The Hebraic Approach to Prayer (1 of 6)
"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.