Jesus is quite clear that the Lord is not impressed by long-winded prayer, the kind of prayer that the Pharisees prayed while standing on the street corners and in their places of honor. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the prayer of Hannah, a prayer so passionate that the priest, Eli, mistook her for being drunk. The prayer that Jesus taught His disciples is short and rhythmic, following a precise pattern and hitting on a number of characteristics of God's heart and glory.
And all of this raises the question: how, then, should we pray?
It's an age-old question in Christianity. It seems that no matter who you talk to, no matter how they do it, no matter how much confident assurance they have in the Lord, no one (or at least, very few) of us know if we are praying "right." What even is prayer?
One of the pieces of advice I've heard fairly often is that of all the things you should avoid in prayer, repetition is one of them. You don't get what you want by badgering God about it. You don't get what you want by just saying it over and over again. And, they say, repetition in prayer is one of the ultimate signs that you don't really trust God. If you did, you'd know that you only have to ask once, then trust.
Yet repetition in prayer is one of those things that I find myself doing over and over again. I just can't seem to help myself. But the older I get, the more I pray, and the more I pray the same prayers again and again and again (and often, the same sentences over and over and over), the more I realize that my repetition in prayer is not for God's sake; it's for mine.
I need to hear what it's like for me to trust God.
I need to hear what it's like for me to tap into that place of deep hope and confident assurance that lies within me. I need to hear what it's like for me to say something that seems completely unfathomable, out loud, and not only want it, but believe it. I need to hear what it's like for me to lay my burdens down, to own them and share them and let them be real, but to also let their answer be just as real. I need to hear myself speak faith.
And I need to hear it again.
The truth is that when I repeat myself in prayer, it's not because I'm wondering if God heard me. It's not because I'm wanting Him to know how badly I really want something. It's not because I think that if I say it more often, it somehow entitles me to have it. It's purely and wholly because every time I say it, I believe it a little more. I believe God a little more. I feel a little more what it's like to have a God that can even do that and a faith that can even believe it.
And oddly enough, that doesn't end up backing God into a corner. It doesn't hinge my faith on God's answer. It doesn't require that I hear a resounding, cosmic "yes" in order for my belief to have been real, for my God to be good. In fact, it's quite the opposite. This repetition gets my faith and my God so deep into my heart that I can't help but remember who He is, I can't help but know for sure. And this lets me actually let go of the answer, for whatever the answer is, the Lord is the same.
Sometimes - okay, a lot - I laugh at myself because I know there's all this stuff about how you're not supposed to repeat yourself in prayer, about how you're just "supposed," I guess, to pray once and then leave it alone, let God do His thing. There's something important about letting God do His thing, but in faith, there's something important about doing my thing, too. And my thing, sometimes, is to repeat myself. Over and over and over again, until I feel what faith feels like and remember who He is.