God is good. God is powerful. God is loving. In light of these truths, it might seem unbelieving to ask God repeatedly for the same thing. However, this is not unusual for the believer. All through scripture, we find God’s people having to petition God repeatedly for their needs and desires.
Following his encounter with the prophets of Baal, Elijah prayed seven times before God released rain (1 Kings 18:42-46).
Daniel was fasting and praying for several days before the angel Gabriel could get through to him (Daniel 10:1-14).
We learn that Paul was afflicted and prayed severally for God to deliver him, yet his request was declined (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Jesus also taught us the importance and power of persistent prayer in Luke 18:1-8.
But why is this so?
We get at least an answer when we consider what prayer really is.
Prayer is often wrongly seen as merely a means of getting something from God, a form of a cosmic ATM withdrawal. Rather, prayer is how we commune with God; expressing our admiration of him, acknowledging his mercies and gifts, confessing our shortcomings and trespasses, as well as requesting our needs. In the words of the Puritan pastor, Thomas Watson, “Prayer is the soul’s breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly Father”. And John Stott described it as we speaking to God.
By reflecting on this, I think two points become clear.
Repeated prayer builds our relationship with God
Since prayer is how we cultivate our relationship with God, repeated prayer strengthens it. We are drawn more and more to cling to God who alone can do what we ask. Each instance of prayer, whether it is on our knees or at our desk, requires trust. For no one can come to God without believing that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). When we call to him, it is ideally because we know he is listening and has the power to do what we ask. We acknowledge his love as well as his power. So this binds us even closer to him. And as we continue, we obey Paul’s admonition to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Repeated prayer helps to purify our motives
According to James 4:3, we often pray without receiving because of impure motives. We ask but our requests are declined because God sees the wrong reason for the request. In the process of asking repeatedly, it is not unusual for us to discover that the prayer itself is defective and then we make the needed adjustment. Or we might even realize that the request was not needed at all in the first place.
In closing, let us take to heart the counsel of the South African pastor, Andrew Murray, in his classic on prayer:
Let us open our whole heart to God’s words of promise in all their simplicity and truth: they will search us and humble us; they will lift us and make us glad and strong. And to the faith that knows it gets what it asks, prayer is not a work or a burden, but a joy and a triumph; it becomes a necessity and a second nature.
Dayo is a Christian writer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He has a vision of seeing Africa transformed through the Christian worldview and he pursues this through a teaching and publishing website, The Christian Mind. Dayo is married to Omolade and they have one son.