Prayer wasn’t always close to my heart.
The logic I lived by for quite some time was that since God knows everything already, why bother saying so much? It wasn’t until I began praying whenever I saw ambulances in heavy traffic that God did something in me.
That single decision one morning on the road inspired a new way of life, so to speak. God gave me the faith conviction that He hears every single prayer I make.
I think I even fancied myself as a prayer warrior at one point. My lifestyle of prayer really was a good thing I had going for a few years.
But what happens when practice becomes a routine?
That was my problem: While the practice of prayer had led to a lifestyle, I became lazy over time. Something that was part of a beautiful lifestyle had devolved into monotonous mechanical routines.
Constant prayer became a lifestyle several years ago, but it was only until a couple of months back that I caught myself missing the point — I was praying stock prayers. Specifically, I had been praying for ambulances so long that the prayer I used had become well-rehearsed.
“God, for whoever is in the ambulance or waiting for it. Help the ambulance get to where it needs to go fast. Send help and healing to the suffering person, and give him a chance to know You as his Lord and Saviour. Preserve his life. Do what only You can do. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”
I know I genuinely desired the injured or sick to receive help quickly. But while I trusted in a tireless God to do tremendous things, I had fallen back on templates — doing the bare minimum for the best outcome.
The heart behind it was lazy — “slothful in zeal” (Romans 12:11). I distinctly recall listening to music in the car, when I saw an ambulance speeding past me — I mouthed the necessary words as quickly as possible so I could get back to listening to the song.
It’s sad. I had gone from petitioning prayer to almost mindless mumbling.
So, I decided to reflect and find out what the Bible says about prayer.
John 15:7 tells us, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Abiding was certainly not on my heart a lot of the time. I wanted to do the right thing, but I wanted to get it over with quickly so I could get back to whatever it was I’d actually rather be doing.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)
With a chapter as well read as Matthew 6, it’s easy to gloss over certain phrases that you’ve seen for dozens of times. But this time it jumped out: Actually going into your room and shutting the door to pray takes time. Prayer, according to Jesus, requires effort and intention.
And here was the kicker: ” … Do not heap up empty phrases.” Somewhere along the way, I had lost the plot. I had became one of the Gentiles Jesus was warning about — heaping up phrases not as though talking to an actual Person, but repeating them like magic words. The more the better.
God, I need You to teach me to pray better. Give me a new heart to genuinely intercede, one that prizes a sacred sincerity far above mere eloquence.
You know how it’s like when someone wants to talk to you, and you already know what they will say — but you still listen anyway? You do it out of respect or courtesy – maybe even love. Even if that means sometimes you’re pretending to listen, just so they feel heard.
God isn’t like that. He knows every word we will speak before we say it — He knows we might tell Him the exact same thing in the exact same way — and yet He can’t wait to pick up when you call and hang on every word you say.
You see, what God desires is connection. And He loves it when He’s the first recourse — not the last resort. He even loves it when we fall asleep in His arms, halfway through telling Him about our day.
That’s a Person who’s listening in for your call, delighted to receive even a minute of talk time. So, I don’t want to pray stock prayers anymore. They don’t help me to connect with God more intimately when I speak to Him. They make me comfortable. They make me lazy.
The challenge is to pray something new and spontaneous each time we open our mouths to God. We can never surprise Him with what we say, but we can choose to bring Him pleasure whenever we speak.
“O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise.” (Psalm 51:15)