Matthew 6:7-8. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.”
Jesus, the Teacher. Wouldn’t you love to have been there, sitting at Jesus’ feet, hearing all these new ideas that rocked the world of the scribes, Pharisees, and other religious leaders of the day?
Now, they’re being told that “vain repetition” in prayer is ineffective!
The word vain is from the Greek matane, and it indicates an attempt at manipulation that doesn’t succeed; emptiness, folly. So it would seem that Jesus is saying that repeating words over and over will not “work” in gaining God’s attention; it is a useless practice, because God does not need to be reminded, with our much speaking, of what we need. Also, those vain repetitions become meaningless because the heart is not in the words. The repetition is often just a means to an end, and is not a true reflection of the heart of the one who prays.
Does that mean we should not pray repeatedly for something? No! Indeed, in I Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to pray without ceasing. The meaning there is to continually be in a state or frame of mind to pray; and often, that praying will be directed toward a single need or desire of the heart.
On the other hand, vain repetition is empty, formality-fulfilling words being repeated over and over in an effort to reach the ears of, it would seem, an indifferent God. Picture your toddler pulling on your skirt or your hand and saying, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” until you really want to run for cover. That is vain repetition. The child really doesn’t need anything; he simply can’t stand it if you’re not focused on him. That’s not prayer, it’s manipulation.
See the difference?
To sum up these last four verses, Jesus reminds His disciples that the Father already knows what they need. He does not need to hear it a specified number of times. What He does need, I believe, is to know that the one who prays has followed Psalm 37:4: “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He will give thee the desires of thine heart.”