Have you ever been mentally checked-out in a relationship and had your partner become upset because you’re obviously on autopilot? I definitely have, and it’s not healthy for a relationship if you’re routinely not paying attention or simply giving thoughtless responses.
Our relationship with God is similar. In the book of Matthew, we’re given an example of a great prayer, which we call the Lord’s prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13) It’s a great example of what a thoughtful, concise prayer might be. Some sections of Christianity have adapted the prayer into a rote memory item to be said at certain times; it’s expected that you should be able to say it without thinking about it at all.
I’ll admit that I’ve always been baffled by that. While it’s a great example, the entire point of the prayer being listed is to show you what a heartfelt prayer looks like. Immediately preceding the Lord’s prayer is the injunctive,
“And when you are praying, do not use thoughtless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, like this: [the Lord then demonstrates a prayer]” (Matthew 6:7-8)
God has always wanted a close knowledge and relationship with him, so learning to do things by rote actually impedes that, and is contrary to what He would like. It’s not healthy for human relationships, and it’s not healthy for our relationship with Him. It’s also been a problem—people just memorizing things and spitting them back out—for a very long time, as Isaiah 29:13 shows:
“Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” (Is 29:13).
As a final remark, this sort of decision making, where we choose to do the opposite of what God has implored us to in such a strange manner, is not relegated simply to prayer. Some religions based on the Bible won’t let people get married, because they want to be holy. Yet God said that marriage was partially for the prevention of immorality: “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:2) He also stated that “forbidding marriage” was a doctrine of demons. (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
Is it any wonder that churches have troubles with sex scandals and sexual abuse when they ignore God’s instructions on the importance of marriage? Probably not.
Although I’m tempted to launch into how strange it is that some people wear the title of religious father, or most holy father, when God told us not to be called fathers/rabbis in the religious sense (Matthew 23:6-9), I’ll instead wrap back around to the opening:
Don’t just learn things by repetition or because they are things that you’ve been told to do. Be curious like a cat. Have your friends call you “Whiskers.”