Praying With Vain Repetition

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, September 23, 2016 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

[This blog post is part of a series. The previous post is here, and the next post is here.]

One aspect of praying that God despises is vain repetition. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah set up a massive showdown on Mt Carmel between the prophets of Baal and himself alone. The prophets of Baal shouted out their prayers of many words, did their rituals, cut themselves, and nothing happened. Elijah mocked them throughout the day and then finally said a very simple, basic prayer, and God showed up with fire. Jesus told us not to pray as the heathen with their many words, as though that would impress God.

How often do our prayers have many words but have no real substance? How many times do we think we are praying with persistence but in reality are just praying with vain repetition? Allow me to explain what this looks like. My pastor, when driving for a school, had a vehicle that was on its last legs. He described how he would rub the dashboard saying, “Lord, please run, please run.” One day, God told him to just stop; it was praying with vain repetition.

I can certainly relate. One of my pet peeves is being late, particularly if something should be in place and is not. It does not take me long to lose my peace and get antsy if I am waiting for something to come in and the deadline is fast approaching. I find myself praying: “Please come in. Please come in.”

Here is a big one that I am very guilty of. How often do we pray for our meals or for our meetings or before bed and we just say a prayer by rote? How many of our prayers are just a mantra and not any actual communication with God? I have to admit, I am convicting myself as I write this.

Why do we do this? There are several reasons. One is impatience. We want it settled right now so we can have peace entering the situation. Another one, which is more often the case, is lack of trust in God to take care of it. Often, we believe God did not hear us so we keep saying the same thing over and over again, as though we are reminding God that we are still here. We know God is the only one who can take care of it, but if we do not see the results in the timing we like, we get frustrated with God for not coming through.

If the fault here in God, or is it in us? Is God unable to deliver, or do we have issues with God’s delivery method? God has no obligation to answer prayers of doubt and he has no obligation to move any faster if we try to rush him. To quote Miracle Max from The Princess Bride: “If you rush a Miracle Man, you get rotten miracles.” Did God not say he would do it? Do we not believe that he cannot lie, nor will he shrink back on his promises?

I have been talking about persistence in prayer the last couple weeks. This is not persistence. We must distinguish between vain repetition and persistence. Vain repetition is when we really don’t believe God to deliver and think the power is in our words. Persistence is when you go at it with God and do not let go until it is done. Very often, vain repetition is used on trivial issues like waiting for a package to come in, or a vehicle to work, or someone to hurry up. Persistence is used when there is a great need and you will not take “no” for an answer.

Related to this is knowing when to stop praying. I have been reading through Rees Howells: Intercessor and he understood the notion of praying of persistence. He would pray for days or weeks or even months at a time for what he was dealing with. But one thing stood out: the moment he got the answer, the moment he gained the position of intercession (which I will talk about several posts from now), he stopped praying. He would say something like: “God gave the answer. The connection has been made. It is finished.”

How do we know when to persist and when to call it? First we need to know what God’s will is on the given situation. Many times, we know God’s will more than we would like to admit. It will always be in line with what is in Scripture. Do we know Scripture? Do we know what God says through it? When a verse jumps out at you, that is typically God telling you to pay attention to it. If you authentically do not know what God has said about this situation, then you need to persist to find out. Sometimes God may not tell you anything other than to be patient and wait. Other times he will tell you precisely what will happen or what you need to do.

If you get the word about what God will do, pray and pray and pray that it will be done until you get that confirmation that it will happen. Elijah on Mt. Carmel is a prime example. He already knew God’s will to bring rain after revealing himself. But he had to pray and pray and pray until it came. He stopped the moment the cloud was seen. It hadn’t started raining yet, but the job was done. The rain was coming. He did not need to pray one more time.

Elijah’s prayer was repeated seven time, but it was not in vain repetition. He was not praying with doubt, with impatience, or generic hope. He knew precisely what needed to happen and he prayed with confidence that it would be answered, and he kept praying until it was done. And when it was done, even though it was not raining yet, he stopped and outran Ahab’s chariot in coming down from the mountain.

Why do we need to persist in prayer? Why can’t we simply say the prayer and leave it? There are times where we do that, but there is no real faith mixed into the prayer. Faith requires action and is that absolute confidence that it will take place. Paul Washer describes a time he was talking with a girl to be saved, and told her to cry out to God that he would save her. She came the next day distraught because nothing happened. Washer then told her to go home and continue crying out to God until he saves her or stop praying and go to hell. The next night, God saved her. That is persistence. You know what you need and go you after God until it happens.

But there is another reason for persistence: our prayers have been hindered. Many times people wonder why water from a river does not come. They think the river has dried up, but in reality, all that kept it from coming was a blockage. Next week, we will examine several things that hinder our prayers. Not things that keep us from praying, but reasons why our prayers are not answered.

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