Billy Graham reminded us, "It is not the body's posture, but the heart's attitude that counts when we pray." How many of us focus so much on the 'way' we do something and forget all about the 'why' behind it? I think we might just do this a little more than we suspect as evidenced by us doing things 'by rote'. We do hundreds of things each day, simply by rote. Do you think through the steps of brushing your teeth, donning your socks, or even making the coffee? Probably not...they have become 'rote' tasks you just do without even putting much thought into them. If you really think about it, there are probably a lot of 'spiritual things' we can do totally by rote if we aren't careful. Some will pile into the cars on Sunday mornings - make their way to their local church building - all by rote. There was no real 'preparation' to participate in that worship service - they were there because it was Sunday and that is what they do on Sunday. Rote is a good thing with repetitive tasks such as brushing one's teeth and making the coffee, but it can be a 'not so good thing' when we begin to worship or pray simply by rote.Watch and pray so that you will not be tempted. Man’s spirit is willing, but the body does not have the power to do it.” (Matthew 26:41)
Jesus tells his disciples to 'watch and pray' - because he knows where a lack of watchfulness exists, temptation will find an inroad. Watchfulness involves all the senses, not just the eyes. There is a vigilance in the attention and an alertness that isn't always there when we aren't 'on watch' in our lives. To be vigilant is to be keenly aware there are threats just waiting in the shadows. Danger is just around the corner. I used to watch that old show on TV called "Lost In Space" and I recall the robot who always said, "Danger, Will Robinson" to alert the young boy to some danger just lurking around the corner. That robot was always 'vigilant' and 'aware'. God doesn't want robots, but he does want us to pay that close of attention to the dangers all around us. Prayer involves being watchful, alert, vigilant, and even a little bit wary at times. Wary because we need to be 'on guard' for the enemy of our souls. That enemy doesn't carry a pitchfork and have a pointy red tail, my friends. That enemy comes in the form of just about anything that attracts our attention away from God, or allows us to simply 'serve by rote' in life.
Remember, Jesus told us to 'watch and pray', but he also reminded us that our own body does not have the power to be at this level of alertness or vigilance all on our own. We need the presence of God in the form of his Holy Spirit with us each moment of the day. In order to avoid the drift into 'rote' practices of 'worship' and 'prayer' that are devoid of the heart's dedication and attentiveness, we need to have that still small voice of God alerting us. Man's spirit is indeed willing to do a lot of things, but our hearts oftentimes don't have that same willingness and fortitude that we need in order to do things for the right reasons and in the right ways. Rote becomes our enemy whenever it is the 'norm' for how we approach God in prayer. I know Jesus taught his disciples what we now call the "Lord's Prayer", but it was not so much a prayer we could say by 'rote' as much as it was an outline of the reasons we pray. We are to pray for each other, forgiving any offenses that have occurred. We are to lay out our physical needs, trusting God to provide for those needs. To merely say the words of this prayer is not enough - the heart must be open to what God will say in return and it must be yielded to what God may ask of us.
The heart is God's connection point - but if our lives lean too much toward doing things 'by rote' in our spiritual lives, the connection isn't going to be there. The heart isn't connected through 'rote' actions - it is connected by fresh, vital and living interaction. Just sayin!