“How long should I pray for the same thing?” “If I pray once with faith, isn’t that enough?” “Is it a lack of faith if I pray again for the same thing?” “Will I be guilty of ‘vain repetition’ like Jesus said if I go on and on about the same prayer request?”
This is the on-going conversation about “Vain Repetition” vs. “Persistent Prayer.” The two are not the same and it’s time to put this conversation to rest so we can be free to pray persistently for the things that burden our hearts.
Matthew 6:7 – “Use not vain repetitions.” Jesus
Luke 18:7 – “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” Jesus
Our earthly thinking always wants to get our method correct. If we can nail down the right method, then we’ve figured out the formula. That may work in a classroom, or in a manufacturing facility, but it cannot be compared to what Jesus is talking about in prayer.
Two Hearts, not Two Methods.
Jesus always cuts to the chase and gets to the heart of things. When the Pharisees stood on the street corners praying loudly their heart was revealed as amiss, because they were desiring the personal attention. When a person goes into their prayer closet, they are shutting out the world, and seeking a one-on-one audience with the Creator. You see, one heart is prideful, and the other is humble. One is self-exalting, and the other is self-subjecting. One seeks self-attention, the other seeks God’s attention. One wants to be heard by men, and the other wants God to hear.
The same is true of vain repetition vs. Persistent praying. What we see in these two comparisons is religious practice vs. the depth of relationship with the One to whom we pray. For the pagan, the redundant recitation of their words was to get the attention of their god. Their god would hear them because they chanted over and over again. That was the nature of their relationship with their god. For us, our relationship with God is entirely different. We don’t have to try to impress God through many words, God is impressed when our heart is right before Him. Our prayers flow in the atmosphere of trust and deep relationship. Jesus calls forth both trust and diligence in these two passages. Both are needed and both are accurate. Our Lord never contradicted Himself so both persistence and trust must be welcomed into the same space when we discuss prayer.
The same humble, subjected, trusting, loving heart can pray both ways: praying once, knowing and trusting that they’ve been heard, and yet can also cry out to God day and night for change, justice, and answers. This is not a one-or-the-other conversation, but rather a both-and conversation.
A trusting heart will both rest after one prayer and wrest until the answer comes. A humble and trusting heart will sense when to pray once and leave it alone knowing God has heard, and will also intercede persistently for the big issues of evil, wrong and justice until they feel they’ve touched heaven and heaven has touched earth. A heart that is close to God is always going to be burdened by what burdens God and will begin to know these rhythms.
In the end, your heart and relationship with God are what matters most. The Holy Spirit will guide you into understanding when one prayer is enough or to keep praying, not letting go until you’ve received the answer. Jesus tells us that the Father is accepting of both. Check your heart. Are you seeking right methods of prayer, or purity and holiness that births powerful prayer? Do you look for just the right words, or do you let whatever words you have flow because your heart demands it and God hears through the external confusion?
Be free to pray once and trust.
Be free to pray persistently until you receive the answer.
Be free to let the Holy Spirit in and examine your heart.
Pray without ceasing.
Written by Brett Heintzman, Leadership Team Member of the National Prayer Ministry1