The Hebraic Approach to Prayer (4 of 6)


In prayer God is also to be acknowledged as powerful He is not just the God of Israel in the sense of some local, regional tribal deity. He is, as Jewish prayer repeats over and over, the King of the universe. He is all powerful, he is the one who Paul speaks of in Romans 1, as Elohim—the One who has invisible qualities, that we call God. His eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20) have been made evident, even in the creation—because the all-powerful God is the Creator God. Within the traditions of Jesus, every day you would try to find at least a hundred occasions to acknowledge God’s kingship by reciting a blessing, a benediction: a blessing upon arising, a blessing upon going to the bathroom, upon eating a meal, upon seeing beautiful trees, upon seeing lightning, upon your children and your wife. Every blessing began with the same words: blessed are you Lord our God, king of the universe—baruch atah adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam. Six words in Hebrew that precedes every benediction, constantly putting God in the focus of your life as king. One of the purposes of prayer is to set the Lord before you, to remind yourself and affirm to him that he is the King, that his ruling and reigning is to take supremacy in your life. Prayer is affirming, confessing the truth about God Prayer is affirming and confessing who God is and what God does, or has done. Often in Jewish prayer, Scripture is quoted as part of the prayer, because Scripture so eloquently testifies to who God is and what he has done—his character and his conduct. Psalm 145 does exactly that. In 1 Chronicles 16 notice how David in his prayer declares great and glorious truths. In a way when you are praying these things, not only are you declaring them and confessing them, you are also in effect reminding God of who he is and of what it is he has promised to do—verses 6, 8-13, 28-31, 36. Jewish prayer is constantly affirming truths about God, who he is, what he has done, and what his character is. Notice how in 1 Chronicles 6: 14-18 David is reaffirming a very vital truth in his prayer. He is restating in his prayer the great truth that God made a covenant with Abraham, made an oath with Jacob, gave a decree to Isaac, that this land is going to be an everlasting inheritance of the people of Israel. Twice a day Jesus would pray Deuteronomy 6:4 as part of his morning and evening prayers. It is called the Sh’ma. The complete Sh’ma consists of 3 texts: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-22, and Numbers 15:37-42. Twice daily Jesus would pray these Scriptures—to this day observant Jews pray them. You might want to read it as part of your prayers. This is a prayer that does not remind God so much as it does the prayer; it reminds the one who prays that you are to love God with all your heart, soul and strength, you are to teach these things diligently to your children. Prayer is a matter of conforming you to God’s will so by praying the Scriptures, claiming the promises, reminding God of his greatness, of his wonders and of his covenants, and reminding ourselves of our obligations and duties, we enter into biblical prayer. Using the Scripture is an essential part of the prayer of Jesus, prayer that affirms and confesses who God is, what he has done and what he requires of man.

"Prayer is affirming and confessing who God is and what God does, or has done. Often in Jewish prayer, Scripture is quoted as part of the prayer, because Scripture so eloquently testifies to who God is and what he has done—his character and his conduct."

​Prayer is typically uttered in the plural, it has a congregational orientation It is our Father, our King. Save us; give us this day; deliver us. This is a very difficult point for us to absorb as 20th century Americans, in which our whole world revolves around the great I—me. In Jesus’ world and in the biblical world view, your very identity is tied up inseparably with your commitment to a covenant community. It is together that we corporately bear witness to God in this world, together we are fitly joined so as to become a holy habitation in which God can dwell by his glory. So when we pray we need to pray in the plural, we need to even sing in the plural. A lot of our choruses betray our mindset, it is always I—I will, I do, I, I. We changed some of the words last week into we—we will praise your name, we will lift your name on high—we together as a body, are the body of Christ in this world. And when we pray, we need to think of that. There are many prayers in Judaism that should only be recited in the context of a quorum of at least 10 adults. It is called a minyan—ten righteous ones. Only in the presence of the community is it appropriate to utter some forms of prayer. It is not to say you should not pray individually—of course you should. There is always a place in Jewish prayer for individual petition, but the most important form of prayer is the prayer on behalf of the community. That is why one sage said: “many a praise that is not heard, because he transgresses the divine command that you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When you pray think of others to whom you are connected, even those with whom you are covenanted. There are prayers in the Psalms that are in the first person. David prays in the first person—and it is not inappropriate. However, it is a component of the bigger picture of prayer, which is always corporate. That is how Jesus teaches us to pray: “our Father in heaven.”

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