“pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
This directive to “pray without ceasing” may seem to conflict with another Biblical teaching from the gospel of Matthew: “…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” (Matthew 6:7-8).
To better understand the relationship between these two seemingly divergent passages, we should first consider the difference between “praying without ceasing” and a “vain repetition.” To illustrate this difference, we can use the example of two individuals who are engaged in an ordinary conversation. Just as two people can enjoy an ongoing conversation without repeating themselves, the same is true in our communication with God. Because of this, we can associate a person who prays without ceasing with someone who enjoys a “running conversation” with God in prayer.
On the other hand, Matthew 6:7-8 describes the type of person who believes that he or she can obtain something from God by repeating the same words over and over in prayer. The difference is this: a “vain repetition” represents a habitual prayer that reflects little real emotional, spiritual, or intellectual involvement. A person who prays in this manner is someone who is simply “going through the motions” in his or her prayers. Therefore, we can identify a person who regularly communicates with God in an honest, heartfelt manner as someone who “prays without ceasing.”
Finally, should we be concerned about praying for something more than once as we seek to pray without ceasing? Well, the following incident from Jesus’ life offers an answer to that question…
“Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ …Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words” (Mark 14:32, 37-39).
So in light of Jesus’ example here in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can say that it is appropriate to bring our needs before God in prayer as often as necessary. If we experience the same need today as we did yesterday, we should bring that need before God again to seek His help. We’ll illustrate this idea with a further look at one of Jesus’ parables next.