Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Christ tells us that when we pray (not if we pray); don’t use meaningless repetition thinking you will get extra credit for all the words you use. I believe Christ is telling us that our prayers should be heartfelt and focused (see James 5:16).
- Proverbs 10:19 says that where there is a multitude of words, sin is not lacking. This applies when you are talking to God as much or more than when you are talking with others. We must also be very careful not to make insincere or hasty promises to God (see Ecclesiastes 5:2). God takes vows very seriously.
Autopilot prayer is prayer that is:
- Void of passion or purpose
- Without thought or trust
- Based in comfort or convenience
- Guided by routine or repetition
As you read the discussion below, please don’t think I am condemning anyone else’s prayers. Using repetition to teach a child to pray is beautiful; sincere/passionate repetitious prayer honors God. I am addressing the pointless quotation of ‘packaged’ prayers and the mindless recall of scripture or lyrics. This devotion is the result of evaluating my prayer and praise.
Example 1 – Childish Prayer
If a child prays, ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.’, and the prayer is fresh and sincere, praise God. But if your child has prayed this prayer at dinner every night for three years, take your child off autopilot and teach him or her to talk to God.
A dear friend of mine recently told me that he is having his children memorize scripture as prayers to God. What a beautiful way to hide the word of God in a child’s heart (Psalm 119:11).
Example 2 – Robotic Prayer
‘Heavenly Father, thank you for this day and for this food. Bless it to the nourishment of our bodies and bless the hands that prepared it. In Christ name, Amen.’ Does that prayer sound familiar? Have you prayed that prayer on autopilot? Again, I can’t stress enough, even a routine prayer that is prayed with sincerity is honoring to God. But are you thinking? Feeling? Are you playing a recording as you speak to the creator of heaven and earth? The Holy Spirit that indwells you should be leading you in prayer (Ephesians 6:18, Jude 20).
Example 3 – Recital Prayer
Have you ever prepared to speak in front of a crowd and practiced so much that you had it totally memorized? You could say it frontwards, backwards, while washing the dishes. Unfortunately this same recital mentality can creep into your prayer life. Have you ever prayed ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (Matthew 6:9-13, Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name…)? Once you memorized it, how many times have you really thought about what you were saying? Christ taught this prayer as a model for us to follow; not a speech to memorize. As referenced above, memorizing scripture is a God sanctioned method to cleanse your heart and guard against sin in your life. But reciting scripture to God without thought, feeling or intent has to be offensive to Him.
Example 4 – Sing Along Praise
'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.’ My friend, that is the Gospel!! And what a beautiful melody. I absolutely love the hymn Amazing Grace. But I have sung it many-a-time while lost in the beauty of the music and the comfort of its familiarity. What a shame. When we praise God in song, we should always be aware of the message and the personal application to our lives. Yes, we can sing in autopilot. Don’t do it!
My prayer is that this devotion will touch the life of someone who needs to get off autopilot and open their heart to God. If that is not you, praise God again!! If it is you, celebrate with a renewed passion in your prayer life.
Lord and Savior, this devotion serves as a confession for the faults in my prayers to you. Please forgive the distractions and preoccupations that lead me to autopilot prayer. May your Holy Spirit guide and inspire my prayers. Touch my heart. Touch the heart of others. Blessed be Your Name forever and ever. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.