Ask the Pastor: Did Jesus Ever Pray the Same Thing Twice?
Don’t forget to submit your Bible questions to us – firstname.lastname@example.org or in the “Question Box” outside the sanctuary.)
One question submitted this week by young person in our congregation:
Did Jesus ever pray for the same thing twice? What would we learn if so?
Matthew 26:44 says:
So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.
Yes, according to this verse, we can be sure that Jesus, fully God and fully man, prayed the same thing twice and more.
How does Matthew 6:6-7 factor in to this?
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
After encouraging believers to pray in secret, Jesus also warned beside using “empty phrases” (ESV) or “vain repetition” (KJV) in our prayers. Some of his hearers were under the error that the more times a prayer was repeated by a person or a leader, the better chance it had at being answered. Jesus tells us not to pray like this.
It isn’t that Jesus is preventing all long prayers or all repetition. Jesus himself prayed at considerable length (Luke 6:12), encouraged us to pray and never give up (Luke 18:1), and he also repeated himself in prayer (Matthew 26:44). The summary point is that we should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered under the misconception that length alone will improve our prayers chance of being answered.
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
This should remind us of the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Each side, so to speak, was to build an altar to their God and then call on their God to send fire. The prophets of Baal went first and they called on their god from morning until noon saying,” O Baal, hear us.”
And when the length of their praying and the fervency of their praying weren’t enough, we’re told in 18:28 of that chapter that they cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. “What devotion,” the spectators might have reasoned. “They’re praying long, and they’re praying loud, and they’re demonstrating such fervency.” And it was all in vain, of course, since they were calling on a false God.
But here is a practice of the heathen, which Christ tells us we’re to avoid. And I think the point Christ is making is that we must guard ourselves from the temptation of attributing merit to an area where there is no merit.
So, three quick and practical “faith lessons”:
- There’s no intrinsic merit to the length of our prayers.
- There’s no intrinsic merit to the volume of our prayers.
- There is certainly no merit to our own self-destruction as an act of devotion
What else do we learn from this question and Scripture?’
Here are some 4 faith lessons (there are certainly more):
- True prayer doesn’t happen when you pray mantra-like prayers to get a certain response from God (e.g., the Rosary, the “Prayer of Jabez”).
God isn’t an Aladdin-like genie in a bottle just waiting to be sweet-talked out so He can grant our every whim and wish. No, biblical prayer is about bringing into line your mind and heart with God’s sovereign plan and purposes.
- We should prayer with heartfelt devotion.
Again, Jesus warned against vain, repetitious prayers (Matt. 6:7). Instead, we should pray with heartfelt sincerity. Simply repeating a prayer runs the risk of reducing your prayer life into, well, vain repetition.
- “The Problem of Nothing.”
For most Christians, the “problem of nothing” is more pronounced than the problem of evil (how could an all-powerful God allow suffering, and still be good?). The problem of nothing is the question of how the all-powerful God can claim to hear our prayers, yet so often we pray and nothing seems to happen. Sometimes our prayers are casual and vague, and “nothing” happening is no surprise. Other times the prayers are of more immediate concern and specific—and the prayers seem to go missing.
Yet, read Revelation 8:3-4:
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
The incense is shown as an image of the prayers of God’s people. Is there something you want from God? What is it? Here, God is encouraging His saints to pray to Him.
Brothers and sisters, do you pray? Not just on Sundays. Do you pray at work? Look at your list of appointments and meetings—that’s a good prayer list!
Praying should be a joyful, delightful time. God rejoices in our prayers. Sometimes we feel dry and, frankly our, our prayers show it. I’ll still pray though my prayers may feel dry and weak. Yet, those prayers still get to heaven and are presented by Christ before the Father’s throne.
Prayer is a privilege and a joy—and it is work. Don’t be discouraged that you have not seen answers to all your prayers. One of the reasons we gather together, particularly on Sunday evenings at TVBC, is to pray together.
One of the most effective ways to stir up my heart to pray is to praise and worship Him. Exalting God stirs me to prayer. God inspires prayer.
- God Does Answer Prayer (Rev. 8:5)
Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
The association of the prayers of God’s people with the censer, and the use of the censer to bring judgment on earth, illustrates God answering prayer.
Is this an encouragement for you to pray for God’s will to be done? This vision is given to encourage us in our prayers. It is also a challenge for us to not misread events.
Imagine the disciples on Good Friday; they were distraught. It seems their prayers had fallen to the ground. They entirely misread what was going on.
Are we so much wiser than the disciples? Have we not accused God of not hearing, or being indifferent? Friends, trust God. Keep on praying. These prayers are precious to God and He will answer them. Continue to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Like Jesus in Matthew 26:44, this often means praying for—and, perhaps—using the same words again—intentionally and under the direction of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27).
Be encouraged! He will answer prayers and will judge our oppressors. Do not neglect to cultivate disciplined prayer. In praying, you exhort yourself to trust God. You help yourself and others to persevere through whatever persecution or “nothing” may come along. We are a church to encourage one another until Christ returns and God brings justice.