Persistent prayer - Is it biblical? Is it acceptable to repeatedly pray for the same thing, or should we ask only once?
Persistent prayer is something on which Christians do not always agree, but the Bible gives some guidance. Luke 11:5-13 records the parable of the friend at midnight. In it, a man who knocks repeatedly on his friend's door receives what he requests more so because of his persistence than because of the friendship. Jesus goes on to say that if we ask, seek, and knock, we will receive. He further elaborates that humans – who are sinful – give good gifts to their children; He states that our heavenly Father will give us even greater gifts. This is a picture of persistent and expectant prayer. We trust that God is good, and so we ask for His gifts. Luke 18:1-7 shares a similar parable, this time of a widow and an unjust judge.
However, Paul remarks in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 that he pled to the Lord for something three times. God refused Paul's request. Interestingly, Paul ceased praying, not because he gave up or thought it inappropriate to ask God more than three times, but because he had received an answer. It just happened that the answer was no.
Some see repeatedly asking God for the same thing as a lack of faith or a sign that we do not trust that God heard our prayers. They assume that persistent prayer is presumptuous and rude. Others see not repeatedly asking for something as a lack of faith or a sign that we do not trust in God's goodness. Not persisting in prayer means we have given up too easily.
In truth, both perspectives can be valid. The Bible encourages us to ask God for things. It demonstrates persistent prayers. Paul pled with God three times before receiving a solid answer. David made consistent requests of God in the Psalms. Jesus even prayed three times regarding the cross (Matthew 26:36-46). When we bring our requests to God, we honor Him. We reveal the desires of our hearts, and we admit that only He can meet them. Often, our repeated requests relate to other people. In those instances their hearts must be changed in order for our request to be granted.
On the other hand, sometimes repeatedly asking for the same thing demonstrates our unwillingness to accept God's response. Some treat repeated requests as a sort of magic formula that will force God's hand. God is not obligated to say yes to our every request. Rather than submit to His will, sometimes we persist in prayer over something for which we have already received a response. God has told us no, and, like a rebellious child, we refuse to accept it.
We know that God is good and that He desires to give us good gifts (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:13). We can continue to seek Him through prayer and to make our requests known to Him (Philippians 4:6). But in our persistence we must be willing to submit to God's will. God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). We know that whatever we ask in His will is granted (1 John 5:14-15). We also know that sometimes our hearts do not understand His will or His timing. At times we must be willing to wait for God's yes to manifest. Other times we must be willing to accept no for an answer. When we know God and trust His good character, we can repeatedly bring Him the same request and rest in the fact that His response will be best for us. God desires both our persistence and our submission.
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