How long, O Lord?

  • Sumo

By which I means to ask, ‘For how long should we pray?’

With the title of this post, I’ve taken a powerful biblical question (see the powerful prayer for justice and comfort in Psalm 13) and twisted it to be about something different. Because that’s what I feel we do with Jesus’ words on prayer.

Jesus says:

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.
Matthew 6 (esv)

I confess: I know he speaks the truth, but I am forever tempted not to believe him.

I have a tendency – shared with all Christians, I think – to judge that more must be better. More impressive. More effective. This turns prayer away from relationship and into pragmatics. Here are some things I have heard:
~ ‘You should be praying for at least half an hour a day’
~ ‘You really find out what prayer is when you spend all night in prayer’
~ ‘What a great hero of faith was NN. S/he spent three hours every morning in prayer’

What’s wrong here? They forget Jesus’ warning. They measure godliness by word count. It’s not that using words in prayer is bad – words are essential. It’s just that this is not the way to make an assessment of faithfulness.

So, for me, when I seek to improve in prayerfulness I always seek to avoid simply judging how I’m going by how many phrases I manage to pile up.