What does the Bible say about repetitive prayer?

The term "repetitive prayer" can imply a few different things; some the Bible warns against and others it encourages. First, it is important to understand that prayer is not a means by which we manipulate God. It isn't about saying just the right words in just the right way to bring about your desired result. Rather, prayer is a gift from God to His children as a means of communication. There is power in prayer, but the power is the God to whom we pray.

Repetitive prayer in the sense of chanting or speaking some sort of magical incantation or mantra is spoken against in the Bible. Jesus told His followers, "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:7–8). Again, it is not our words or the repetition of our words that gives power to prayer, rather it is the God to whom we pray who answers prayer according to His will.

Repetitive prayer in the sense of persistent prayer is encouraged in the Bible. In Luke 18 Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow. Luke says the parable was "to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1). We see an example of Paul praying multiple times for the same thing: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:8–9). Paul persisted in prayer until he received a response from God.

Repetitive prayer in the sense of praying for the same thing or the same type of thing repeatedly is also biblically supportable. After warning His followers not to pray with "empty phrases as the Gentiles do," Jesus taught them how to pray (Matthew 6:5–15). In Jesus' model prayer (known as the Lord's Prayer) He included many things that we will continue to pray about on a daily basis. Worshipping God and seeking that His will be done are always appropriate in prayer, and they are not one-time things. Provision for daily needs is a request we will submit before God daily, and often those specific needs seem repetitive. Asking God to forgive our sins will persist throughout our lifetimes; as we grow in Him we will grow in our understanding of His desires for us and see how far short we fall of His holiness. We will also grow in love for Him and understanding of His grace. As we recognize our own failures and His work in us, we will bring our sin before Him and receive His cleansing (1 John 1:9). Asking God to keep us away from temptation and deliver us from evil will also be a daily need.

It can be useful to think of prayer like a conversation with a loved one. Our daily conversations with family members or friends often repeat the same themes, but generally they are not rote repetitions of words. Similarly, there are many things that we will pray for repeatedly over a lifetime. Some of that is due to the nature of waiting on God to complete His plan for the world. People remain unsaved, so we repeatedly pray for their salvation. The fallen nature of our world continues to negatively affect our lives and the lives of those around us, so we repeatedly pray for God's intervention. Leaders continually need wisdom, so we repeatedly pray for God to guide them (1 Timothy 2:1–6). We wait for Jesus to return, so we repeatedly pray, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20). Remember, too, a key part of prayer is worshipping God. There is no end to our understanding of His depth. We can continually extol and praise Him.

While the Bible makes the case for repeatedly praying for similar things and persisting in prayer, it is important to not allow prayer to become a meaningless activity. It is all too easy to fall into a rut or a habitual prayer and forget that we are actually talking to the God of the universe. This inspires both awe and love. He is the God of the universe, yet He is the God who invites us to talk with Him. Hebrews 4:14–16 encourages, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." In Christ we can confidently approach God in prayer, knowing that He listens and He cares. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

Related Truth:

What types of prayer are mentioned in the Bible?

What is the importance of daily prayer in the life of a Christian?

Persistent prayer - Is it biblical? Is it acceptable to repeatedly pray for the same thing, or should we ask only once?

What is the meaning of praying for our daily bread?

What is the Lord's Prayer? How is the Lord's Prayer a model for our prayers?

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Truth about Prayer

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