Vain Repetitions

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I was reading in Tremendous Trifles by G. K. Chesterton and twice came across places where he referred to repeated patterns (as, for example, on wallpaper) as vain repetitions. The phrase, of course, comes from Matthew’s gospel, just before Jesus introduces a model prayer that has come to be called “The Lord’s Prayer”—though it would be more accurate to call it “The Disciples’ Prayer.”

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. —Matt 6:7 (KJV)

It’s hard to find in the Bible any examples of people petitioning God for the same thing more than once. Abraham’s prayer for Lot comes to mind. Elijah’s prayer for rain. Jesus’ prayer to skip the cross if possible. Paul’s prayer to be delivered from a thorn in the flesh. Paul, in particular, tells his readers that he prayed three times, as if it were something extraordinary.

It is the practice of heathens, says Jesus, to repeat the same prayer over and over in hopes of finally being heard by distant and disengaged deities. But his disciples have a God who is also a Father, one who anticipates their needs before they even ask, eager to act on their behalf. To him they can just pray simply, without affectation, without elaborate reasonings, without self-justification.

Just tell him what you want; he already knows anyway.

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