“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 6:7-8 ESVS)
How should the words of Jesus – “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” – impact our praying? My first reaction to these words is to think, “If God already knows my needs then why should I pray?” But this is not meant to be a disincentive to pray. Rather, Jesus gives this as a disincentive to pray as the Gentiles do. And in so doing, He is encouraging us to pray to our Father. Here are three reasons to see this phrase as an encouragement to pray:
1) Jesus is discouraging only a certain way of praying. Jesus is describing here the way that pagans pray to their false gods. They use “empty phrases” such as vain repetition or continuous chanting by which they think that they will be heard for their many words. The power ultimately lies in them for they think they will finally solicit a response from a reluctant god. This way of praying reveals a distorted view of God and a twisted view of prayer. Christ tells us not be like them. Why? Because our God is not like false gods. He is not moved by many words and empty phrases. He already knows what you need.
2) Jesus is encouraging prayer that is within a family relationship. He says “your Father” knows what you need. We need not pray to God as the Gentiles do because we are not approaching a distant, fickle deity. When we pray, we are children talking to our Father! Our heavenly Father wants us to approach Him. He welcomes our prayers. We need not worry about being heard. Because of Christ you are accepted into the family of God and your Father knows what you need when you pray to Him. So pray in a way that is far different from the empty phrases of false worshippers attempting to arouse a reluctant god.
3) Jesus is encouraging prayer to a Father who is eager and ready to answer. Because our Father knows what we need before we ask Him, He is prepared to act on our behalf. He may have already put into motion the very things that will answer our prayer. But that does not mean He does not expect us to ask Him. He loves us, wants to hear from us, and desires to bless us through the relationship of prayer with Him. To not pray because God already knows is to take our relationship with Him for granted. Our God is omniscient and omnipotent – He knows and is able to take care of our needs. But He wants to answer our prayers within a mutual relationship of love and joy.
Consider this analogy of an earthly father and son:
A boy is in need of a new bike. He has outgrown his old bike. It is beat up, scratched up, and about to fall apart. The boy’s father knows he needs a new bike. He has secretly purchased a new bike that is just the right size and hidden it in the back of the garage. But before the dad gives the bike to his son, he decides to wait for one simple thing. He waits for his son to ask him for a new bike. The father wants to share in the happiness of his son by hearing his son’s request and answering it for him. He is delighted to hear his son depend on him for a need. He is filled with joy to meet his child’s need. And his son delights with great gratitude and love when he receives what he asked for from His father.
The encouragement of “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” is that we have a God who is eager and ready to answer us when we ask Him. He delights in His children coming freely to Him in prayer. So let us ask as we would in a family relationship and then experience the blessings of praying to our all-knowing and loving Father.