God has created human beings with a need to repeat themselves. When we feel very strongly about something, we start saying the same things over and over again, often with very little changes to our wording. When learning new principles, we need our instructors to repeat their instructions to us. When we’re down, we need repetitive encouragement. When we’re insecure, we need repetitive assurances. A relationship in which both partners only verbalize “I love you” one time isn’t going to last long. Children who never hear “good job” more than once from their parents become frustrated and despaired.
If a counselor made a rule that his client could never say the same thing twice in the counseling office, that client would quit in frustration. When we try to stifle intense emotion, we end up mentally depressed and physically ill. Venting is a very important part of staying psychologically and physically healthy. It’s also an important part of spiritual health. We need to vent to God, and He eagerly invites us to do so.
Now venting makes for some very repetitive prayers, and in other lessons, we discuss how repetition can hold us back in our spiritual development. So what’s the difference between positive and negative repetition? When is it beneficial to repeat ourselves and when are we only going to erode our confidence in God?
Wording has a lot to do with it. Repeating our requests to God using wording that we associate with God not hearing us reinforces doubt that He listens, cares, and answers us. So when we keep asking “God, please heal my cancer,” we’re practicing a negative form of repetition that is going to have a detrimental effect on our faith. Once we have made a request, we need to then change our language to reflect the fact that we know God has already heard us and that He is answering us. “It feels so unfair that You’re not healing me. I’m so disappointed that You’re not healing me.” This is venting. For venting to be spiritually productive, we need to talk to God in a way that acknowledges He has already responded to our initial requests.
God never ignores us. He always hears and responds to our prayers. “No” and “not yet” need to be treated as the valid answers that they are. After we ask God for something, we need to acknowledge that He has answered us and then move on to the second stage, which is working on accepting God’s answer. The second stage is where all the hard work and discomfort happens, which is why no one wants to do it. The second stage is far more critical to our growth than the first, yet the Church teaches us to avoid moving on to the second stage at all costs. Instead of pushing us down the road of maturity, our leaders encourage us to stagnate by glorifying the first stage as the only stage that matters. There are reams of doctrine in the Church that are focused on how to ask God for things instead of on how to accept His answers. The power of the spoken word, name it and claim it, intercessory prayer, prayer warriors—all of these beliefs focus on the ASKING, and they never get around to ALIGNING with God’s will. Whenever God gives us an answer that we don’t like, we’re taught to just ask Him again and act as though He never heard us. Christians are so determined to avoid doing the work of faith that they’ve invented all kinds of ridiculous theories as to why God doesn’t give us the answers we want. How many times have you heard it said that unconfessed sins or a lack of faith will prevent God from hearing you? Others teach that it is never in God’s will for a Christian to be sick, suffering, or poor. All of these theories are built on the same ludicrous bottom line: God will ALWAYS say YES to our prayers. Once we buy into this ego-pleasing theory, we can neatly excuse ourselves from ever having to practice submitting to God’s unpleasant will for our lives. There’s nothing to submit to if God is always going to give us what we want. Instead of recognizing that God says “no” a whole lot more than He says “yes”, the “God will always give us what we want” doctrine teaches us to limit our focus to finding the magic way of approaching God so that He’ll have to crack loose with the goodies. “The Prayer of Jabez” was one of countless books that have been written on the subject of how to make God give us what we want. Some tell us to quote certain Scriptures at God, or “pray the Word”. Others tell us that where we pray, how we pray, and who we pray with are critical factors in getting God to hear us. But always the focus is on getting God to take the cotton out of His ears instead of accepting the fact that God does not consider pampering us to be His first priority.
In both the first and second stages of asking God for things, there is plenty of room for repetition. The Church encourages us to repeat ourselves endlessly while mentally remaining lodged in the first stage. We are to ask God for the same things over and over again, because somehow that impresses Him. We are to put the word out and get as many other Christians to repeat our prayers with us as many times as possible. When we really want to get fancy, we set up 24 hour prayer vigils where we act like it’s oh so impressive that we have Christians nagging God for certain things around the clock. Always the focus is on asking, never on aligning. As long as we are still mentally stuck in the first stage, repetition won’t do us any good. We need to ask ONCE, and then move on to the work of ALIGNING with the answer that God gives us. We need to stop playing games of denial and recognize that God ALWAYS answers us.
Once we move on to the second stage and begin the pride grinding work of trying to submit to answers we don’t like, repetition will be needed. A lot of emotional venting happens during this stage, for it is very difficult for us to accept and even endure many aspects of God’s best plan for our lives. When we’re hurting, frustrated, burned out and bitterly disappointed, He wants us to be honest about it. God never gets tired of hearing us say the same things over and over when our souls sincerely care about pleasing Him. But God gets very annoyed with us prattling on endlessly while our souls are playing selective listening games. When we start telling God that He is only allowed to say certain things to us—things like “yes”—we are trying to dominate and control Him. We are refusing to submit to His Authority, we are refusing to even attempt to align with His will for our lives, and this is when He is going to retaliate with discipline.
We need to remember that the goal of prayer is to commune with God, not to instruct and direct Him. When we use prayer as a means of informing God about what’s happening in the world as if He’s some distant and uninvolved Creator, we’re insulting Him. God already knows what is happening in our lives—He’s the One causing those things to happen. God wants us to react to HIM in our prayer time—to focus on developing our relationship with Him. When we’re angry with God, we need His help to get past it. Through prayer we approach God as the lower ranking, dearly loved creatures that we are and we choose to be receptive to Him changing our attitudes, perspectives, and understanding to be more pleasing to Him. When we’re mad at God, we’ve clearly lost our grip on His goodness and the wisdom of His methods. We need His help to get us back in touch with these things. When we’re frightened by God, we need His help to reconnect with truths that will help us feel safe and secure in His Presence.
We all start off alternating between reaching for God and shoving Him away. We reach for Him when we’re in some dire crisis, and we shove Him away when He does things we don’t like. Through prayer we seek to be changed by God so that we will stop wanting to push Him away. We look to Him for help in overcoming theological hurdles and internal fears that cause us to distrust and reject Him. God has intentionally fixed it so that we cannot get closer to Him on our own: we need Him to make drastic changes to our insides before we will be able to consistently trust Him. Prayers which benefit our souls are those which are driven by a desire for God to change us into who He wants us to be. Prayers which hold us back are those which are driven by a desire to change God into who we want Him be. The Church promotes the latter kind of praying with her incessant focus on getting God to give us what we want. But the Holy Spirit will teach us to switch over to an entirely different motivation for praying. It is only when we listen to the Holy Spirit that we thrive.