But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him (Matthew 6:7-8).At first glance, this almost seems counterintuitive to the notion of prayer: don't ask for things over and over even if you really need them because God already knows about it. At the very least the teaching undermines the "squeaky wheel" philosophy taught elsewhere. In the past, I've always read this to basically mean that when you're asking of God, once is enough. As a parent, I can get behind that. I know what my kids need most of the time and when they ask me I give it if I can. I don't need to be asked every five seconds. Indeed, that kind of behavior from my kids usually irritates me and makes me less likely to grant their request in the short term, especially if it's for something I see no benefit in.
It's that last part that came home to me today. When my kids ask me for things I know they need, I gladly give them, even though I might not have given them - or at least not so soon - had they not gone to the trouble of asking.
The Savior's reminder that God already knows what we need doesn't remove from us the requirement of asking, but informs our purpose in doing so. We're not letting God know about our needs. Instead, we're demonstrating to God that we ourselves understand for what we should be asking. Nephi reminds us that God will give liberally if we ask not amiss. Maybe we can define "not asking amiss" as any request that is born out of a sincere desire to do God's will. I believe that God guides such requests when we carefully consider them, and helps us gain a better understanding of what we truly should be asking for. After all, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done..." encapsulates pretty much everything we are instructed to ask for other than food, forgiveness, and protection from evil.
So we ask in faith for the things that God reveals to us are requisite to the furtherance of his plan, or otherwise aligned with his will. This makes some things easy. Pretty much any time we pray charitably for others, we've got the right idea. But it prevents us from being lazy. This kind of prayer can only be given in harmony with the spirit of revelation - which in my experience doesn't usually come only at the moment of prayer itself. It works best when the words we speak are based on promptings we've pondered over a period of time, spoken as part of a specific prayer because of their relevance to that prayer's purpose. That means work: constantly seeking to discover God's, and pursuing ways of building up his kingdom. That... sounds remarkably like what we should be doing anyway.
We might repeat words and phrases in following this pattern, and we might well end up asking for many of the same things we would have before, but those repetitions won't be vain because they are inspired and the requests will be motivated by a sanctified desire to do God's will, not selfishness. Such prayers defy the definition of the word vain because they invoke the will and therefore the effectual power of God. Jesus' teaching that God knows what we need before we ask doesn't complicate prayer, it focuses it on things that we can truly expect affirmative answers to, all of which fall under those few categories laid out below:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.