Why Do We Repeat Phrases in Worship and Prayer?

Sometimes in worship, we sing choruses or phrases over and over again, sometimes for 10 to 20 minutes or even more. For some that might be boring, strange or even annoying. Once in a while, I am asked why we do it. Here I want to give some answers.
First of all, we do it because it is biblical. Basically, there are several reasons and biblical examples for repeating the same phrase over and over again. Which one applies depends on what you are doing (meditation, worship and prayer, intercession).

In Meditation on Scripture

8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Jos 1:8)
  • Meditation in biblical times did not mean sitting down and silently thinking about things. The word used for "meditate" here in Hebrew actually means "murmuring, uttering, speaking". Joshua, David and all the other people in the bible meditated through quietly murmuring the Word of God (also "not let this Book ... depart from your mouth"). By doing this, they taught the Word to themselves, expecting it to reach their heart and really change thinking and behavior patterns ("so that you may be careful to do everything written in it").
  • Saying things again helps us to get them into our heart and has life-changing function.
1 ... To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1)
  • Psychology teaches today the necessity to hear the same things over and over again in order to really understand/learn them. Paul already knew that this is necessary in order to press truth deeply into the human heart. So he also wrote the same things again.
We say things over and over again meditating on them in order to press those things deeply into our heart (make the truths ours) and so to adjust our thinking and acting to God's word.

In Worship

8 ... Day and night they never stop saying: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (Rev 4:8)
  • Revelation 4 describes a heavenly scene in which 4 living creatures repeat the same phrase of worship and adoration day and night and "never stop saying" it
1 ... His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-26)
  • Psalm 136 consists of 26 verses. Every single verse ends with the same phrase: "His love endures forever." Saying the same things in worship is a common and biblical way of adoration, especially in songs.
  • Also, when we are really in love, we don't really count the number of how often we say "I love you!", especially because it just comes naturally and does not lose its impact on the one we love because she/he really loves to hear it. The same way, God really loves to hear our words of love towards Him, and we don't even have to be very creative to please His heart. He loves it even when we only say "I love You" over and over again.
We say things to God over and over again worshiping, because by continually telling God how worthy and good He is we fulfill the heavenly role-model of worship and because, being in love with Him and standing in awe of Him, we don't get tired of admiring Him (even saying the same words).

In Intercession

2 He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' 4 For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' 6 And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:2-8)
  • crying out to God day and night, continually bringing up our causes is the biblical way to answered prayers and to release justice
  • this passage speaks of spiritual violence through contending for our causes by coming over and over again - this clearly shows a repetitive pattern
6 I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, 7 and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. (Isaiah 62:6-7)
  • continually reminding the Lord of His promises is biblically the basic function of every intercessor
  • at the same time it is God here in this passage who establishes this intercessory function - giving God no rest until He fulfills His promises (repeating our pleas) is God's idea about how intercession should look
We tell God the same things over and over again interceding in order to fulfill the godly plan of effective intercession and to get our prayers answered and justice released.

The Benefits in Short

We continually repeat the same phrases in worship because...
  • it transforms our heart, mind and behavior and makes us obedient
  • God deserves much more of our adoration than we can ever give to Him and never gets tired of what we say
  • it brings breakthrough
  • and because it's biblical!