There’s a popular belief that if disciples pray hard enough about something and with enough faith, it will happen. After all, didn’t Jesus say something about having faith and moving mountains? Therefore, if we just get enough people with enough faith to pray hard enough about something, God will give us our heart’s desire—right? Church bulletins and the beginning of Bible studies are often bloated as a result of the pray harder approach. Forget about praying more wisely (quality), we need more people praying what we tell them to (quantity).
But Jesus’ fervent prayer in the garden of Gethsemane knocks the legs right off the “just pray hard and have faith” view, doesn’t it? No one prayed harder or had more faith than He did and while God certainly answered His prayer (as He answers every prayer), He didn’t grant what Jesus specifically requested—to not drink the cup of suffering that the cross involved. It’s well worth keeping in mind though that He did grant Jesus larger prayer of “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (We’ll come back to this).
To view prayer as simply a matter of wearing God down until He grants our request is superficial, one-dimensional, and an oversimplification of what prayer is about. Like all oversimplifications, it makes far too many erroneous assumptions: 1) God, for some reason, always needs to be talked into answering our prayers, 2) we always ask for good things, and 3) the primary purpose of prayer is getting our will okayed in heaven rather than heaven’s will getting done on earth.
Its fine to pray for things repeatedly—Jesus prayed three times in Gethsemane and Paul prayed three times for his thorn in the flesh to be removed. But they didn’t “wear God down” or convince Him to change His mind. What happened was God changed their mind. Just as important, they were willing to have their minds changed.
When we begin to look at prayer from this perspective, as opposed to a consumer mindset, we will be in position to understand it at a much deeper level. The model prayer in Matthew 6:9-15 is a good place to start.