Repetition in prayer

It’s a common practice among Protestants to condemn Catholics for “praying as pagans do.” The passage they cite is Matthew 6:7. Here are some parallel translations:

  • “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (KJV)
  • “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.” (ESV)
  • “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (NIV)
  • “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (NABRE)

The key point is not whether or not a prayer is repetitive.

How often do we sing repetitive worship songs?

The key point is the nature of the pray-er’s intention.

  • “Vain” means to have no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment. I.e., “empty phrases.”
  • “Babble” means “talk rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way.” In other words, to spew hot air.

What Jesus was condemning was not putting your mind or heart into your prayers. He cited pagan pray-ers, but really … even a very short prayer is vain and empty, if it is said without thought or feeling.

Be a prayer warrior

I saw this piece by Frederica Mathewes-Green on her Facebook page. It gives a wonderful explanation for why, repetition in REAL prayer can be a good thing.



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