Prayer: The Long and Short of It

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In the Christian faith, we come upon a variety of dichotomies with which we wrestle. I have been musing about one particular dichotomy recently. It is the distinction between pressing into God in faith and waiting patiently upon God in faith. On one hand, we are taught to pray without ceasing, to press in for a miracle, and to “ask and keep on asking,” demonstrating our faith that we will not give up until the breakthrough comes. It’s analogous to the story of Jacob when he wrestled with God and would not let God go until He pronounced His blessing upon Jacob (Genesis 32:22–32). We also know the parable about the importunate woman who would not stop confronting the judge until he gave in and gave her what she was asking for (Luke 18:1–8). Certainly, there is Scriptural backing for relentless, passionate prayer.

Yet, there is also Scriptural evidence for something that seems quite the opposite. We are told by Jesus not to pray prayers that are any longer than necessary (Matthew 6:5–15). When we pray lengthy prayers with lengthy words, we point attention to ourselves and away from God, and we also seem to take matters into our own hands rather than trusting God with the answer. We know God hears us the first time we pray; therefore, what is the purpose or need to continue laboring in prayer if He heard the first time?

I believe these two teachings both have strong biblical and Scriptural support; yet, if that is so, why do they seem to contradict each other? I would submit that these are not contradictory as they seem—rather, they are two sides of the same coin. Praying repeatedly and importunately demonstrates great faith on our part, because it says we won’t take no for an answer. Likewise, praying one short, simple prayer with full trust in God demonstrates great faith on our part because we know that God hears us the first time and that He promises to answer.

The key question to ask regarding prayer, therefore, becomes not “how” should I pray, but “why” am I praying this way? Am I praying a long prayer repeatedly because I’m not taking no for an answer and I’m not giving up until I see breakthrough? Or am I praying this long prayer to be impressive or because I don’t have the faith to believe God heard me the first time?

Similarly, when praying short prayers, we must ask pertinent questions. Am I praying this prayer once in a short and succinct format because I believe God hears me and I have peace in my spirit to know that the answer is coming? Or did I stop short because I lost my enthusiasm or energy to give the effort this matter deserved?

These are difficult questions to discern the answers. However, the answers to these questions will determine whether we are on the right track in the particular mode of prayer that we are practicing at that moment.

A final and important thought to add is that we must be led by the Lord to know how He is asking us to pray in that particular moment. John 5:19 says that Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing. There were times when He spoke prayers that were very short (John 11:41–42), but there were other times when He spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12).

Bottom line: When it comes to prayer, don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume that you need to pray all night if a simple prayer of faith would do. But don’t assume you can get by with a short prayer when the issue merits much greater perseverance in prayer. Ask the Lord to lead you as you pray, and trust that He will show you!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

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