Let us turn to Matthew 6:7, 8, and read here the word of God as follows: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard of their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

Christ here instructs His people not to use vain repetitions in prayer. The original text uses a word that means to repeat the same thing over and over; to use many idle words; to babble, prate. God’s people must not fall into this error in prayer, as do the heathen.

Yet it would be wrong to conclude that Christ here lays His people under a law forbidding long prayers. Lengthy prayers are not as such distasteful to God. Christ’s very own practice while He walked among us on this earth forbids this view. The Savior would spend whole nights in prayer in the mountain apart. And so Christ’s followers, too, must pray without ceasing, cry unto God day and night, which they do in their afflictions. And we have Christ’s own word for it that God shall speedily avenge His elect who cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them. Nor does this Scripture passage teach that it is as such wrong to repeat a phrase or sentence in prayer. Every one of the twenty-six verses of Psalm 136 closes with the exultant cry: “For His mercy endureth forever.”

Finally, it also would be a mistake to conclude from this bit of instruction that it is wrong in God’s sight to petition Him for the same things all the while. Let us consider that there is but one bread of life— the Lord Jesus; but one grace—His grace; but one Spirit—the Spirit of Christ; but one kingdom—His heavenly kingdom; and but one will—the will of the Father. And upon these things—the things promised—the things above—true prayer is always and exclusively concentrated.

It is the vain repetitions in prayer against which Christ cautions His people, the babbling, the prating in prayer. Now it is true, to be sure, that when a man prays thoughtlessly without his mind focused on His prayer, he must be said to babble, however sound his prayer may be in a doctrinal point of view; or when he prays without any regard to the sense and meaning of the words that he utters, he babbles; or, when he repeats the same things merely to draw out his prayer to a length dictated by custom. A man certainly must be said to babble in prayer when through prayer he seeks forbidden things, the things on earth, and accordingly is activated in his prayer by a carnal motive; or when he prays for the things heavenly—such as grace—but with a double heart, that is, with his affection set on the bread that perishes and not on the heavenly gift. That man wavers. He is double- minded. He is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. Let not that man think, says James, that he shall receive anything from the Lord.

True prayer is so difficult. For to be truly praying is to be with God in His sanctuary, fellowshipping with the Father through Christ, as crucifying the members which are upon the earth and with the whole heart set upon the things of Christ’s heavenly kingdom. What man can truly pray? There is but one who can pray—and that one Christ. As the merciful high priest He prays for His people, and He prays in and through His people by His Spirit. Only as living members of His body, grafted in Him by a faith living and indestructible, because He prays for them, do His people pray to the Father.

But we must be definite in explaining this Scripture passage. We can be, for Christ is definite in His presentation of it. “But when ye pray use not vain repetitions as do the heathen.” Let us take notice, “as do the heathen”. The heathen pray, too. It is not a question whether a man prays. All men do. It’s a question to whom a man prays, to the Father or to an idol. The heathen do the latter. Accordingly, their prayers are babbling. They use vain repetitions. A striking example of such praying is contained in the first book of the Kings, the eighteenth chapter. Here is described a contest between Elijah, the lone prophet of God, and the prophets of Baal, four hundred in number. Who was to be God, Jehovah or Baal. That was the issue. The God who in response to the prayers of his devotees answered by fire consuming the sacrifices was to decide. The prophets of Baal called on their deity from morning until noon. They said one thing over and over. It was, “O Baal hear us”. But there was no voice and no answer. They became frantic. They leaped up and down before their altar, cried aloud and cut themselves with knives and lancets till the blood flowed out upon them.

Christ gives us the explanation of these strange and dreadful capers. These Baal priests thought that they should be heard for their much speaking, Their antics thus bespoke a terrible effort to induce Baal to give answer. For they were directing their entreaties to an idol. Think on what they had done with God. They had changed His glory into an image made like to corruptible man. They had, in a word, drawn God down to the level of the creature, of a man, with all the vile passions, weaknesses and limitations of a man. And Baal was that man. Hence, as the prophet Elijah mockingly suggests, Baal might be pre-occupied in his spirit so as not to be hearing them. Or he might be on a chase or on a journey. Or it might be that he was asleep so that he had to be awakened. Or he might be decided not to yield to their entreaties, so that his mind had to be changed by their persistent cries. It might be, too, that he was undecided so that his mind had to be made up for him by their persistent teasing.

Baal being but a man, these heathen were behaving toward their deity in much the same way that a spoiled child will carry on with regard to weak and doting parents. Such a child makes known its request and receives “no” for an answer. But the child means to have its way; so it takes recourse to teasing. If that gets it no results, it creates a scene. It vexes, harasses and plagues until the parent, driven to distraction by its wicked importunities, finally yields.

So behave the heathen with respect to their gods who are no gods. They think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be ye therefore not like unto them. Christ’s meaning is clear. Do not ye tease your Father. Do not imagine that it is necessary to inform Him, or to attract His attention, or to arouse His pity by your cries. Do not think that by vain repetitions you can impose your will upon Him, so that as plagued and harassed to distraction by your carnal importunities, He is finally in His weakness induced to yield to you by reason of your teasings and gives you the thing upon which you have your carnal affection set even against His better knowledge. All such prayers are a terrible insult to your Father.

Christ states the reason: “For your Father know- eth what things ye have need of before you ask. To clarify this statement fully and completely we must by all means discern who it is of whom Christ here speaks. He speaks of the Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of His redeemed family, the church of the elect. And consider who this Father—the Father of this family—is. He is not an idol, but de is the eternal, the incomprehensible, the infinite and infinitely wise God, whose wisdom is unsearchable, and whose ways are past finding out, the holy and the righteous God who dwelleth in a light unto which no man can approach; the Almighty God, who measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, meted out the heavens with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth with a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance and before whom all the nations are nothing, the great God, who doeth all His good pleasure and worketh all things according to the counsel of His will.

And consider who these children are. They are the children of This Father who is God and none else, the object of His eternal love, chosen by Him before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before Him in love; predestinated by Him unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will and to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He made these children of His, by nature dead in their trespasses and sins, accepted in the beloved. And how the Father loved these children. He has them engraved in the palms of His hand so that they are ever before Him. He laid all the sins of His children upon His only begotten Son, Christ Jesus, and wounded Him for their transgressions; and then raised Him up from the dead on account of their justification, and set Him, the Christ, with all His people in heaven, where He blessed them with all spiritual blessings.

O, the unutterable foolishness therefore of these children teasing their Father, like so many spoiled children, harassing Him by their carnal importunities to get Him to do their will. How unutterably wicked! What an insult to the Father. For our Father knoweth what things we, His children, have need of. To be sure, He knows, being what He is, the only true God, whom to know is life everlasting. He knows because, being God and not a man, He sovereignly determined all the needs of His children in His mercy and wisdom, and because, according to this wise and good and loving and sovereign determination, He created all our needs. And being God, He supplied Himself with all the things necessary for the fulfillment of the needs of His children. And in His love of His children He is eternally and thus unchangeably decided to give us the things we need and none other.

And therefore, if we are truly His children, we will consider that He knows what things we have need of, not we. And as so considering, we will go to the Father and say: “Father discover to me my needs.” And He will answer that prayer through His Scriptures as applied to our hearts by Christ’s Spirit. He will say: my child, thou needest me, who am thy reward, exceeding great. Thou hast need that my heavenly kingdom come; for I have created in thee the need of my kingdom. Thou hast need that my will be done, not thine. Thou hast need that my name be hallowed, for thou lovest me in the love that I pour out in thine heart. Yes, and thou hast need of thy daily bread. I will give it thee. And thou hast need of my forgiveness. I have forgiven thee, in Christ. And thou hast need to be delivered from all evil, from the power of Satan, and from all thy guilt and sin and death, and from thine adversaries, that revile you, and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake. I have delivered thee and at the last day I will raise thee up and clothe thee with heavenly perfection and glory. And thou hast need to praise me, thy God, and exultantly to exclaim that mine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. For thou art my child.

Having thus learned from the Father our needs, we as His redeemed children pray to the Father in the full assurance of faith:

“Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in heaven in heaven so on earth. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from all evil. For thine in the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”