And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
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. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:5–9)
I have two books which contain extraordinarily rich prayers. The first is a collection of the pastoral prayers of Charles Spurgeon. These are the prayers which he would have prayed at the beginning of services, and the Baptist tradition was that such prayers would be extemporary. In other words, they were delivered without notes as the minister led the congregation to the throne room of the Almighty. The prayers in this small book are tender, magnificent and soaring.
The second is named “The Valley of Vision” and is a collection of Puritan prayers, put together by Canon Arthur Bennett, who ministered in the Diocese of St Albans in the twentieth century. These are quiet prayers, richly devotional and comfortingly honest.
The problem with these books, wonderful as they are, is that they make my own prayers seem rather weak. Whilst they soar, I seem to bounce around on the ground like a fledgling. They glide, and I wildly flap my wings like a startled pheasant.
In today’s passage, Jesus gently reminds us that it is the content of our prayers which is important. The style is unimportant to our Father “who knows what you need before you ask him”. The prayers of others may be of great value in stirring our own hearts to prayer, but we shouldn’t judge ourselves by the edited words of others. We are not praying to be overheard by anyone else, but to come before our heavenly father. A brief prayer is a prayer that is heard if it comes from your heart.