Do you remember in grade school when you got “lines” as a punishment? You did something wrong and to repent you wrote “I will not throw my food” some number of times – say 25 – and gave it to your teacher and you had paid the price for your crime.
Repetition is presented over and over again in our lives. I can remember being frustrated because I was terribly uncoordinated at basketball and was relegated to the bench most of the time. My parents, my coaches, my friends were a resounding chorus of “practice makes perfect.”
My 12th grade economic teacher told me that anyone could be good at anything if they tried it enough (which I still contest because I sing in my car, in the shower, everywhere and I’m still an awful singer).
It’s no surprise to us when the Bible contradicts societal norms. We’ve come to expect that living righteously requires departing from the ways of many people around us. So then, Matthew 6: 7-8 should not surprise us:
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”
Whew! What a relief. Prayers aren’t answered on the basis of how frequently we repeat them. In fact, we should avoid repeating them. BUT WAIT! The very next verses of Matthew 6 give us what we now call the “Lord’s Prayer”, a prayer we repeat over and over and over and over and over…
Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
10 May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today the food we need,
12 and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
13 And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
Based on my mathematical expertise (haha), I calculated that I’ve said the Lord’s prayer approximately 8,000 times in my life (Side note: I went to Catholic school where we say the rosary, which is simply repeating a few prayers over and over).
When something significant is going on, I pray A LOT. If you could see my prayer transcript when a good friend suddenly fell very ill, I must have pestered God with “Please heal her” upwards of a zillion times. Recently, I’ve even taken to renewing the childhood practice of “lines” in order to set my mind on what is good and righteous.
But, according to the gospel, we’re NOT supposed to repeat prayers or babble on and it’s not like God didn’t hear the first time. So what do we do? The best we can.