How many of us can recite, word for word, the words of fellow Christians that we have heard repeated over and over again in prayer? You know, those key scripture verses that speak to their being so much, that they hold to so dearly, that they can’t help but to recite when they are praying…Every time. How many of us have heard those scriptures and phrases in prayer two, three, sometimes even four times causing the prayer to drag on for what seems like forever? Jesus in this passage is not condemning repetition in prayer or long prayers, however he does warn us to say what we mean, and to mean what we pray.
We must not keep on babbling (meaning foolish or meaningless chatter) in prayer. The life of prayer lies in lifting up the soul and pouring out the heart; yet words serve a purpose in prayer, especially in joint prayer, and so words are at times necessary. Jesus warns us, however, not to use many words; the fault here that is condemned is making a mere lip labor of the duty of prayer, or in other words, going on and on without true purpose or meaning. It is important to understand it is not all repetition this condemned, but babbling or as the King James Version puts it, vain repetition. Jesus Himself prayed, saying the same words (Matthew 26:44); He did so however with more fervor, or more earnestly (Luke 26:44). When we gladly say much but cannot say much to the purpose of our prayer or say so without meaning, this is displeasing to God. God is telling us to say what we mean and mean what we pray.
Not only does Christ warn us on vain repetitions, but He warns us in using many words knowing that people love to hear themselves talk. Not all long prayers are forbidden; Jesus Himself prayed all night long(Luke 6:12), and we are commanded to pray continually(1Thessalonians 5:17), but the danger is when we only say our prayers, and not pray them. A prayer is not a prayer without an earnest petition – say what you mean, and mean what you pray!
Jesus even gives us a reason as to why He warns us in verse 8: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” We need not think that we need many words to make God understand what was said to him or to make Him grant our requests, He knows it all completely. Jesus doesn't tell us that we need not pray, because God requires us to pray to confess our needs to Him. Open yourself, and pour out your heart and leave it with Him.
The God we pray to is our Father. Do children make long speeches to their parents when they need anything? They need not say many words; at times we can even tell by the type of groan what exactly it is that our child needs. In the same manner, our Father in Heaven is a God who knows our case and our needs better than we do ourselves. He knows what we need and often gives us the things we need before we call on Him, and He gives more than all we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). We need not be long or use many words to present our case; God knows it better than we can tell Him. But still Jesus asks us, like He did blind Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want Me to do for you? (Mark 10:51)’ When you reply, say what you mean, and mean what you pray.