Is It Wrong To Pray Repetitive Prayers?
One of the most important things in the life of a Christian is talking to God - prayer. Have you ever thought about that? One of the greatest privileges, we have, is that we can talk to God just like we talk to any other man, and we can hear Him talk to us as well. We want to continue looking at what Jesus spoke and taught His disciples about speaking to God, what we call prayer, communicating with God, talking to Him.
We saw in our last study what the Catechism of the Counsel of Trent has to say about prayer, "The dispositions with which we pray are of such vital importance." It also tells us "There are two sorts of prayer, private and public. Private prayer is employed in order to assist interior attention and devotion; whereas in public prayer, which has been instituted to excite the piety of the faithful, and has been prescribed for certain fixed times, the use of words is indispensably required."
We also saw in our study that
The most important thing about prayer is not the words, but the attitude of heart with which we approach God.
The most important thing, Jesus said in this connection, was that we should not act; we should not pray in order to impress men. We seek honor either from God or from men. For example, if you pray and you let other people know that you are a great man or woman of prayer, or you are always talking about the time you spend in prayer, the hours and days you spend in praying and fasting and things like that, the chances are that you will not get any answer to your prayers. Did you know that?
You can pray and fast for days and get no answer from God for any of those prayers, if you did it to show men. You talk about it afterwards to other people saying, 'You know I was praying and fasting here for 3 days or 7 days before God.' Do you know what Jesus said about that in Matthew 6:5? He said about such people that they already have their reward in heaven. What is their reward? They wanted the honor of men that they are very godly men and women, and they got that reputation from men as their reward. Men began to think that they are very godly people. Jesus said that that is what they wanted and that is what they got. They are not going to get anything from God; there will be no reward from heaven. All those prayers and fasting was wasted.
Now on the other hand, here is another person who doesn't let anyone know about his prayer life, it is all in secret; he shuts the room and prays. Maybe his wife or those living at home know, but he tries his best to conceal it, hide it from as many people as possible. He never talks about his prayer life with anyone. He prays to the Father in secret. He doesn't get any reward from people, because nobody knows anything about his praying. But he gets a full reward from God, because God sees him in secret. Now my question to you, dear friends, is which of these two types of people do you want to be? Do you want a reward from men, where you get a reputation as a godly man or a godly woman or a man of prayer or a woman of prayer? Or, do you want God to approve of your life and answer your prayer and bless you? He will reward you openly. People will see, when there is a blessing of God upon your life, that you are one who prays to God in secret and God rewards you.
So that is the first thing that Jesus said in relation to prayer - this is how you should not pray. If Jesus said that as the number one danger in prayer then we can be pretty sure that that is the thing that we must beware of the most. You know man is basically religious. We like to show a lot of our religion to get a reputation before people that we are very religious and holy people. One way we get that reputation is by letting people know how much we pray, how much we fast, and how much money we give to the Lord's work, or what sacrifices we have made for the Lord, etc. Jesus said, 'Be very careful that you don't tell anybody any of these things. Let God see it and that is enough.'
The other thing that Jesus told us not to do is, "And when you are praying, speak not much, using vain,meaningless repetition, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. " (Matthew 6:7). This is the second mistake that a lot of people make when they are praying. They think that God will hear them if they use many words. Or they keep on repeating the same thing over, and over, and over again. They think that the reason why God hears some people is because they pray for a long time and that God does not hear those who pray for a short time. This is another heathen concept. You think that if you pray for one hour, God would definitely have heard you, but if you pray for one minute, God won't listen to that, because it is too short. Where did that idea come from?
When Peter was walking on the water and when he turned his eyes away from Jesus, he began to sink in the sea. He turned to the Lord and said, 'Lord save me.' This prayer lasted may be one or two seconds. That is how long his prayer was and the Lord answered it. How long does your prayer have to be before God answers it? Peter's prayer was less than two seconds. So it is not a question of length of time, nor is it a question of repetition - particularly meaningless repetition. We read, in the Garden of Gethsemane, that Jesus prayed the same thing three times, but it was not meaningless repetition. It was from His heart. Sometimes when you have a burden in your heart, you take it before God, and you take it again and again and again until the burden goes.
So that is not the type of repetition Jesus is speaking about. Jesus had Himself said in another passage on prayer about a widow who went to a judge. We read that in Luke 18:1-7. She kept on asking for one thing, 'Give me justice against my enemy.' She went back and said the same thing again and again and again until finally, the judge heard it. Jesus said that, that is how you have to pray. "His elect cry out to Him day and night and don't you think God will avenge them?" Jesus said, in another parable, when He spoke on prayer, that a man went to his neighbor and said, 'A guest has come by my house, and I don't have any food.' The neighbor wouldn't open the door because it was late. Still he kept on knocking until the neighbor opened the door and gave him some bread. The lesson here is the same. We need persistence in asking for something again and again and again.
But does Jesus mean to exclude the possibility of devotions like the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet which repeat prayers? No, he does not.
Consider the prayers of the angels in Revelation 4:8:
“And the four living creatures had each of them six wings; and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”
These “four living creatures” refer back to four angels, or “Seraphim,” that Isaiah saw as revealed in Isaiah 6:1-3 about 800 years earlier, and guess what they were praying?
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Upon it stood the seraphims: the one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two they covered his feet, and with two they hew. And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory.
I challenge those skeptical of prayers like the Rosary to take a serious look at Psalm 136 and consider the fact that Jews and Christians have prayed these Psalms for thousands of years. Psalm 136 repeats the words “for his steadfast love endures for ever” 26 times in 26 verses!
So in talking about repetitive prayers we are not talking about that type of persistence which Jesus Himself encourages in Luke 11 and Luke 18. Instead, He is talking about meaningless repetition. For example, immediately after the advice on how not to pray, Jesus told them how to pray. He said, 'When you pray, say, 'Our Father who art in heaven' " and so on in Matthew 6:9 onwards. Now you can take that prayer and repeat it meaninglessly before God, just repeat it like a parrot. Supposing you repeat that prayer 20 times - 'Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come' and so on and you say it 20 times, is God going to hear it? Another fellow prays the same prayer 50 times. Is God going to hear him more?
Some people have that idea that if you keep on repeating that prayer 30-40 times, the more times you repeat it, the more God is going to hear you. Jesus said very clearly in Matthew 6:7 that it is a heathen idea.
It is the heart that determines what God hears.
If it doesn't come from the heart, and if it is a meaningless repetition from your mouth, it has no value at all. Don't think that God will hear you because you use many words. It is not the number of words that determines whether God hears us or not, it is the condition of our heart. So He gave us two warnings concerning how we should not pray. One, seeking the honor of man by acting and pretending to be holy, and second, repeating ourselves meaninglessly again and again and thinking that if we pray for a long time, God will listen to us. These are the two things that Jesus warned against severely. Only after that introduction did He go on to tell His disciples how they should pray. The Rosary is not about “mindless repetition” so that God will hear us. We repeat the prayers of the Rosary to be sure, but we do so in order that we may keep our focus while we meditate upon the most important mysteries of the Faith. This does not mean that there is not a danger of mindlessly repeating the Rosary or other such devotions. There is. We must always stay on guard against that very real possibility. But if we do fall prey to “vain repetition” in prayer, it will not be because we are “saying the same words” over and over in prayer as our Lord did, “And going away again, he prayed, saying the same words.” Mark 14:39. It will be because we are not praying from the heart and truly entering into the great devotions the Church provides for our spiritual nourishment.
And in connection with heathen practice of meaningless repetitions, Jesus said one more thing: Don't be like the heathen, because "your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him. "(Mathew 6:8). That is a very important thing to remember.
See, when you pray to God for something, you are not informing God about a need which He does not know about. If you ring up on the telephone and tell a man that such and such a thing has happened or that such and such a thing is needed, it possible that the other person never knew it before. But when you tell God something like 'Lord someone is sick,' He already knows that. 'Lord someone needs money, perhaps, to live,' God knows that as well. There is absolutely nothing that God doesn't know. Please remember that when you pray.
Your prayer is not a means of informing God what He doesn't know.
Yet some people act like that.
Sometimes people think that prayer is trying to force God to have compassion on some person whom God is a bit hard-hearted to. That is all ridiculous! God has more compassion for everybody in the world than you and I can ever have. And He knows everything that happened long before you and I hear of it. He knows our needs before we asked Him. So all these things are not the reasons why we pray.
We pray as an expression of our dependence upon God...
and our faith and our testimony that He is the one who provides all our needs. Once these wrong ideas are cleared out of the way, then we can pray exactly the way God wants us to pray.