Is there any reason to pray for something more than once?
The Bible states that indeed there is. Not because God forgets our requests or because we reach a magical limit, but rather because it forces us to humble ourselves before Him for an extended season in asking for the help which He delights to give His children. God could certainly (and sometimes does) answer our initial requests, but He also sometimes tarries to discipline or test us for our good.
Based upon the entirety of Scripture, we should conclude that God both requires persistent prayer and responds to persistent prayer.
God Requires Persistent Prayer:
- Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant1 in prayer.
- Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…
Many other passages commend constant prayer. While these passages do not explicitly teach that we should repeatedly pray for the same thing over and over, I would argue that the general theme of prayer in the Scriptures should lead us to conclude that God indeed has required persistent prayer in areas in which we feel as though He has not yet answered our prayer.
There are times in which I believe it is appropriate to discontinue praying for a particular request, as when Paul appears to have ceased praying regarding the thorn in his side (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). That said, I would be very careful lest I simply discontinued praying out of laziness, apathy, or unbelief, and not because I genuinely felt as though the Lord had clarified His will on the matter.
God Responds to Persistent Prayer:
We see God’s response to repeated requests in the ministry of Christ, particularly in His interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:22-28) and in His own repeated requests in the garden (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46).
As for His teaching on the subject, we could consider “The Parable of the Persistent Widow” of Luke 18:1-8 (Luke 11:5-13 contains some helpful direction as well).
Contextually, the parable is dealing with the petition of God’s children for justice (18:7-8) within the sphere of the tribulation of the coming kingdom (17:20-37). Therefore, there is a primary application of the text within the context of persecution, but the purpose of the parable appears to be wider in application than simply suffering. As the text says it was told in order to commend constant prayer and to encourage failing hearts (18:1).
By the way, parables are pictures intended to express truths, but not every aspect of a parable should be forced back onto God or His kingdom. “Parables only partially overlap the realities they seek to reveal.”2 In the context of this parable, though the Father and judge are alike in some ways (both respond to repeated requests), they are also unlike. Our Father delights in our prayers and is not “beaten down” by them as the judge appeared to be (18:5). The character of God within this passage is actually contrasted with that of the unjust judge as He displays mercy, patience, and eagerness to help those “who cry to Him day and night.”