Speaking to God through A Guidebook to Prayer
- Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Before the fall, prayer was not called “prayer.” Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They had conversation and time together. After the fall when our natural connection was broken, prayer became more occasional. The first mention of prayer after the fall is found in Genesis 4:26: “At that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord.” People in the Old Testament began to pray after the fall. Throughout the Old Testament there are many forms of prayer—daily routine prayers, desperation prayers, guidance prayers, celebration prayers and petition prayers. The most basic of prayers are the prayers done together in community, often called “liturgical” or written prayers.
Worship in the Old Testament tradition involved saying prayers aloud in community, especially using the Psalms. Deuteronomy 11:13 describes the nature of prayer for the Jewish people: “If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul.” To love and serve God with all your heart and soul meant to pray. It was called the avodah sheba-lev, service from the heart. The structure for prayer is called the Shemoneh Esrie, which consists of eighteen (later nineteen) blessings. The prayer structure contains the basics of prayer: praise, petition and thanksgiving.2
Prayer was a part of life experienced in worship and by praying three times a day. The prayers were a combination of written words that included Scripture verses and words that brought to remembrance God’s character and promises and the people’s covenantal response. Always there was a place for people to pray their own personal prayers during the recitation of the Shemoneh Esrie. Three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening, Jewish people would stop to pray, men and women. There were extensive prayer versions and shorter ones to accommodate individuals’ prayer time frames.
The purposefulness of saying each word aloud, to God, stirred something I don’t know how to describe. I love listening to God, but speaking to him doesn’t come easily, and I don’t know why. Praying a liturgy of psalms aloud makes a difference for me. I feel more connected in my prayer time. The repetition allows the meaning of the words to soak in. I stay focused rather than let my thoughts stray. I want to keep praying like this and see how my relationship with God grows through it. —Cheryl Flaim
It is not clear where the habit of praying three times a day originated. However, it probably corresponded with the temple sacrifices, which were offered three times a day, and it recognized the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We also know that David and Daniel prayed three times a day. For us, it is clear that prayer is a regular way to connect with God and be reminded of God’s grace and goodness. It is a time to adore God and bring our concerns to God, and also for God to love us and respond to us.
Prayers were said standing, kneeling, lying flat on the ground, sitting or raising hands. Prayers were said in the temple or in one’s bedroom or by the roadside. Not many contemporary Christians have a habit of praying three times a day, but we can choose to have regular times to connect with God and others. Time, place and manner help create space for prayer. Another necessary element is attentiveness to God.
Attentiveness is an awareness that we are in God’s presence, and God is in ours. The Jewish people call it kavanah, a proper concentration or focus. Simply put, it is a sincere desire to enter God’s presence. We give our attention to someone with whom we are talking. We focus on the person. In the same way, we focus on God.
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