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Matthew 6:7 (KJV)

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

My understanding of this scripture it is better to speak from the heart when praying then to repeat a written prayer.

I see that the NIV has a slightly different take on that verse:

7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

The chapter then goes on to give what I believed to be a model prayer, not a script.

So my question comes down to the correct nature of prayer. Is Matthew 6 a script or a model? Where else in the Bible are we encourage to repeat previously written prayers vs. pray from the heart.

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This is my personal opinion!

I don't think there is anything wrong with scripted prayers, as one method of prayer.

As Christianity is (according to most) above all, a relationship with Christ, then we ought to have relational conversations with Him. As such, many of our prayers ought to "come from the heart," to use your phrase.

However, it is clear that in other relationships, not all conversations are ad-lib. Parents will sing songs to their children, or recite poems. Friends quote topical movies or comedy sketches with each other. Lovers will recite poetry or sing songs to each other (probably far less often than most women would like).

These "recited" forms of conversation are not invalid, and can do a lot to deepen the relationship--for both parties involved.

I remember fondly a poem both of my parents used to recite to me when I was 3-4 years old. The fact that they didn't write the words, or that they used the same words repeatedly did not detract from the love they were communicating to me in those words. And in fact, the repetitiveness served to ingrain the poem in my mind for many years to come.

Now, if my parents only recited poems to me, I would consider that problematic. While it might be a meaningful form of communication, it's not a very flexible one.

Likewise, if our only, or perhaps even primary, method of communication with God is through recited words, I would consider that to be a problem.

Also, if when we recite words, it is simply acting out a formula, then it's not really communication. The recited words must have meaning that we understand and that we are attempting to communicate to be meaningful.

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That is a beautiful explanation. Thank-you! –  Jim McKeeth Aug 27 '11 at 22:52
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I also see a similarity between composing a poem to a loved one, and writing a prayer to the Lord. –  dancek Aug 27 '11 at 23:24
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I have found, much to my surprise, that reciting the Lord's prayer has caused it's precepts to "echo in my heart" in situations where I've needed them. It's interesting to be cut of in traffic and hear in your mind's ear "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us". –  Lawrence Dol Aug 28 '11 at 8:24
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Either it is a scripted prayer or a model prayer. If it were intended to be a scripted prayer, it seems we would expect to find people praying that scripted prayer somewhere else in the Scriptures and perhaps many times throughout the Scriptures. This we do not find.

The other option is that it is a model prayer. If this were true, then we should expect to find prayers in the Scriptures that reflect elements of that. I believe this is what we find.

There are many prayers recorded in the Scriptures, including Daniel 9 and many of the Psalms in the Old Testament. So, one might wonder why the disciples needed to know how to pray when there were already examples of this available to them. Jesus addresses the hypocrisy of praying to be heard by people rather than God, so things like this may have given rise to the question.

It is interesting to note that Jesus' own prayers are not repetitions of Matthew 6. In John 17, He does refer to God as Father, which is like Matthew 6. He does pray that God's Name would be glorified, which is akin to "hallowed be Your Name."

In Paul's letters, he tells specifically what he prays for the churches, but never once recites Matthew 6. Psalm 62:8 implores us to "pour out our hearts" to God. This seems difficult to do with a scripted prayer.

We are encouraged to pray in the Spirit with all kinds of requests, to present our request to God with thanksgiving, and many other things.

So, the examples of prayer in the Scriptures--both prior to Matthew 6 and after--do not support the idea that it should be considered a scripted prayer. So, it seems the more likely purpose is to be a model prayer.

If so, then our prayers should perhaps consist of things like this:

  • Addressing God as Father
  • Coming to God in reverence
  • Submission to His Will and His plan
  • Confession and the seeking of both forgiveness and deliverance
  • Dependence upon God and requests for His provision
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It is my understanding that the issue is not the repetitions, but that they are vain repetitions spoken in the false belief that the more words you use the more responsive God will be.

In my opinion, this does not speak to much-beloved prayers that people turn to again and again out of preference, such as the Lord's Prayer, or prayers that intentionally repeat for the benefit of the person praying, such as the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer, but rather repeating and embellishing prayers in the hope that a longer and showier prayer would result in more favorable attention from God.

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+1 for emphasis on the word vain –  JustinY Sep 12 '11 at 4:22
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Puts on JW hat

The Model Prayer given in Matthew 6 is also given in Luke 11, but in slightly different words, which is clear evidence that it was not intended to be repeated verbatim, but to serve as a model for the sorts of concerns which should be prayed about (and the priorities to give to those concerns). Jehovah's Witnesses don't ever write and repeat prayers, though you will find that many people have set phrases they tend to drop into their public (and, one assumes, their private) prayers.

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This isn't localized to JWs. Many denominations use the same evidence in teaching the method of prayer. –  tjameson Sep 11 '11 at 22:19
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