When I first started trying to follow Jesus, I had no past experience with prayer. And when I tried to pray, I kept finding myself thinking about a story many of us heard as children about a couple who rescued a fairy and were granted three wishes. While trying to decide what to wish for, the man accidentally said while he was hungry that he wished he had a string of sausages. The woman was so angry that he’d wasted one of their wishes on sausage that she accidentally said she wished the sausages were stuck on the end of his nose. Then they had to use their last wish to remove the sausages, and they gained nothing from their three wishes. I knew I was being silly, but I kept worrying that I would accidentally word my prayers in such a way as to get things I didn’t want. It was hard to trust that God wasn’t like the fairy in the story and would never do something like that to me. I had to keep telling myself that God already knows what I need, actively desires what is good for me, and would never play tricks on me.
Most of you probably haven’t had this exact worry. And yet many of us have worried at some point in our lives about how we are praying, whether we are doing it right, and whether God might refuse to bless us if we pray badly. Jesus teaches us never to worry about these things.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
- Matthew 6:7-8 (NIV)
Contemporaries of Jesus weren’t hung up on stories about fairies and sausages. But they did apparently imagine that perhaps praying very lengthy and repetitive prayers would somehow help stir God into action. But Jesus tells us that what stirs God to action is knowing what we need and caring about our well being. Prayer then is not so much a way to manipulate God but a way to connect with God, sharing our feelings and desires and listening to learn more about God’s feelings and desires so that we can grow in intimacy with God. In this context, we ask for the things we want, not because God grants wishes to certain people but because God loves us and desires to give us good things.
This week, I want to encourage us once again to grow in prayer. And I pray that each of us will pursue relationship with God knowing that we will never be misunderstood as we lay our hearts before our maker and that there is nothing we need to do to cause our prayers to be effective. We can trust that God sees into our hearts and that we will always be met exactly where we are with love and care.
Love in Christ,