The basics: Living the kingdom 3


Matthew 6:7-8

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Attitudes which kill the prayer relationship: words

Alan Bennett

The renowned playwright and author Alan Bennett said recently in a broadcast interview to celebrate 50 years of BBC Radio 4 World at One: “The English are better than all the rest at double standards”. One example he gave was the way we revere Shakespeare, while pursuing cuts to public libraries.

Matthew 6:7-8 NIV
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.

WE HAVE got the message that Jesus emphasises — you can’t be real and unreal at the same time. How can we expect to be real with God in a faith and trust relationship about real, pressing issues, and behave entirely differently in relationships which we don’t see as ‘spiritual’? What is that separation?

It is nonsense. Jesus has a strong word for it. Don’t put on an act with God, who knows our hearts and sees straight through any attempt at pretence. How can you ask for God’s grace while beating up your neighbour? How can you seek forgiveness when you insist on holding others in judgment? Yet that’s what we try and do!

There are three traps or warnings, straightforward ‘W’s which Jesus gives us which I call words, works, and withholding from others. All three come under the banner of pretence – or a harder word. Today’s ‘W’ is for words — many words which are often empty words. When we try to impress with spiritual-sounding but empty oratory instead of praying along the specific line that the Holy Spirit shows us – we are not praying, but acting out. And how, at times, we love acting out!

People of Jesus’ time were all too used to empty religion. The Romans had their version and those of Greek extraction – where Luke was coming from – would have been doing it too. It was part of the culture. The Pharisees, who saw themselves as the best of believers, not pagans, were the worst of all when it came to flowery prayers giving glory to themselves. The Father wants us to relate to Him – so that’s about what He wants to hear, not what we feel the need to make a speech about.

Jesus uses the hard word ‘hypocrites’ in this teaching. It is a trap. Unfortunately we are good at it – us British especially. Alan Bennett, in a BBC radio broadcast this week, has memorably said that hypocrisy – saying one thing and doing another, double standards – is what we British seem to do best.

Let’s buck the trend and pray the simple, faith-fuelled prayers our Father longs for.


  • When do you find yourself saying one thing – but not really believing it and doing the opposite?
  • Why is there a temptation to pour a lot of words into the silent space of prayer?

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