Question: My husband and I got into a theological discussion last night on prayer. The question was – after you have prayed about something, should you continue to repeatedly pray about the same thing throughout the day, or is just the initial prayer sufficient?
Answer: This is such an excellent question and the Scriptures give seemingly opposing advice.
There is that line of Scriptural teaching that seems to say, “Pray once and no more.” Jesus taught, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7,8). However, the NIV Study Bible note on this says, “They used long lists of the names of their gods in their prayers, hoping that by constantly repeating them they would call on the name of the god that could help them. Jesus is not necessarily condemning all long prayers, but meaningless verbiage in praying.” So this admonition is not necessarily against repeating the same request, either. But we might consider what a friend would feel if after we asked him for something we kept on asking him over and over until he answered. Would he feel we didn’t trust him?
On the other hand, Jesus also gives us the example of the persistent widow in Luke 18. He says that she “kept coming” to the town judge pleading for justice and he kept refusing, but finally gave in for peace of mind. Are we supposed to bother God until he answers? Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7,8). Jesus is saying that we may have to cry out day and night, but that from the Father’s perspective He is not an unwilling judge. Rather, our Father will answer us “quickly.”
Paul says, “Pray continually” (NIV, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that we pray the same request over and over, but that we not give up on prayer as our lifeline with God.
Paul himself prayed three times that God would remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8), and God then told him He would not remove it. I think this gives us our pattern for repetition of our requests. We may pray for a specific request continually as long as God doesn’t say no. This means we must be listening to how God is responding to our requests. If He gives us a sense that they are going to be answered, there is no need to continually keep asking. If we get no sense either way, then we keep on asking as a symbol of our faith that He is the only one who can meet our need. If we get the sense that He is not going to grant our request, we also cease asking for it, and learn instead what it is we need to ask for (in Paul’s case, grace and strength to go on with the thorn in his flesh).