Have you ever felt at a loss for words when you pray? Then stop at one—just one word or one phrase.
The pious Pharisee had much to say, but (according to Jesus) ended up just “praying to himself.” By contrast, a tax-collector simply cried out “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And God counted this latter man as righteous. (Luke 18:9-17)
Words can, at times, spiritually suffocate us. They can grow more and more empty. And in times of grief, loss, depression, or fear they can utterly fail us.
Yet, we sometimes think that the more we say (or the longer we say it) the more we’ll attract the Lord’s attention. Wear Him down. Wear Him out. Talk till He cries “uncle.” An hour of relentless bombardment in prayer will surely move the heart of God in profound ways. And make those prayers loud and dramatic. He’ll like that, for sure. Irresistible.
Perhaps we forget how we feel when others verbally assail us.
The Egyptian Desert Father, John Climacus, wrote in the 7th century: “Wordiness in prayer often subjects the mind to fantasy and dissipation; single words of their very nature tend to concentrate the mind. When you find satisfaction or compunction in a certain word of your prayer, stop at that point.”
It’s sound advice.
“Lord, help me.” “Holy Spirit, change me.” “Loving Father, use me.”
Has our pursuit of quantity (“Gotta get in 30 minutes with God before breakfast”) somehow diminished our true capacity to connect with God? When our prayers bounce back from the ceiling, perhaps less would be more. Less words + more attentiveness = a richer encounter. The Quakers, and many others, have known this for a long time.
Don’t quit praying. But do feel free—at least from time to time—to simplify, shorten, and streamline what you have to say. He hears perfectly well. He understands us completely. He misses nothing.