Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Power of Repetition

weight lifter

by Dennis Pollock

When I was a boy, long before satellite or cable TV, we had three basic channels to watch on television – NBC, CBS, and ABC. The time slots for our favorite programs were guarded passionately. But somewhere around early spring a terrible calamity would occur every year – we would face the dreaded “rerun season.” At that point TV would lose much of its significance, at least for me. I had little desire to watch an episode in March that I had already seen last October.

Repetition generally has a pretty bad reputation. When a speaker goes over the same ground he covered earlier in his talk we say to ourselves, “He’s starting to repeat himself.” When someone starts to tell us a joke that they already told us the week before, we say (if we have the courage), “You already told me that one.” And who hasn’t used the phrase “been there, done that”?

Despite our general distaste for it, the truth is that repetition is one of the most powerful means of growth and development that exists in the cosmos. The Scriptures are filled with examples of God’s commendations upon men and women who followed this principle.

The Soldier Who Repeated Himself

In the book of Acts we are told of a centurion (captain over one hundred soldiers) who “feared God with all his household.” His name was Cornelius, and although he had not yet heard about salvation through faith in Jesus, he had somehow developed a very healthy respect for God. To make matters more interesting Cornelius was fully Gentile.

The Bible tells us that Cornelius was a devout man who did two things over and over again. Although having little knowledge of God and his ways, this man had somehow come to realize that prayer and the giving of one’s money to the poor were two activities that were associated with God. We are told that he “gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God always.” We don’t know how long he did this but the fact that the word “always” is used tells us that this was no flash in the pan burst of frenetic religious activity. Cornelius prayed to God always. He gave alms (money set aside for the poor) generously. He did these things day after day, month after month, and year after year.

Finally it seems God could take no more. He had to respond to this constant repetition of prayers and alms. He sent an angel to speak to this decent man, who told him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” Cornelius was instructed to send for Peter, who shared the gospel with him. As a result Cornelius and family became the first Gentiles to hear the gospel and be saved.

God honors good habits. The word habit is defined in the dictionary as “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” Cornelius had acquired the behavior patterns of prayer and giving to the poor which came up as a memorial before God.

The Part-time Prophet

Another man with a godly acquired behavior pattern was Daniel. When King Darius the Mede was duped into signing a law forbidding prayer by Daniel’s jealous peers, the Scriptures tell us:

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.

When people think of Daniel in the lion’s den, which this will soon lead up to, they usually think of Daniel as a young man. Indeed most of the artist’s paintings show him this way. But a careful examination of the Scriptures will reveal that by this point Daniel was probably in his eighties. Another false impression is that Daniel spent his life constantly experiencing miracles and receiving amazing visions and dreams. What we fail to see is that the book of Daniel is showing us the spiritual highlights of this good man’s life. Most of his days were spent as a civil servant, serving as an advisor to various kings, most of whom he outlived (refusing the rich diets of the kings had more than just spiritual benefits!). Over the span of his ninety years or so Daniel would occasionally experience a miraculous event or receive a dream or vision which he would faithfully record.

Since his youth Daniel had developed the habit of praying and thanking God three times each day. While some might call this legalism, in truth it was simply good discipline. Someone once said, “There is no time to pray – you must make time for it.” Daniel made time.

In our age of fast moving video, quick sound bites, and eye- popping computer graphics, the business of prayer cannot compete. To put your work aside, kneel down beside your chair or bed and start quietly talking to a God you cannot see may seem a dull business indeed. Even some Christians seem to view prayer as a luxury that busy (i.e., important and successful) people can hardly afford. Though they wouldn’t dare say this, their busy and prayerless lifestyles make it clear this is their attitude.

Anyone too busy for God is too busy. Daniel honored God by making prayer a regular “acquired behavior pattern” which became in his life almost involuntary. When challenged with a king’s edict, Daniel could hardly help himself. He went home, opened his windows which faced Jerusalem, and did what he had been doing for nearly all of his life. When Daniel faced the lions, God made it evident that He approved Daniel’s life of prayer. God honors righteous habits.

Throughout the Scriptures

The Scriptures are saturated with examples of the importance of repetition. In Acts we read of the lifestyle of the first-generation believers: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” To continue steadfastly is to do these same practices over and over again, and never stop. The apostles appointed certain people to help with a program to feed the widows, and announced, “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And in Romans Paul writes that God will give “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality.”

All of these verses speak of doing the same things over and over again. Suppose you are at a restaurant with a friend and you order a steak and a salad. Your friend looks at you with astonishment and says, “How in the world can you order a steak and a salad? We had lunch together just two weeks ago and you ordered a steak and a salad. And now you’re going to order another steak and salad! What is wrong with you?” Of course nobody would say that. Our lives are filled with repetitive acts that we engage in without thinking. Golfers often play the same course weekly for years. Having a morning cup of coffee is a routine millions of Americans can engage in for decades with hardly an exception. Yet when it comes to the habits of prayer, Bible reading, and financial giving, so many Christians seem to have such a hard time with these, sometimes excusing their lack of discipline with the idea of wanting to be spontaneous. Regular religious habits seem so legalistic!

The Spirit-filled life does indeed contain an aspect of spontaneity. Philip was led by the Spirit to leave a great revival in Samaria and go out on a lonely road where he would meet an Ethiopian government official and lead him to Christ. Paul went to Macedonia after experiencing a vision at night where he was urged to “come over to Macedonia and help us.” It is thrilling to experience direct and supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit which leads to fruitful ministry. Any man or woman desiring to be led by God must be willing to change their plans on a dime to accommodate the wishes of the Holy Spirit.

But this does not negate the necessity of methodical, regular patterns of godly living and habits. If ever anyone was led by the Spirit it was our Lord Jesus Himself. And yet Jesus was also a man of routine. In Jesus’ personal devotional life we read “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Matthew tells us that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.” In village after village Jesus’ routine was the same. He would show up and begin to teach the people and announce the coming of the kingdom of God. People would come to Him for healing and He would heal them. This pattern never changed. If you had seen Jesus minister in one of those Galilean villages, you had a pretty good idea what would happen at the next. It would be more teaching, preaching, and healing.

In terms of sheer numbers, Billy Graham has to be considered the most successful evangelist in the history of the church. He has preached the gospel to more people personally than any other man who ever lived on our planet. Billy began preaching as an evangelist in the 1940’s and it is interesting to note just how similar his meetings were in his early years to the meetings he conducted in his latter ones. While his style of preaching calmed down a bit over the decades, his basic format for evangelism and even the sermons he preached remained the same. Anyone who has watched a Graham crusade on TV will remember that he always used “Just as I am” for an invitational song, Billy always crossed his arms and bowed his head as he awaited the seekers to make their way to the front. He always told the people in the upper balcony that if they came in a bus, the bus would wait for them, and he always told them in advance that they were going to have a prayer and that a counselor would give them some literature, and then “you can go back to your friends.”

This constant repetition was not because Billy was so simple minded he couldn’t think of other ways to do things. He had found God’s pattern for his ministry and he stayed with it, crusade after crusade, year after year, and decade after decade. The results speak for themselves.

God’s gracious provision

Repetition can become tiresome, but it doesn’t have to be. Eating is something we all do regularly and yet few of us seem to consider it a great burden. Indeed the idea of sitting down to a meal with friends and family and enjoying good food and pleasant conversation is something we look forward to. The reason has to do with taste. If all food tasted like sawdust, and if the only reason for eating was merely to insure our survival it would become a terrible burden.

Our Heavenly Father, knowing our need to ingest food, and how many thousands and tens of thousands of times we will be doing this over a lifetime, has graciously given us the gift of taste buds. He has made food pleasant to the taste, thus making one of the necessary tasks of our lives a joyful event rather than a grim necessity.

So it is with the spiritual activities God requires of us. The means by which God accomplishes this is the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes that the kingdom of God is not “food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” We may not experience dazzling flashes of light, explosions, or computer animation in our prayer times, but the gentle, sweet presence of the Holy Spirit draws us back to prayer again and again.

C. S. Lewis wrote that God made us to run on the fuel of Himself. When our praying and our time in God’s word and our living are done in the conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit, we can persevere. Serving God becomes delight, not merely duty. We can do today what we have done yesterday, and twenty years ago, according to the revealed will of our Father. And when we face our own personal lions’ den, we will be ready.


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