Pharisees pray to be seen by men. The Gentiles pray to be seen by no one at all. Their prayers are mindless babbling, having no thought, no wisdom, no content of any significant value at all. They are mosquitos in the ear of God, and they hope that by their continual buzzing he might become annoyed enough to respond. Pharisees pray to God without a heart, but the Gentiles pray to God without a brain.

There must be thinking that informs prayer, and thinking of the right sort. For the Pharisees thought about their words, but these words were designed to impress. Prayer is not rhetoric. Instead, prayer considers what words befit the character of God. Neither the Pharisees nor the Gentiles understood who God is.

This is why Jesus responds with, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” In this clause lies a world of theology. We see God’s omniscience in his knowledge of all unspoken requests. We see his omnipotence in divine power inclined to need. We see his immanence in his ability to draw near, and his benevolence in his willingness to do so. And most significantly, we see his intimacy as he identifies himself as Father. It is this knowledge that we carry with us into our prayers.