Jewish prayer always requires kavanah. Kavanah is more than just focus, although in part it means focus. It also means intention in your prayer. The word kavanah comes from a root which means to aim. In Jewish prayer there are basically three aims or general categories of prayer. You must pray with intention (content), intensity, and with focus. Shevach--praise. You praise the Holy One, you bless him, glorify him, sanctify his name. Praise is the predominant form of prayer in Jesus’ world. Bakashah--petition. You petition God on behalf of the needs of the community and of the individual. There are actually 10 Hebrew words for prayer in the Bible that speak of this kind of prayer. In English we can translate them: a cry for help, moaning, a song, a plea, a distress, a calling out, a prostrating of oneself, a petitioning or beseeching (beseech means to throw oneself totally upon God). Hodayah--thanksgiving. Prayer ultimately should teach you that there is something more important than making demands and that you should have a sense of total dependency upon God. Prayers of thanksgiving always begin and end Jewish prayer. We can summarize it this way: to pray is to acknowledge who God is, to give thanks to Him, to praise Him, to glorify and bless Him, to petition Him for His will to be done in our hearts and in the life of our community. All of these types of prayer must be uttered with intention and with focus. The sages of Jesus’ day taught that if you were downcast and it was the time for prayer, you should start singing some songs, psalms or hymns (even for an hour if need be) so that you can come to the proper place of intention and focus in your prayer. What you are about to do is not to engage in some magic act, you are about to engage in high worship of the King of the universe. Prayer always addresses God in direct speech. We recognize that God is a Person and we speak directly to Him with respect, with joy, sincerity, and with humility. He is not some impersonal force of power in the universe. He is personal and He has a proper name. In fact, he has many names. He was to Abraham El Shaddai—the almighty God who is sufficient for every need. He is El Elyon—God the mountain, God Most High. He is Yahweh—the covenant keeping, loving God. He is Adonai Shalom—our peace, Adonai Tsidkeinu—our righteousness, and Adonai Nissi—our banner and Adonai Rofechah—the Lord who heals you. He has all of these titles and names (and more) for He cannot be circumscribed by human rationality. We can get glimpses of who He is. He is not an impersonal consciousness that pervades everything in the universe, He is a personal God—He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If we pray to any other God we are missing the mark. We must prepare our heart to pray because it is toward God that we are directing our communication. "All peoples pray. Biblical prayer is unique in the concept of the God—the identity of the God—to whom we pray. It is the God who is acknowledged as the King of the universe and the Creator and sole source of all life. He is both Father and King (Avinu malcheinu). He is to always be entreated, and never compelled. We must pray with respect." In Jesus’ day (as today), when you enter into the three seasons of prayer daily, you would focus your attention. If it was during the daytime and if you were a male, you would put on the prayer shawl, reminding you that you were wrapped and surrounded in God’s Word and His commandments. Then you would take three small steps forward, plant your feet firmly as a tree planted by living waters, and then you would begin praying to God.
When orthodox Jews pray, they move to and fro. This is just a physical indication of concentration. They are concentrating on God because He is the King. You have entered into His presence, you have bowed before Him, and now you begin praising Him, giving Him thanks, and it is appropriate you petition Him according to His will, for your needs to be met. When you are praying you do not let anything distract you—only for a life saving emergency should you interrupt your prayer—because you are talking to the King. It is not time to speak with your friends or to take care of business. You are in the presence of royalty—the Creator of you, the source of your life. Show Him respect. You focus in your prayer with earnestness, with intensity, and with intention. When you finish your prayer, you back out three steps (symbolical of exiting the presence of the King), then you bow before Him, and then you enter the common world of human affairs. Prayer is an enormous privilege. What right do you have to pray to the King of the universe? How can you pray to Him? You cannot even go outside and gaze upon the sun that He created. You cannot gaze upon one small part of it. How can you possibly gaze upon God Himself? What right do you have to even petition Him, to speak to Him? You have no right, save that He gives it to you. You cannot enter His presence unless He invites you to do so, and in Jesus Christ He has invited you, He has given you His grace sufficient to enter into His presence and to say: “amazing grace that saved even a wretch like me.” Compared to the King of the universe, the Holy One of heaven, we are all straw and stubble—filthy rags— and all our accomplishments are dung. He actually wants us to enter into His presence with thanksgiving and enter into His courts with praise. You parents know what it is like when the only time your children come to you is when they want something. So do not just come asking. It touches your heart when your kids come and say: “Let’s talk. I don’t need anything. I just respect you. I appreciate you.” God is a Father. He is a king that you dare not approach without His permission. He has given you His permission and He says that if you come to Him with respect, if you pray to Him with focus and concentration, and if you pray according to His will, He will graciously come and meet your every need. The sages encouraged preparation of the heart before prayer. One of the ways of preparing is to enter into an attitude of celebration, praise, and thanksgiving. This is the attitude we should have before praying. Psalm 145 was a favorite in the time of Jesus of preparing one’s heart for prayer. When you read these scriptures you can actually read them as a form of prayer. Do you find it difficult some times to engage in extended prayer because you run out of things to say? Do you find it kind of awkward, that you say the same things over and over? The solution to that is to extend your prayer vocabulary by amplifying your praise and worship of God, drawing upon Scripture. One of the reasons the disciples could engage in 50 days of prayer in an upper room, waiting for the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit, is not that they were engaged in 50 days of extemporaneous prayer, they were engaged in prescribed prayers and scriptural prayer. So if you find it difficult to engage in an extended period of prayer, read Psalms 145-150 and other great scriptures as a form of prayer.
The power of God’s name is the power of God himself. So when we pray in Jesus’ name, it does not matter whether you say Jesus or Yeshua. The point is that there is no magic in the name of Jesus, nor is there any magic in the name of God. It is a sacred name, but it is not a secret name. When you pray in the name of Jesus, you are praying in accordance with the purposes consistent with the character and the nature of God and the nature of Jesus. That is why John tells us that if we pray according to God’s will our prayers will be answered. The heathen knew about vain repetitions. You see it in the story of Elijah on Carmel. The priests of Ba’al keep repeating his name over and over. Elijah with prophetic sarcasm says to them: “say it louder, your god must be sleeping.” So they repeat these names louder and louder, trying to invoke their deity for their purposes. You see, in Jewish prayer you actually are exhorted not to pray aloud, because it is considered an offense to God and a lack of faith. He is not deaf, He hears you, you do not have to scream at Him, or holler at Him and you do not have to huff and puff. You just have to conform yourself to His character and His will. The name of God that we have come to know as Yahweh which He revealed to Moses in Exodus 3 is a sacred name. It is sacred because God is holy; not because it is a secret name. The name Yeshua, Jesus, is a sacred name, but it is not a secret name. In fact, it was a very common name in the time of Jesus—as common almost as John or Simon. So when we read in Acts 19 that the exorcists tried to use this name of Jesus to cast out demons because they saw the disciples casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and having far greater success than they, they decided this must be a more powerful name and wanted to use this name. They did. The demons spoke back to them and said: “Jesus we know, and Paul we heard of, but who are you?” Then they jumped upon them and beat them. Even the demons spoke the name of Jesus, but they did not invoke His power, because they were not speaking in faith, in conformance to His will and purposes. So there is no magic in the name. We must guard against prayers that speak of a magical world view, that if we say it in the right way, if we speak the right name, if we use the right formula and if we believe hard enough then it is going to happen. All of this speaks of magic, not of God’s majesty. You cannot compel God. You may praise him, you may petition Him, you may beseech Him, but He is not a man or a force that you can compel. Repetition per se in prayer is not a bad thing, however, vain repetition is what Jesus is guarding against. We are exhorted to pray repeatedly, persistently and regularly. In fact as part of Jesus’ world, one would pray three times a day. In the early church the same practice was carried over with the tradition of saying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. Repetition is not a bad thing, but Jesus speaks against empty, vain and meaningless repetition.
"In Jewish prayer you actually are exhorted not to pray aloud, because it is considered an offense to God and a lack of faith. He is not deaf, He hears you, you do not have to scream at Him, or holler at Him and you do not have to huff and puff. You just have to conform yourself to His character and His will."
Mantras are not biblical prayer. Back in the days when I was in the New Age (part of this organization that was nationally known) several members of our group were initiates of a guru in India (a very high guru from ancient spiritual tradition). When one was initiated into that group, he was given five secret names to use as a mantra. Every morning the initiate would get up at 4 o’clock and meditate from 4 to 6:30. The initiate was to repeatedly utter under his breath these five secret names that were forbidden to share with anyone that was not an initiate because these names were the names of the deities of the five heavens. By invoking these names the initiate was invoking these deities. This is all part of a magical pagan world view. This is not the world of which we biblically belong. Once some itinerant evangelists from Mexico came up to where we were holding a conference and they wanted to know exactly how to pronounce the name of Jesus. They took me aside and said: “we have travelled a long distance because we want to know from you exactly how the name of Jesus was pronounced in His day.” I told them: “Yeshua.” They said: “Are you sure? We’ve been told it is Yashua.” I told them that this was a common misunderstanding and explained the linguistics of it. They were wanting to turn the name Yahweh into Jesus, because He came in His Father’s name. So they had to get Yah in there by making it Yashua. Linguistically that can never happen. The y in Yeshua refers to the Yah of Yahweh. So it is there, they just did not recognize it. They wanted to be able to hear it when they said it. They were quite argumentative about it. They stated that saying the name of Jesus correctly was imperative because when they baptized people in the name of Jesus (as described in Acts 2) that it would be null and void if the name was not properly pronounced. I explained that they had completely misunderstood the power of a name in the Jewish world. If what they claimed was correct then why then does Paul use the Greek name of Jesus? There are other Christians in the world confused about this issue. I just ran into a brilliant young man in Vancouver who counseled with me. He is connected with a group of people called the Sacred Name Movement. They claim that if you say God, you are actually saying gut. They also claim that when you say Jesus, you are actually calling upon the name Zeus. They tell you that if you do not say Yahweh or Yashua and if you do not say it correctly then you are invoking pagan forces. This is baloney! If that were the case, Paul would not have written the name of Jesus in Greek. He would not invoke Zeus. This false claim is based on a pagan conception of reality—that what you speak is what you get. It is part of a world view (even part of some Christians’ world view) that if you speak the right thing, if you say it the right way, your prayers will be answered. It is a faulty world view that we must challenge. It is very important that when you pray you understand that you are not engaged in what some have rightly called “soulish prayer.” You must not be engaged in some form of prayer believing that if you say something enough times and consistently enough that you are going to get the result you want. It is not even a matter of your will power or believing power. Jesus says that if you have the faithfulness of a mustard seed a mountain can be moved—if it is in accordance with God’s will. So it is not your faith in the sense of your intrinsic power to do something that compels God to respond, it is His love. You just have to be faithful to God’s greatness, and His faithfulness is what responds to our prayers. So, repetition is not bad, but vain repetition is. It is not even the length of your prayer that matters, but it is the quality and the character of your prayer. Moses was noted among the sages as praying the longest prayer in the Bible and also the shortest prayer. He prayed for 40 days on the Mount and in Numbers 12:13 when Miriam came down with leprosy he said a prayer of only five words: “Please heal her, O God!"
"Father bless this time of teaching, let it be anointed—not for my sake, but for the sake of your holy name and for the sake of these saints—let them be edified and encouraged to pursue you more diligently, more devotedly in prayer. Amen"
In Matthew 6 we have what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. More accurately it should be called the Disciple’s Prayer because it is a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples as a pattern for praying. One of the great blessings of our biblical Jewish heritage as gentiles who have been grafted into God’s purposes and into God’s people is the heritage of prayer. Have you ever wondered as I have what kind of prayers were being said by the apostles and by Jesus? When they were in the upper room in Jerusalem and they were praying, in one accord, I wonder how were they praying and what were they praying. As I began to study the Hebraic approach to prayer a few years ago, I came to understand that many Jewish prayers, including the principles and patterns of prayer, were quite well known. They were not just praying extemporaneously as we most often do. There were established patterns of prayers and there were written prayers that were said three times daily, for example. There was always the occasion for extemporaneous interjection, petition and praise, but there were also regular prayers. This Lord’s Prayer that Jesus uttered to his disciples incorporates many, if not most, of the key elements of Jewish prayer in the first century and it was so much a part of him. In Acts 2:42, we read that the early church was characterized by four things: by teaching, fellowship (people contributing to a common cause), by the breaking of bread and by prayer. Prayer was one of the four pillars that held together the tabernacle—the sanctuary of the church of God in the first century. And I felt it as a prompting that God is calling us as a congregation to prayer—to a season of special prayer. God is revealing himself to us in terms of exhorting us to spend time in his presence, here and now. Right now is holy, righteous and good. Right now counts forever. We do not have to wait. We do not always have to think in anticipation of the future of what God may do. This is the real thing. Our tendency is to look always to the future and because of that we are robbed of the sanctity of the present—the holiness of the now. And one of the great powers of prayer is that it situates you in the holy—now. It reminds you and it responds in you to the very presence of God in the present. I want to share with you some of the principles of prayer that were so well known to Jesus and which we need to incorporate into our prayer life. We have many things from the Jewish people. We have the whole conception of a monotheistic God, the Scriptures, the great prophetic principles of justice and mercy, but there is no greater treasure than prayer. Prayer is at the very heart-beat of Jewish life and it was for Jesus. In fact, it is part of several activities that are essential to biblical faith in the time of Jesus. Prayer is very important, but only as an essential component in a whole. And the whole has to consist of prayer, study (study of the Word of God that leads to obedience), ritual and moral living. All of these are essential components in the life of the Spirit in Jesus’ world and they should be for us. If we are called and commissioned to be priests in the kingdom of God, then prayer is both an enormous privilege and an urgent duty. I will give you 12 principles to help us understand the proper way to pray. In our prayers there must be no trace of magic, incantation or vain repetitions. You must understand the contrast of biblical views of prayer with pagan practices of prayer. Prayer is a universal phenomenon. All peoples have prayer to one degree or another. But we are looking at what is distinctively biblical prayer, and in biblical prayer (unlike in paganism) the gods are not subject to certain impersonal forces or powers. In the world of paganism you could exert power over a deity if you had the name of that deity so that if you speak his name, you invoke his power independently of whether he wishes to be invoked or not. Magic is a world view in which the universe is filled with impersonal forces and powers, and if you have the right incantation, if you use the right words, or you go through the right ritual, you can manipulate those forces, those powers, even those deities. So names are very important, because names give you power (e.g., the story of Rumpelstilzchen is typical of the pagan world view). This is not the biblical approach to prayer. “When you pray, do not pray with vain repetitions,” Jesus says. You are not dealing with magical forces. You are dealing with a majestic person—not a power but a person. Here is a prayer that appeared in a magazine: “May the sacred heart of Jesus be adored, loved, glorified, preserved throughout the world, now and forever—sacred heart of Jesus pray for us, Saint Jude worker of miracles, pray for us. Saint Jude, helper of the hopeless, pray for us. Say this prayer 9 times a day for 8 days, and your prayers will be answered. It has never been known to fail.” I am not making any comment on the sincerity or the spirituality of this writer, but what I am commenting on is that the principle behind this prayer is not a biblical principle. You cannot say the right prayer in the right way a certain number of times and then your will is done. That is a faulty view of biblical prayer. Ultimately biblical prayer is about conforming you to the will of your Father in heaven, not conforming him to your will. Ultimately prayer is that which will transform you. If correctly engaged in with the right attitude and the principles that we are going to espouse, prayer will actually transform you and conform you to the image of God. It is not primarily an activity of converting or of conforming him to your will and your wishes. I have seen people going around saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as if saying it forcefully enough and repeating it enough times, the power is going to be present. That is vain repetition. Saying a prayer nine times for eight days is vain repetition, because it is based on a magical view of reality that is not biblical.