If I’m honest, I sometimes wonder if prayer actually accomplishes anything. After seasons of praying for healing, healing sometimes doesn’t come. Or it does come, and I assume healing would have come regardless of my prayers. Either way, my cynical pessimism seems vindicated and God unconcerned. But that is not the posture Jesus instructs us to assume in prayer. Instead, his instructions should posture us in humble expectancy that our Father will give us exactly what we need.
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…
God’s foreknowing our needs may seem more like reason to not pray than to pray. Or so cynical pessimism would think. But there a several reasons that our Father’s knowing what we need should instead produce just the opposite.
The mark of maturity in prayer is not vocabulary. It is desperation. The key to prayer is not verboseness. It is trust.
It is grace that Jesus forbids we heap up empty words or selfish desires. “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” The mark of maturity in prayer is not vocabulary. It is desperation. The key to prayer is not verboseness. It is trust. Our Father knowing what we need before we ask him keeps us from pretentious self-reliance that will ultimately undo and destroy us. It demands we trust him and him alone. It demands we cast ourselves with childlike, reckless abandon upon our Father in heaven whose ways and thoughts are higher than our own (Isaiah 55.9). It graciously leads us into the life-giving embrace of our Father who knows we need before we ask him and promises to provide without restraint (Matthew 7.11).
In recognizing that we do in fact need something, Jesus limits the scope of our prayers to include only that which we really need. He is saying, “Because your Father knows what you need, pray like this, because this is what you need.” Any honest assessment of our current situation would conclude something has gone terribly amiss within us and around us. We don’t love as we ought, our thoughts haunt us, we are crippled by past mistakes, we are unable to escape sexual sin, we are wounded by others, our bodies are corrupted by disease, society rejects God’s good design, natural disasters level entire towns and villages, and Christians are put to death at an unprecedented rate. We do not simply need supplemental help. We need complete deliverance. And so Jesus instructs us to pray for what our Father promises to give us to meet our need for complete deliverance—the glory of his presence with us (Matthew 5.9-10) that provisions us with all we need for life and godliness (Matthew 5.11-13, 2 Peter 1.3).
Where the rich, fertile soil of childlike faith has been scorched by sin’s blaze, the news that our Father knows what we need comes as a river in the wasteland.
Understanding this uproots the cynical pessimism that has grown up where humble expectancy perhaps once flowered in a childlike heart of days now long past. Where the rich, fertile soil of childlike faith has been scorched by sin’s blaze, the news that our Father knows what we need comes as a river in the wasteland. Can we not but with childlike humility and expectancy pray like Jesus instructs us? Can we not but trust that our Father will hear and answer the prayers of his children that arise out of humble and expectant hearts? Can we not but in desperation lift up our needs to our Father who promises to give us what we need? It is by such prayers that God is honored and through such prayers that his kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.