And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
(Matthew 6: 7-8 – NAS)
One would think that for a religious tradition that included rants to the Divinity, such as the Book of Job, there would be little danger of prayers with “meaningless repetition.” But Jesus takes a moment to address that matter. And if we consider that Jesus is God Incarnate, there is a certain humorous irritation in this statement from Him.
God, it seems, gets “tired” of our need to fill in the empty spaces with sound, especially sounds that are repeated endlessly without real meaning from us.
In meditation practices that have been influenced by Hinduism, there is the tradition of using the word “OM” for the purposes of focus, to shut out the distractions around the person meditating. The mantra "OM" is considered to be the name of God, the vibration of the Supreme. The Sanskrit name for the syllable is from a root word meaning "to shout, sound,” or "to make a humming or droning sound." (Thank you, Wikipedia.) What an amusing contrast to Jesus’ statement in these verses. The most popular meditative word simply means “to make a droning sound.” Talk about meaningless repetition!
And surely none of us fall into that practice in our prayers!
“Father God ... Great God ... Lord ... Father God ... Jehovah Jireh ... Father God ... Lord ... Lord ... Lord... Lord, Lord, Lord.”
I have from time to time been in small prayer circles where at least one person’s prayers are filled with such declarations. And though I believe their prayers are indeed lifted up in sincerity, I have often felt that the person praying that way includes names and titles for the Lord more like audible punctuation than direct address.
“Father God (address) help me Lord (punctuation-period) I need you so much Lord (punctuation-comma) for everything is going wrong. Oh Lord (address) be with my friends also Father God (punctuation-comma) especially Friend X Lord (punctuation-comma) who needs your healing Jehovah Jireh (punctuation-period) Lord (address) be with us every day Father God (punctuation-comma) wherever we go Father (punctuation-comma) whatever we do Lord (punctuation-period)”
When we speak to someone face-to-face, do we ever use that person’s name that much in conversation?
“Susan! I’ve really wanted to talk with you, Sue, about this event coming up, Susie. Ms. Bryant, you’re really important to the event, Sue, and Susan we just can’t do it without you. Susan Marie Bryant, we just have to have you on board for the event, Sue, because, Sue, you’re the only one who can make it work, Susan. So Ms. Bryant, please say yes, Sue, say you will be there on Saturday, Sue. Bless you, Susan.”
No. I don’t think we do talk that way to someone when we are face-to-face with them. Then why do we do it to God?
I think part of it comes from our enthusiasm in having the privilege of addressing God directly. One of the Ten Commandments declares “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” This has led to the disapproval of using the name of God in cursing someone, certainly. But it was also intended to keep people from “name-dropping” without significance. The ancient Hebrews took this so very seriously that they would not speak the name of God at all, making it blasphemy to speak the Holy Name aloud in general public. As a result, they came up with a number of circumlocutions, creating titles for God that spoke to His various attributes instead of His whole being.
But Jesus has told us we can be intimate with God, that we can call him Abba, “Father.” Which brings us back to the matter of general “meaningless repetition” in prayer. He tells us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” With that level of intimacy between us and the Lord, shouldn’t our prayers be as direct, immediate, and personal as possible?
This is not to say that repetition itself is out of place. God knows that sometimes our hearts are so full of some concern that we cannot stop ourselves from speaking of it over and over and over. There is nothing wrong with “Help me! Help me! Help me!” If it is the cry of our heart, our Father will answer it.
But let us not use repetition because we cannot think of anything else to say. Pray what you mean to pray, be it praise or thanks or petition. And then stop. And don’t sprinkle the Lord’s names and titles throughout as if they were garnishes or punctuation. Speak from the heart, clearly and briefly. Our Father who sees the secret places of our hearts knows our prayers intimately. What He wants is that intimate time with us.
OM ... or is that “Um”?