Does God Want Us to Pray for
Again and Again?
and Again? and Again? and Again? and Again? and again? and again?
Many people feel that they should ask God continually for the things they need, want or desire. God tells us in His Word that we should not get tired of asking Him for the things that we want from Him. But is that what God really meant? And where do we get the idea that is what He wants?
The idea comes from a parable in Luke 18. The parable of the unjust judge. Letís read the parable and then start to see what we are to learn:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.' And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'" Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:1-8.)
That is the parable. On the surface it seems that this lady got what she wanted by nagging the unjust judge and therefore we should not lose heart and pray continuously for the same thing until we receive from God what we have asked for. I have even heard it said that the word "speedily" really means that He will answer it speedily when He chooses, it will be swiftly handled. Is this at all what Jesus was trying to tell these people?
Let us examine the parable closely to see what Jesus was actually saying.
In verse 1 we see that Jesus wants men to always pray and not lose heart. What is it that Jesus is asking us to pray? There is nothing specific mentioned here that He is asking us to pray, but rather that we do pray, and keep in contact with God through prayer, not forgetting to pray or getting too busy to pray. He is saying that if we donít continue in prayer, we will lose heart. What does "lose heart" mean? It means that one would not have the faith or trust in God that one needs. Today, we would say that one would become faint of heart. Those who do not pray become fearful and worry about things that could, will or might happen, because they have lost fellowship with God. This is what Jesus is wanting us to avoid. He wants us to continue in prayer and keep the relationship and trust in God, not ourselves.
Notice the one thing that Jesus did not say. He did not say, "men always should ask the same thing over and over of God." In fact, Matthew 6:7-8 says:
But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
So, it is not a matter of asking the same thing over and over again so that God will hear you. First, He said do not pray in vain repetitions, asking the same thing over and over again, and secondly, He will hear you the first time because He already knows what you need and He is waiting for your prayer to ask Him to provide it, not trying to get it yourself.
Now, back to verse 2 of the Luke 18 parable. Jesus says there was a judge who cared basically about himself only. He did not know or fear God and he did not have respect for men. He respected himself and those who it benefitted him to respect or give wishes to. Jesus later calls him an unjust judge. There was no justice with this man, he was stuck on himself alone. In verse 3 we are introduced to a widow in the same city who had a problem that she needed this judge to settle for her. So she came to him and said, "Avenge me of my adversary." So in the simplest of terms she asked the unjust judge to deliver her.
We are told in verse 4 that he would not for a while. We are not told how long whether it was a few hours, a day, a week, or a year, but the period of time is unimportant. After this period of time something came over him or he thought within himself, "Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me." This is where many people add a thought that Jesus never said. Because the unjust judge said, "lest by her continual coming she weary me," they assume that the widow lady had been coming to the judge every day to ask the same thing. But, that is actually glaringly absent from the story Jesus told. Jesus only mentions her coming once and asking, He never mentions she came to the judge again.
Rather, verse 4 says: "he said within himself." This widow was troubling him within, not by continually coming back to him and asking, but he could not get her out of his mind. She was troubling him in a far greater way than trying to get an audience with him each day which he would have controlled. If he did not want to see her he would not have had to see her, he was the judge. Obviously, he was not concerned about what other men thought because he did not regard man either. This widow was troubling him on the inside, a part he could not control, so he decided to give her what she wanted so that she would not trouble his mind any longer.
Jesus never mentioned she ever came back, but she was continually in the mind of the unjust judge and he eventually relented to avenge her adversary to relieve his conscience so that he would not be weary from her. Another key word to see that this is what Jesus was talking about is the word "lest." If the widow had been coming often to trouble him, he would not have said "lest by her continual coming," but "because her continual coming is wearying me." You and I know people like this today, that if they are going to do something honorable, then they give another reason or a excuse why they are doing what is right. They just can not say they are doing it because it is the right thing to doif they did this once, it would mean that they would be responsible for "doing right" in many other areas of their life.
So the unjust judge is going to avenge her. Jesus says, "Hear what the unjust judge said." What did the unjust judge actually say? What he said in effect was "even though I do not care about this woman or anyone else for that matter, because she is bothering me, I will do what she asks because it does not affect me and I do not want to be bothered with her any longer". His positive answer was for all the wrong reasons, his selfish reasons, not because it was the right thing to do.
In verse 7, is God comparing Himself to the unjust judge or contrasting Himself? I think that we all know that God is not like the unjust judge, so Jesus is contrasting the two, not comparing. Therefore, we should look for the things that are different in the parable, not the same.
There may be some that still say, "I think that the widow kept coming to him and wore him down till he gave in." This might be so, but we can at this point get the same understanding of the parable. If the widow kept coming, is this what God wants us to do also? Does he want us to come to Him daily in our prayerssometimes multiple times a dayand ask for the same thing over and over again until He answers our request as we want Him to? I do not think that you would want someone continually coming to you asking the same thing over and over again if you were in control of a situation.
For example, suppose you were the boss who had to decide upon the right time to plant. You will let the other workers know the proper time to put the seed in the earth. Everyday three times a day, your workers come to you and say, "give us the seed to plant." You tell them, it is not the right time, when the time is right I will give it to you. But the next day they are back again asking three times a day, "give us the seed to plant." How many days do you think you could take it before you told them. "What is your problem, quit asking me the same thing over and over again, I will give it to you at the right time as I told you. Quit asking." But the next day they are there again asking as before.
Does this behavior impress you with their willingness to not give up their requests? Or rather would it make you more and more annoyed with them and feel less like you want to give them the seed even when the time comes to plant? Indeed, parents of small children are often frustrated when their children ask for the same things over and over, even though they have told them they will not be able to have it until later. Such children sometimes must be taught to stop being a "pest" by being deprived of the very thing for which they excessively asked.
Granted, we are not God, but this behavior that many humans promote of continually asking God because supposedly this parable says to, does not make sense and the final verse then does not seem to even fit, yet it has most of the meaning of the whole parable.
We see, by this illustration, that God is not espousing that we nag Him so that He gives us what we ask for, but rather about something totally different.
We pick it up again in verse 7. "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?" Remember, God is being contrasted to the unjust judge, not compared. The elect that cry out day and nightagain, it is absent that they were crying out the same thing day and nightpray to God continually about their needs at all times. Unlike the unjust judge with whom you take your chances, God is always ready to avenge His people who pray and ask Him, even though He bears long with us. What is He bearing with us?
Some might say, "It is our sins. He bears long with our sins and is still merciful to us and delivers us." And I would have to agree with them. Some could say, "He has to bear waiting for us to ask for His help so often. We spend too much time trying to do it ourselves." And, again, I would have to agree. But, I think what He has to bear with is discovered at the end of the next verse. What He has to bear long with is our lack of faith. We ask Him to avenge us, but we really do not believe that He will do it, or maybe even hear our request. Therefore most of us ask over and over again. We even back up this asking over and over again with a parable that can so clearly show us just the opposite.
God is saying He is nothing like the unjust judge. He hears our request the first time and will "avenge us speedily" (v. 8). But, too often, God has to bear long with us, because we do not really believe that He hears and is going to answer our request. Sometimes we doubt or lack faith to believe that God will do what He has promised. Therefore, He bears with us while still avenging us. What He is saying is that if you do have faith and believe God will do it, then you will be avenged speedily.
The key to this verse is the last statement Jesus makes. "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" This is the issue of the parableour faith. Do we have faith? Do we believe that God hears us the first time and that we do not have to nag Him to get Him to do what we want? There is no certain number of prayers that God waits for before He will answer it. We do not have to ask just the right way before God hears our prayers. We do not have to ask every way we can think of to get God to hear. What God is saying is that He does hear us, the first time, He just bears long with us waiting for us to trust Him, to believe that He will do what He has promised to do.
This parable is a glorious statement by Jesus of how God cares and loves us. It is not a parable teaching us that God requires numerous prayers before he will hear. God promises rather to hear what we ask the first time and, if you have the faith to believe, He will do what He has promised. He will avenge you speedily. However, Jesusí insight into us caused him to add, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" Will you believe God? We all need to have the faith that God wants from us, but we are all lacking. We need to build that faith. But how?
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17).
We build faith by studying and learning the word of God and then we know positively what God has promised and believe that He will do it because we know what He says He will do. Brethren, God promises to answer our prayers of faith:
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it (John 14:13-14).
And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:23-24).
God wants to answer our request speedily, but He also wants us to ask according to His will, and then believe that He will do it. Is it belief to ask something over and over again? When God does not answer as we expect, we need to ask Him to show us His will, not to ask for our will over and over again. Let us all grow in faith, that it can be said of us when Jesus comes, "There was faith found in you".
Return to August 97 index.
More Biblical Prayers: Only a Few are Long or Repeated
There are hundreds of examples of prayer in the Bible. Studying them can be extremely valuablethough we do not have room to list all of them here. You can find most Bible prayers by looking up "pray" and "prayer" in a concordance. This is one of the few cases where an NKJV or an NIV concordance will be more useful than the common Strongís or Youngís KJVconcordance. The KJV uses the word "pray" in numerous cases where the other translations say "ask". If you use a KJV concordance to look up "pray", you will have to wade through a couple hundred extra verses that are merely conversations with another person, not with the Eternal. (Also, you will need to include the word "beseech" if use use a KJV concordance.)
What do we find by looking at the prayers in the Bible? We find two main kinds of prayers. One kind is group prayer which is often repeated. Many of the Psalms are longer prayers, and they were certainly sung many times. However, most of the content is praisefew of the Psalms ask the Eternal for anything specific. The requests are usually timeless things: His love, His truth, His forgiveness, His deliverance, etc. That is why we can sing or recite these same Psalms today and nearly every word is relevant. Acts 4:24-30 records a prayer spoken by all of the early disciplesit basically asks for power to preach the Gospel.
The other kind of prayer is individual prayer. Most are short, well-thought-out, heart-felt requests to God. There is very little fancy languagethe prayers are more like a serious child asking his father for something important. In most cases, the prayers were answered. The answer seems to be greatly determined by the character of the person asking, what they were asking for and why they were asking for it. Prayer frequency seems of little importance compared to the righteousness of the person. "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood" (Isa 1:15).
Probably the longest individual prayers recorded in the Bible are Solomonís prayer dedicating the physical Temple (1Kngs 8; 2Chr 6) and Christís prayer for the Churchthe spiritual temple (John 17).
Some prayers were repeated. Elijah prayed 3 times to ask for someone to be raised from the dead. Just before he died, Jesus prayed the same prayer two, maybe three times (Mark 14:32-41). The Bible records both of these prayers as only a sentence or two in length.
Many Bible teachers talk about Elijah praying seven times for rain, but the scripture does not say that at all (1Kng 18:41-44). It merely says that Elijah sent his servant seven times. Elijah told the king there would be rain before he prayed (v 41).
There certainly are cases where the answers to prayers are delayed. Daniel fasted for 21 days. Did the Eternal answer him because of the length of that fast?
Then he [the angel] said to me, "Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.
Just because we do not immediately see the answer, does not mean that the Eternal has not heard or answered. We, today, can receive answers just like the people in the Bible. We simply must know the Bible well enough to know the Eternalís will, and we must ask wholeheartedly in faith!
Norman S. Edwards
Return to August 97 index.