By Zhong Cheng
Editor’s note: Many Christians believe that the longer they pray and the more they say in, the more likely their prayer is to be heard. Is this really how it is? The said, “But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). These words of the Lord demonstrated clearly that He isn’t pleased with these types of prayers. So how should we properly pray to God? Recently, Wang Fang, through the fellowship of her daughter Rui, has understood how to have her prayers heard by the Lord.
“O dear Abba Father, You are the truth and the way, You are the life, You are the lamp before our feet and the light on our path. … You are the head of our family. We’re willing to obey You, love You, heed Your words and follow Your directives …”
On Saturday mornings, Wang Fang and her granddaughter Tiantian prayed to God together. The day they finished praying and rose up, Tiantian, with her lips pouted, rubbed her legs which had become numb and then said unpleasantly, “Grandma, we again prayed for over an hour today. Our words are too repetitive, and I’m sick of hearing them. Can we have a shorter prayer the next time?”
Wang Fang said with reproach, “We prayed for such a short time, but you’ve gotten impatient. I pray much longer in the prayer meeting.”
At that moment, the doorbell rang. As Tiantian opened the door, she saw her auntie Rui, and said happily, “Auntie, you’re here just in time. Do you know? Every time grandma prays for a long time and says repetitive words.” Then Tiantian parroted Wang Fang’s words of prayer, “O dear Abba Father, You are the lamp before our feet and the light on our path. … You are the head of our family and we will follow Your words.” And she continued, “As soon as Grandma opened her mouth, I knew exactly what was coming next.”
Wang Fang said to Rui, “Tiantian has always said my prayers are long and repetitive. Isn’t this what a prayer like? Don’t the pastors and elders pray in this way? They pray even longer and recite much more scriptures in prayer than I do. My brothers and sisters all admire them a lot. I also prayed like this. How is it inappropriate?”
Rui said with a smile, “It is essential for us believers to pray to God and establish a normal relationship with God. We believe that praying long, spouting nice-sounding words and reciting many scriptures before God is genuine prayer. However, is this the prayer that God requires of us? Do we have real interaction with God when praying this way? Can such prayer enable our spirits to draw close to God? With regard to these questions, let’s look at what the Lord Jesus said, ‘But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking’ (Matthew 6:7). Mom, from this scripture we can see that God actually doesn’t like our long-winded prayers, nor does He like hearing our repetitive words in prayer. Therefore, our view doesn’t stand that praying long, saying a lot and reciting many scriptures is genuine prayer and God will listen.”
“Ah？It doesn’t stand? I have prayed in this way for over half my life. Could it be that God has never listened at all?” asked Wang Fang.
Rui answered, “Mom, let me give you an example. It’s not exactly the same, but it still may help. If every day, when my dad returns, he always says to you lots of words he said the day before, but never tells you what he thinks of the things which he has encountered on the outside or which has happened between you and him, then will you still be willing to listen to what he says?”
Wang Fang took a look at Rui and said, “Certainly not. I would never hear the end of it.”
Rui smiled and said, “Yes. Similarly, in every day of a year, we will encounter different problems and difficulties and what we experience and gain will also be different, so our prayers to God should be fresh and lively. However, during these years, our daily prayers are the same old and repetitive words. Do you think God would ever be pleased with and listen to our prayers that are not sincere?”
Wang Fang was stunned and then said awkwardly, “This …”
Rui said with certainty, “The Lord Jesus once said: ‘This people draws near to Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me’ (Matthew 15:8). From the Lord Jesus’ words, it can be seen that God scrutinizes the bottoms of people’s hearts, and that if we just pray to God with our lips and always say repetitive words and nice-sounding things but never tell God our true thoughts in our hearts, God won’t commend or listen to our prayers. Let’s think about it: When we prayed, we said, ‘Lord, You’re the head of our family and we’re willing to obey You.’ Nevertheless, when faced with anything we still acted as our own master, and we always thought our own views were right, and made others listen to what we said. We prayed every day, ‘Lord, You are the lamp before our feet and the light on our path. We’re willing to listen to Your words and carry out Your will.’ But facing things, we very often forgot the Lord’s words yet blindly listened to the words of the pastors and elders; even sometimes when what they said was out of place, we had no discernment and still listened to them. Besides, we prayed, ‘Lord, we’re willing to love You and satisfy You.’ However, when we encountered natural or man-made disasters or unfortunate events, if we didn’t see God’s protection we would become negative and complain to Him, and would even become unwilling to expend ourselves for Him. So, even though we prayed to God for a long time and said many pleasant-sounding words, they were all false, big and empty. Weren’t our such prayers deceiving God? The Pharisees’ words of prayer were many and sounded good and spiritual, but did God listen to their prayers? Definitely not. God is a true and living God, and so He won’t feel enjoyment when hearing us pray like this year after year. Mom, what do you say, is praying that way worthy of being called a true prayer?”
Wang Fang pondered and said slowly, “What you said is reasonable. I prayed long and said a lot, but my prayers were the same old platitudes and had become jingles. Ah, now I think it over carefully: In reality, every time after I prayed like this, I didn’t feel enjoyment but felt dull and uninspired; what’s more, I didn’t act on what I had prayed. So it seems my prayers were really not accepted by God. Rui, how then should I pray to the Lord so that He will listen? Can you tell me more on this?”
Rui said, “Mom, I have brought you a book today. And the words in it can solve your problem.”
“Is that so? Now take it out and let me read.” Hearing what Rui said, Wang Fang immediately felt invigorated.
Rui took the book out of her bag. Tiantian, sitting next to her, happily said, “Auntie, let me read.”
Taking the book, Tiantian read: “Prayer is not a case of going through the formalities, or following procedure, or reciting the words of God, which is to say, prayer does not mean parroting words and copying others. In prayer, you must give your heart to God, sharing the words in your heart with God so that you may be touched by God.” “The lowest standard that God requires of people is that they be able to open their hearts to Him. If man gives his true heart to God and says what is really within his heart to God, then God is willing to work in man; God does not want the twisted heart of man, but his pure and honest heart. If man does not truly speak his heart to God, then God does not touch man’s heart, or work within him. Thus, the most crucial thing about praying is to speak the words of your true heart to God, telling God of your flaws or rebellious disposition and completely opening yourself up to God. Only then will God be interested in your prayers; if not, then God will hide His face from you” (“Concerning the Practice of Prayer”). After finishing reading, Tiantian said, “Auntie, these words tell us that we must pray to God with an honest heart and speak from our hearts, and only in this way will God hear our prayers. Right?”
Rui nodded and said, “Yes. What you said is correct! God demands that we communicate with Him with an honest heart and say what’s in our hearts, and He doesn’t care that our prayers are long or short. When we lay bare to God our own shortcomings or all kinds of difficulties in our lives and let God see our hearts, God will touch our hearts; this means that our prayers win God’s acceptance. To list just a few examples: When the church arranges a duty for us and we encounter difficulties in doing it, our sinful nature, most of the time, causes us to retreat and to have no heart that cares for God; at this point, we can pray to God, ‘Oh God, thank You for giving this commission to me. Your intention is to let me gain the truth from it to make up for my shortcomings. I’m willing to do all I can to satisfy You, but I am of poor caliber and afraid of hardship, and when I encounter difficulties, I just want to retreat but have no heart that meets the challenge and actively seeks the truth. May You enlighten and guide me and bestow upon me wisdom and the will to endure suffering so that I’m able to fulfill the commission You have given to me to satisfy You.’ When we cannot live in harmony with our families or brothers and sisters and become mired in bitterness and pain because we are bound by sin, we can pray, ‘Oh, God, now I can’t get along with the people around me in harmony. You teach me to learn to be tolerant and patient with others, but as soon as I meet with something which goes against my interests, I’ll be controlled by my corrupt dispositions and get into angry arguments with others. I have seen how corrupted and rebellious I am and how I often violate God’s words, and I feel very distressed. God, please save me from my sinful nature and enable me to become a person with whom You are satisfied.’ When our families encounter some unhappy incidents and we’re miserable and weak, we can pray to God, ‘Oh, God. Now my family encounters this incident. I’m very distressed and weak and don’t know what Your will is. But I believe that any person, event, or thing I encounter contains Your good intentions. May You help me seek the truth and understand Your will in this matter so that I can truly obey You.’ In addition, when some of our brothers and sisters are weak in spirit and we don’t know how to help them, we can pray: ‘God, now Brother X (or Sister X) feels spiritual negativity and weakness and lives in difficulties. I wish to entrust his (or her) difficulties to You, and hope that he (or she) will be able to emerge from his (or her) negative and weak state under Your guidance and leadership. At the same time, I’m willing to shoulder this responsibility and be considerate of Your will to help him (or her). But I am too small of stature and don’t understand enough of the truth, so I don’t know how to help him (or her). God, please enlighten me and guide me toward understanding the truth and helping him (or her).’ These prayers above are the kind centered around our practical difficulties and shortcomings. When we don’t speak polite niceties or repetitive words within our prayers but can practically and earnestly recount to God our true difficulties and innermost thoughts and share our hearts with God, God will listen to our prayers and the Holy Spirit will also enlighten and illuminate us. Just as the Lord Jesus said: ‘When the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23–24).”
Wang Fang nodded and said, “Hmm, such prayers are good and very practical. Looking back on my prayers in the past, they were all outward rituals and practices. Only now I see that if we don’t speak from our hearts in our daily prayers but simply say some repetitive and nice-sounding words, these prayers are purely a way to muddle through, merely deceiving God. From now on, I will practice speaking the truth within my heart with God in my prayers.”
Another Saturday morning, the voices of the prayers of Wang Fang and Tiantian emerged from a room, “O Lord, now I finally understand that, when I prayed before, I was just cheating You and treating You perfunctorily. I have prayed to You for so many years but only focused on praying long and saying nice-sounding and repetitive words. Such prayers are the same with the Pharisees’. O Lord, now I’m willing to repent to You and begin to say what is in my heart in prayer …”
Rising up after praying, Tiantian said delightedly, “Grandma, what you pray today are your innermost thoughts. I enjoyed listening to them.”
Hearing this, Wang Fang smiled …