Jesus famously, in his sermon on the mount, offers some simple counsel about prayer just before giving his first followers the model prayer we’ve come to call The Lord’s Prayer:
“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 (Mt 6:7-8 NIV).”
How much of my wordiness in prayer is more babble than prayer? Do I pray as though God were clueless about my needs and that I must spell out every last detail? Listen to what an eighteenth-century French priest had to say about this. (I’ve paraphrased it somewhat):
“…people generally treat God as though he were [a person like us], and believe that he cannot understand a prayer unless every detail of its requests is explained to him. They prepare carefully their intention, have special formulas for each act of prayer, mention individuals by name and imagine that if the least detail escapes their memory God cannot supply it. O souls of little faith and little knowledge of God, your intentions have reached him before you have opened your mouth; no sooner are they in your heart than he sees them, and why must you torment yourselves by explaining them to him? You desire every spiritual blessing both for yourselves and for those whom you love; how should he who inspired such desires not know that you have them?” (Jean-Nicolas Grou. How to Pray: The Chapters on Prayer from The School of Jesus Christ. Trans. Joseph Dalby, D.D. London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1955, p. 21-22.)
If we were to transcribe one of our recent spoken prayers, whether private or public, how much of our language was some way of informing God of something of which we apparently thought God was unaware? How often do our prayers function as advice to God as to what ought to be done about the need or concern we’ve brought? This isn’t an apologetic for not needing to pray at all because God already knows what is needed.
It is about recognizing that prayer is more about communion with God than about consulting God.
This is one of the reasons I so like to begin with gratitude when I pray. I find great courage and gratitude in remembering the grace God has already given me. I often thank Jesus in advance for how he will be more generous with me than I expect.