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Praying With Magic Words

First, there are the prayers of where people pray written and memorized prayers from Scripture and tradition. The Lord’s Prayer is one example. While memorized and recited prayers can be meaningful and helpful, they sometimes degenerate into jumbled string of words where the person praying simply tries to get through as fast as possible.

It sounds something like this:

Ourfatherwhoartinheaven hallowedbythynamethykingdomcome thywillbedoneonearthasitisinheaven giveusthisdayourdailybread andforgiveusourtresspassesasweforgivethose whotresspassagainstus forthineisthekingdomandthepower andthegloryforeverandeveramen.

Such prayers are more often found in the liturgical settings where prayers are read out of a book or memorized and recited. The goal in such praying seems to be to get the words out as fast as possible. It doesn’t really matter if others understand you or not, of if you really mean the words or not. All that matters, apparently, are the words themselves.

In such cases, I sometimes imagine God saying to such people

Whoa there! Slow down! Take a breath! I like that prayer, but I can’t understand a word of what you’re saying!

God understands what is being said, of course, but He doesn’t care for such prayers because there is no focus on relational communication in praying this way. Those who pray this way reveal a mindset that believes that prayers are like magic incantations, where the only thing that matters is that you pray with the magic words.

This sort of praying might be what Jesus had in mind when He criticized some people in Matthew 6:7 for babbling their prayers, thinking they will be heard for their many words. It is not the words God cares about, and especially not how fast we can get them out.

When you pray, slow down. It is better to say five meaningful words to God, then 10,000 words without thought or meaning.


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