Rabbi, Teach Us To Pray - Part 2

April 08, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Part 2

Conversation With the Creator 

Extemporaneous prayer in the Jewish Faith

Eby begins this chapter by defining prayer as simply “talking to God.” He writes that “extemporaneous prayer [done without preparation, informal] is the oldest kind of prayer.” The poetic prayers of prophets and scholars and hymn writers are treasured and appreciated, but the Jewish community has never lost the art of simple conversation with God.

We tend to be impressed by the wordy and lofty prayers lifted up by those who seem to walk on a spiritual plane higher than ours or at least have a bigger vocabulary. There’s an old story about a pastor who would pray the most verbose prayers every Sunday, using titles like Omnipotent Sovereign and Almighty Creator of All That Exists, throwing in lots of thee’s and thou’s and such. One day a little old lady had all she could take so she stood up in the middle of his monologue and said, “Just call him father and ask him for something!”

That’s good teaching on prayer, even if it’s so funny. God has never been impressed with big words or thee’s and thou’s. Everyone is familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, but not everyone is aware of what Jesus said before he taught the disciples how to pray…

Matthew 6:5–8 (ESV) — 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Think about this. Jesus is God come to us in the flesh. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. If you want to know how God feels about something, look to Jesus. If you want to know what kinds of prayers God appreciates, listen to what Jesus says here: don’t pray to impress the audience around you and don’t heap up phrases to impress the audience above. Keep it simple, heartfelt, conversational.

Look how simple and heartfelt the Lord’s prayer is when read from a modern translation like The Message…

Matthew 6:9–13 (The Message) — 9 With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. 10 Set the world right; Do what’s best— as above, so below. 11 Keep us alive with three square meals. 12 Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. 13 Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. 

Constant Awareness

Next, Eby stresses the importance of cultivating a healthy prayer life by having a constant awareness of God, something we would do well to borrow from the Jews’ playbook. He writes…

Eby, p. 12 highlighted text

Something else we should do is…

Pray Without Ceasing

Paul challenges the Christians at Thessalonica and us to…

1 Thessalonians 5:1618 (ESV) — 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Eby says that this verse expresses the Jewish attitude toward prayer, which makes sense considering Paul was a devout Jew. Eby writes, “When one remains aware of God’s presence, all of life becomes a constant conversation with him.”

When Paul calls us to pray without ceasing he doesn’t mean stay on our knees with Bibles open at all times (there’s a time and place for that) but talk to God about everything as you go about your daily life.

Eby writes:

Conversational prayer dispels the excuse “I don’t have time to pray.” We can talk with God in this way while walking, driving, washing dishes, or gardening. Jews do not have the custom of bowing heads or folding hands when praying. Just talking, as when talking to any friend, is good enough.[1]

Wrestling in Prayer

Now what Eby brings out in the section “Wrestling in Prayer” really impacts me. It sounds wrong, blasphemous even, but hang with me.

Prayer is a struggle because we wrestle against the flesh, the world, and the devil everyday. That unholy trinity works around the clock to draw us away from God, to keep us from praying probably more than anything else. So a common malady of the Christian life is feeling distant from God, feeling like he has rejected us because we fall short of giving him his proper place.

Eby says we have to fight this by demanding our heavenly Father take us back, restore us, draw us near to him, and we keep demanding that until he answers. Sounds wrong, right? But God actually wants us to do this!

Remember how God used Moses to deliver Israel from 400 years of Egyptian oppression? And how God performed the miracles of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea? And how while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law of God the Israelites down below were worshipping a golden calf? Look at the exchange between Moses and God in…

Exodus 32:7–10 (ESV) — 7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

God was so angry he threatened to wipe the Israelites out and start over with Moses. But look how Moses responded…

Exodus 32:11–14 (ESV) — 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

Did you catch that? Moses interceded for the people and God relented from destroying them. On the surface this looks like God threw a little tantrum and Moses calmed him down, talked sense in to him. It appears as if God changed his mind because Moses convinced him to. But if that’s so, God is not the God we thought he was..

Read from Eby, pp. 14-15, highlighted text.

Can this kind of attitude in prayer be permitted? Look at another teaching of Jesus on prayer…

Luke 18:1–8 (ESV) — 1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Some of the most powerful prayer times you will ever experience are when you wrestle with God, demanding he hear you and keep his promises. God loves it when we do that!

Psalms: The Bible’s Prayerbook

Extemporaneous prayer is good, but using the Bible for a more focused prayer time is good too. It’s not either or but both and.

The Jews use the book of Psalms as a prayerbook. They select them topically depending on the circumstances or follow a schedule of reading through them all once a month or even once a week. They are meant to be prayed back to God.

Even as a prayerbook, the Psalms are not lofty or make God unapproachable. They are just the opposite. They are honest, heartfelt, truthful, and real. There are Psalms of Praise and Psalms of Lament. There are Psalms of thankfulness and Psalms asking God to break the teeth of his enemies.

Psalm 13 has become especially meaningful to me and I’ve been trying to pray it back to God…

Psalm 13 (ESV)  To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. 1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 92 is a great Psalm to pray to God in thankfulness and praise. 

Psalm 92:15 (ESV) — 1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; 2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, 3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. 4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. 5 How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!

Eby says the Psalms are a “powerful arsenal in the hands of… [those praying]. Whether we are in distress, in need of healing or comfort, or overflowing with thanks, the Psalms put [appropriate] words to our thoughts.”[2]

Like the Jews, let’s start trying to pray the Psalms back to God this week.

We’ll put a stake down and come back next week.

[1] Eby, p. 13.

[2] Eby, p. 18.

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