Is reciting a list of names “vain repetitions?”

IS RECITING A LIST OF NAMES “VAIN REPETITIONS?”

by Shawn Brasseaux

A Christian lady once asked me whether or not I thought she was guilty of praying the “vain repetitions” that the Lord Jesus had forbidden in Matthew 6:7. Many, many years earlier, her college-student son had compiled a list of names of hundreds of friends and professors so she could pray for them all. Yes, she was still faithfully praying for every last person on that list… all those (20-plus!) years later. She had prayed for those people for so long that she had memorized the entire list, no longer needing to hold and read from it at prayer time! She could name every person with her eyes closed. Yet, after those two decades, she had begun to feel like it had become mindless, empty repetition. Was it really?

Firstly, I told her she, of course, could never give those people new names. Names could not be altered in any way. Also, she could never change the fact that God wants them all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). These were immutable, so she could not avoid reiteration entirely. Her son had lost contact with most of them many years ago. She does not have current information about most of them. What is she to do? I told her to simply pray like she always has concerning them. Some are undoubtedly still unsaved and still need Jesus Christ. Others have surely come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour by now. Still, most likely, they do not understand and enjoy His Word as they should. God will honor her prayers because I think she has genuinely petitioned Him for all of them repeatedly.

Secondly, I told her that the LORD God saw her heart, how He knew that she was really attempting to pray properly. The Christian sister understood Pauline prayer. She was not trying to recite mindless, traditional prayers that a denomination had given to her. She was not reading from some worthless religious prayer book like a heathen does even today. She was praying in faith, according to God’s will for the Dispensation of Grace, like an intelligent member of the Church the Body of Christ. She was not praying superstitiously, selfishly, arrogantly, ignorantly, pretentiously, et cetera. She was not showing off for everyone to see at church; she was praying privately at home. What a ministry she has, and we could all follow her example!

Thirdly, I told her that, while we cannot change God’s will, while we should be praying according to God’s will, we can expand our vocabulary so that we go beyond simple prayers such as, “I pray for their salvation” or “May they see the truth.” If we use other phrases, this will guard against any possibility of “vain repetitions.” Employing new expressions—while retaining the basic (Bible) ideas—will keep us from becoming mindless robots, repeating the exact same statements. There should be variety in our terminology, or it becomes monotonous and rote.

Remember, “God who have all men to be saved” can be phrased numerous other ways—“That they would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” “That they would trust the Gospel of Grace alone,” “That they would come by faith to Calvary’s cross,” “That they would be justified by simple faith in Christ,” “That they rely exclusively on Christ Jesus and His shed blood for forgiveness of sins,” “That they stop trying to work to please God,” “That they see their lost estate and see God’s solution in Christ,” “That they pass from death to life,” et cetera. You can even quote 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 in the prayer, that way it reinforces in your mind what the Gospel of Grace is (“Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day”). When one of those people on your prayer list later asks you, “What must I do to be saved?,” you will have trained yourself to quote 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. This routine will spare you the awkward silence of, “Uhhh, I do not know…!”

The above is what you should pray for non-Christian people. Now, let us briefly outline what you should pray for Christians. The part of God’s will about “come to the knowledge of the truth” can be rephrased:

  • “That they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, and walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (loose quotation of Colossians 1:9-10).
  • You can pray for them to be “strengthened with all might by God’s Spirit in their inner man” (loose quotation of Ephesians 3:16).
  • Or, “That Father God would give them the spirit [attitude/mentality] of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened” (loose quotation of Ephesians 1:17-18).
  • You could pray for “their love to abound more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, they would approve the things that are excellent, that they would be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ, that they would be filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (loose quotation of Philippians 1:11).
  • “That whatever they do in life, they would do all to the glory of God, doing it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (loose quotation of 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17).
  • You could pray for them to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Colossians 4:12).
  • “That they would give thanks in every thing, in every situation” (loose quotation of 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  • You could also pray “That they would not quench or stop the Holy Spirit from working in their lives” (loose quotation of 1 Thessalonians 5:19).
  • “That they would abstain from fornication, and know how to possess their vessel in sanctification and honor” (loose quotation of 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4).
  • You could pray “That God’s Word would effectually work in them when they believe it” (loose quotation of 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
  • “That they would serve the living and true God and wait for His Son from heaven to deliver them from the wrath to come” (loose quotation of 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
  • You could also pray “That the Word of God would have free course in their lives” (loose quotation of 2 Thessalonians 3:1)—that means unhindered access to and reign over their lives.
  • You could even pray for them “not to engage in assemblies where there is false teaching” (loose quotation of Romans 6:17-18, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Galatians 1:6-9, and 1 Timothy 6:3-6).

These are some suggestions, and you are certainly not bound to repeat my words (paraphrases). What you are bound to, my dear friend, are the Pauline epistles of Romans through Philemon. See how Paul prayed, and go pray for and in accordance with that! That is God’s will!

Also see:
» Should we pray for sick people?
» What about the “sinner’s prayer?”
» How can I have an effectual prayer life?

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