Mailbag XVIII

by Ed Urzi

Two games where The Doctor is absolutely unstoppable!

Here in his high tech secret test laboratory, The Doctor has been hard at work on his latest project- creating and programming the intellectual mechanisms that will produce the next generation of intelligent machines. Recently, The Doctor has been testing the abilities of his latest Artificial Intelligence project by playing the game of chess against it.

Unfortunately, The Doctor has lost 73 straight chess matches to his artificially intelligent creation, mostly in five moves or less. However, The Doctor is pleased to report that his results have greatly improved against his artificial opponent since he switched from chess to other games like “Chutes And Ladders” and “Candy Land” -two games where The Doctor rocks!!

So with that, let’s dig into The Doctor’s mailbag and get to our question for today…

"I am confused... about this one thing I've read... It's about praying for the same thing over and over, 'Pray without ceasing.' I know this to be Biblical, however, I also remember a verse that tells us we need only once bring our requests to the Lord and we're not to ramble over and over as if God didn't hear us the first time

OK, let’s first take a look at the verses that you’re asking about…

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJ).

“Don’t recite the same prayer over and over as the heathen do, who think prayers are answered only by repeating them again and again. Remember, your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matthew 6:7-8).

Let’s start with those Scriptures in 1 Thessalonians first. What exactly does it mean to “pray without ceasing?” Well, when you think about it, “praying without ceasing” doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has to repeat the same prayers over and over again, does it? After all, just as two people can have an ongoing conversation without repeating themselves, the same is true in our communication with God.

So someone who prays without ceasing is really someone who keeps an attitude of constant, ongoing communication with God. Instead of saying the same things over and over, a person who prays without ceasing is really someone who enjoys a “running conversation” with God in prayer throughout the day.

In Matthew 6:7-8 on the other hand, Jesus is speaking of those ungodly people who think that they will get something from God simply by repeating the same words over and over. To help make this idea clearer, here is Matthew 6:7-8 as it appears in a few other Bible versions…

“And 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” (New King James Version).

“In your prayers do not go babbling on like the heathen, who imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard. Do not imitate them. Your Father knows what your needs are before you ask him” (New English Bible).

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (New International Version)

“And when you pray don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think that they will be heard because they use so many words. Don’t be like them. For your Father knows your needs before you ask him” (Phillips).

“In your prayers do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that God will hear them because of their long prayers. Do not be like them; your Father already knows what you need before you ask him” (Today’s English Version).

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words and again. Don’t be like them because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (New Living Translation).

So you can see that Matthew 6:7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16 actually refer to two very different things. The difference is this: a “vain” or “meaningless repetition” is a habitual prayer that’s made without much thought. It’s a shallow, superficial prayer spoken without any real emotional or spiritual involvement. Someone who prays in this manner is simply “going through the motions” in their prayers. On the other hand, someone who communicates regularly with God in an honest, heartfelt manner is someone who is really following Jesus’ teaching as seen above.

But this still leaves our main question unanswered: is it wrong to pray for something more than once? Well, let’s look at this example from the life of Jesus Himself…

“And now they came to an olive grove called the Garden of Gethsemane, and (Jesus) instructed his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go and pray’ …Then he returned to the three disciples and found them asleep. ‘Simon!’ he said. ‘Asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Watch with me and pray lest the Tempter overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.’ And he went away again and prayed, repeating his pleadings” (Mark 14:32, 37-39).

That last verse is the one that we’re really interested in here- the part that says, “…he went away again and prayed, repeating his pleadings.”

You see, The Doctor has also heard it said that you should pray once for something and then leave that request to God and not pray about it again. Those people who believe in this idea feel that to keep on praying about the same thing shows a lack of faith in God. The Doctor can understand the reasoning behind this idea but the problem is that we just saw Jesus Himself doing this very thing in bringing the same request before God more than once.

So in light of Jesus’ example, The Doctor believes that it’s OK to bring your needs before God in prayer, even if it’s more than once. If you have the same need today as you did yesterday, it’s OK to bring that need before God again and ask for His help regarding it. It’s only when those prayers turn into thoughtless, mindless, habitual requests that they become those vain repetitions that Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:7-8.

Jesus provided a further illustration on this subject in the form of a parable that He once told to His followers….

“One day Jesus told his disciples a story to illustrate their need for constant prayer and to show them that they must keep praying until the answer comes. ‘There was a city judge,’ he said, ‘a very godless man who had great contempt for everyone. A widow of that city came to him frequently to appeal for justice against a man who had harmed her. 

The judge ignored her for a while, but eventually she got on his nerves. “‘I fear neither God nor man,’ he said to himself, ‘but this woman bothers me. I’m going to see that she gets justice, for she is wearing me out with her constant coming!'”

Then the Lord said, ‘If even an evil judge can be worn down like that, don’t you think that God will surely give justice to his people who plead with him day and night? Yes! He will answer them quickly! But the question is: When I, the Messiah, return, how many will I find who have faith [and are praying]?'” (Luke 18:1-8).

Don’t forget that that Matthew 7:7 also tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (NIV). In the original language, the word “knock” used in that Scripture refers to the act of “knocking” on a door. This actually makes good sense when you think about it for people don’t usually knock once at a door, do they? Most people usually knock five times (or more) at a door so that the person inside will know that there is someone outside who wants to come in. In fact, people will often keep on knocking on a door until somebody answers- -especially if they know someone is home.

Well, remember that God is always home. If you have continue to have a need, it’s OK to continue to knock in prayer until the answer arrives.


Do you have a question for The Doctor? Just send it to the email address above- you’ll get a personal reply and you just might see it answered here.