Prayer Is Much More Than Asking
Question: Jesus said we are not to use “vain repetitions” in prayer nor will we be heard for our “much speaking” (Matthew:6:7). Yet He also said that we should persist in prayer. That seems to be a contradiction. Why isn’t it enough to ask God once? He’s either going to grant the request or not. Why repeat a prayer?
Response: Prayer is communion with God and thus involves getting to know Him intimately in a relationship of heavenly love. Understandably, then, He does not respond to casual inquiry but to the passion of the heart. In the Old Testament God said, “Ye shall seek me, and find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah:29:13). In the New Testament God says He is “a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews:11:6). Prayer requires diligent and passionate persistence. Nothing less shows the fervor of sincerity and love that God desires in our relationship with Him.
Jesus said that we should always persist in prayer and not give up (Luke:18:1). He said that a characteristic of God’s elect is that they “cry day and night unto him” (Luke:18:7). He encouraged us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking at the door of God’s mercy and grace until we receive our petition from Him (Luke:11:5-10). Such persistence is not the “vain repetition” that Christ condemned.
The latter need not come from the heart but can be recited mechanically without any thought, much less passion. As Christ said, vain repetition operates on the premise that God will hear us because of the sheer volume of our words—i.e., quantity instead of quality. This is the “much speaking” that He rejected. To repeat a prayer again and again because of passion, however, is not “vain repetition” but reflects the sincerity and earnestness that God loves to reward.
Why isn’t it enough to ask once? Often it is. David asked only once for God to defeat “the counsel of Ahithophel” (2 Samuel:15:31). That defeat was the key to victory over those who, led by David’s own son Absalom, had chased him from his throne. But Jesus indicated that God sometimes listens long to the cry of His elect without responding (Luke:18:1-8). The implication is that He delays not because He doesn’t want to answer their cry but because He desires to mature and mold them to His will.