Is repetitive prayer a sin? Many people believe that meditation and mantras violate Jesus’ teaching about repetitive prayer. We’ll see about that…
Repetitive Prayer and Sin
Jesus said in Matthew 6:7 NKJV, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Many think that Jesus meant that repetitive prayer is a sin. That we should never repeat the same phrases when we pray. Is this what he meant? Is repetitive prayer a sin? Rest assured that it’s never a sin to reach out to God—however you do it. Now, let’s take a look at some factors to determine if repetitive prayer violates Jesus’ teachings about prayer.
First, let’s look at the word that the NKJV translates as “vain.” The Greek word βατταλογήσητε (battalogēsēte) appears only once in the New Testament. It comes from βαττολογέω (battalogeó), and is translated alternately as “to use meaningless repetition” or “to use vain repetition.” Strong’s Concordance renders this as, “I chatter, am long-winded, utter empty words, stammer, repeat.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says it comes from two words: “From Battos (a proverbial stammerer) and logos; to stutter, i.e. (by implication) to prate tediously — use vain repetitions.” First, let’s look at this word so often rendered as “vain.”
“You’re So Vain!”
We’ve all heard that Carly Simon song that says, “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you.” We could easily change the words to, “You’re so vain, I bet you think this prayer is about you.” The word “vain” has three definitions:
- It means “self-centered.” We say a person is vain when they look in the mirror too much, primp too often, or care too much about clothing and style. We say a person is vain when they make every conversation about them. So, when Jesus says that we are not to pray using vain repetition, he’s saying we shouldn’t pray self-centered prayers. We pray self-centered prayers when day after day we make our prayer time all about us. Instead of praying for other people, we pray for our own wants and needs. Not that it’s wrong to ever pray for yourself, but it’s vain and repetitious when you are the focus of your own prayers day after day. What if your prayers were more about God and less about you? What if they were more about others than they are about you? This is what Jesus was talking about.
- It means “useless.” As in, “He tried and tried to pull the sword from the stone, but it was all in vain.” Jesus doesn’t want us to pray with useless repetition. It’s like a child who says to their parent, “Can you buy me that pack of candy? Can you buy me that pack of gum? Can you buy me that toy?” Through their repetition, they think that they will get their parent to do what they want. They smile sweetly and hope that their repeated supplications will come across as devotion. But just as a parent sees through it, God sees through it too.
- It means “meaningless.” Often, people use this verse to illegitimize others’ claims to the gift of tongues. “Your words have no meaning,” they say, “and Jesus forbade prayer using meaningless words.” Click here to read my article, “Tongues: A Prayer Language?” Without spoiling your reading of my other article, I’ll simply say that, for the person who prays in tongues, it’s not a meaningless experience for them. If this is how they are connecting to God, then while the words may be unintelligible, they are by no means meaningless.
Is Repetitive Prayer a Sin?
Many Christians believe it is wrong, or even sinful, to pray repetitious prayers. They criticize people who pray the rosary, for example, because they are repeating the same thing over and over. They decry mantra meditation as a sin, as well. So, is there a problem with repetitive prayer? Only if it’s vain. Only if it is self-centered, useless, and meaningless. If the goal is to get God to hear you because of your repetition, you’re off the mark. But if the goal is to train yourself to hear God, you’re hitting the nail on the head.
Hitting the Nail on the Head
If I have a thick piece of wood and a long nail, I can’t expect to get that nail into the wood just from one thwack of the hammer. I need to hit that nail over and over again until the nail finally sinks in. Sometimes my heart can be kind of wooden. If I want the peace of God or the word of God to become embedded in my soul, I’m going to have to repeat that word, over and over until it finally sinks in. This is Christian mantra meditation – the repetition of scripture, combined with deep breathing. By engaging in such meditation and prayer, I don’t hope that God will hear me more. Instead, I hope that I will hear from God more. And that kind of repetition is never in vain.
Christian Mantra Meditation
So, I invite you to find a quiet spot and try Christian mantra meditation. Select a passage of scripture that is meaningful to you. Keep it short – a single verse, or even a single word. As you inhale, breathe in God’s grace. As you exhale, let the word rumble from your abdomen, through your chest, past your larynx, and out your mouth. Exhale just as deeply as you inhale. Follow that by breathing in God’s grace once more. Repeat. Spend as many minutes as you like with this until that nail has sunk deep into your wooden heart. This is meditation.
Is It a Sin to Meditate?
Is it a sin for Christians to meditate? The people who suggest repetitive prayer is sinful often miss the fact that meditation is mentioned throughout the Bible. The first time we encounter meditation, Isaac is in the field meditating just before he meets his bride, Rebecca. Patriarchs and prophets meditated to get close to God. Jesus often communed with God through prayer and meditation. When you meditate, you walk in the footsteps of holy women and men throughout the ages. When you get calm, you find God in the silence. You don’t make God hear you by your repetition, but instead, the repetition helps you to hear from God. And when you find God, your prayer is never vain.
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