Have you ever thought that your prayers do not sound good? Your small group leader asks you to open your time together with prayer and you squirm. Everyone is listening, and you know you will stammer and repeat the same things over and over. You open your mouth and out falls a short, generalized prayer for God to help everything go well. The danger we face is that we can often think that eloquent prayers are inherently better than simple prayers like this one. This notion then causes us to be self-conscious in prayer and to think that they are inferior to those that are better articulated. Praying can be difficult as it is; this kind of thinking just makes it harder. My hope, then, is to eliminate this hindrance from your prayer life by showing you the following truth: our heavenly Father is delighted by and is faithful to answer simple prayers.
Examples of Eloquent and Simple Prayers
We see examples of both eloquent and simple prayers in the Bible. Let me give you a taste for what I mean by an eloquent prayer. The apostle Paul in Ephesians 3 prays thus:
(14) For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, (15) from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, (16) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (18) may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, (19) and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (20) Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, (21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
This indeed is a thoughtful and theologically thick prayer; there is a lot here! Notice Paul's description of God the Father (v. 15). Look at how he details how the believers are strengthened (v. 16) and why he is praying for this strengthening (vv. 17–19). Take a moment to savor the poetic language he employs in explaining the magnitude of Christ's love (vv. 18–19)! He even closes with a beautiful benediction (vv. 20–21). This prayer is both complex and clearly articulated. This is eloquent.
Now let us turn an example of simple prayer we find in Scripture. When Elisha and his servant are surrounded by the Syrian army, Elisha prays that his servant be able to see the angelic army with its flaming chariots surrounding the Syrians: "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see" (2 Kgs 6:17). When the Syrians draw near, Elisha then prays, "Please strike this people with blindness" (v. 18). Elisha then calls the army to follow him and he leads them to Samaria, where he finally prays, "O LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see" (v. 20). So, Elisha makes three brief requests of God: open his eyes, blind their eyes, open their eyes. This is simple. There is nothing flashy about these utterances. Yet, the Lord is faithful to grant Elisha's prayers. Since we see both eloquent and simple kinds of prayers in the Bible, we need not think that God is pleased by the former and disappointed by the latter.
No Need for Many Words
Furthermore, Jesus makes the point that God does not answer our prayers on the basis of their form and structure. In Matthew 6, he gives the following instruction: "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" (Matt 6:7–8). Jesus, here, wants his followers to understand their heavenly Father aright. God the Father is not like the false gods that the pagan Gentiles worship, and should not be thought of as such.
Perhaps the pagan gods are ignorant of their worshipers' needs, so the Gentiles have to prattle on to get their attention. Or, maybe these gods are aware of these needs but are just uninterested in helping, in which case, the Gentiles have to butter them up with much flattery in order to persuade them to act. God the Father is not at all like this. He is never ignorant of his children's needs but is instead closely attentive to every detail of our lives (Matt 10:29–31). Furthermore, God cannot be swayed by an impressive speech or an abundance of flattering praise; he is sovereign and does what he alone wills (Ps 115:3; Rom 9:15).
The point to see here is that we should not think that praying a certain way—whether babbling or speaking eloquently—is what wins a hearing with God. We cannot string together a magic formula of words, thinking that this will cause God to give us what we want. He cannot be manipulated like that. And we do not need to try to manipulate him with our words! He is a loving, attentive Father who already knows what we need. Knowing this frees us to pray with sincerity and simplicity. When we approach our Father's throne in prayer we can do away with all wordy fluff and just ask (Matt 7:7–8).
We Come to Him as "Abba"
In the end, whether you are skilled in speaking or just bumble your way through, God is your Father and he loves to hear his children come to him. Paul tells us, "[Y]ou have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom 8:15). "Abba" is to "father" what "dada" is to "dad"; it is a child's way of calling to its daddy. During one of Jesus' most distressing moments on earth, in the garden of Gethsemane, he cries out to his Abba with this simple prayer: "'Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will'" (Mark 14:36). Like our Savior, when we approach God in prayer, we can and must come to him as a child trusting his father. When we do so, our desire to sound intelligent melts away, and our desire to talk to Abba is inflamed. He is delighted by and faithful to answer all of our prayers, whether eloquent or simple.