by Matt Schmidly

Should we pray for something more than once?

On the one hand, Jesus said in Matt 6:7, “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.”  But on the other, Luke 1:18 says “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” These are the opening remarks to Jesus’ Parable of the Persistent Widow in which the widow’s repeated request moves the unjust judge to action. So which is it?

There is a difference between repetitive prayer and persistent prayer.

Repetitive prayer thinks that God is somehow persuaded by a number—as if God is in heaven with a tally sheet and is just waiting for us to get to request number 53 before he answers. So we just need to keep asking as many times as we can to get an answer. It’s our equivalent to the kid in the back seat during a long car ride asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?,” thinking those repeated questions will get them to the destination sooner. 

The key words in the first verse are empty phrases and many words. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” God is never fooled by empty religious exercise.

But persistent prayer is different. Rather than being empty words, they come from faith. Persistent prayer acknowledges that we have a human need for which God has the answer. He is our loving Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. So we demonstrate our faith in him and our need for his intervention by persistently bringing our requests to him and never giving up. It is the opposite of empty, repetitive prayers. It is the authentic cry of our hearts born out of a real relationship with him.

The two main characters in the parable are the widow and the judge. Jesus describes the judge as a man “who neither feared God nor respected man.” He only cared about himself. But it was not the injustice against the widow that moved him to action. Instead, “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”

Does this mean that we have to wear God out with our prayers? That we are to bother him until he answers? Exactly the opposite. God is not the unjust judge in this parable. Rather, Jesus is teaching that if a self-centered judge can be moved by the persistent request of a stranger how much more will our loving Father be moved by the persistent requests of his children!

Should we pray for something more than once? Yes! But let them be persistent prayers of faith not empty prayers of repetition.