In an different article we examined prayer by using the pneumonic ACTS. ACTS is intended to help us remember the basic flow of prayer. A is for adoration or praise. C is for confession. T is for thanksgiving or gratitude. S is for supplication or intercession. This article will focus on prayer in the Old Testament offering us examples of each type of prayer. I hope that by so doing we will see that prayer has been an essential aspect of the life of the people of God from the very beginning.
We begin with Adoration or praise. One of the oldest prayers in the First Testament is actually in the form of a song. In Exodus 15:1-2, 11, following the Israelites successful crossing of the Red Sea, Marion, the sister of Moses offers a sung prayer of adoration. Here are a couple of sections of that prayer. “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” Some of the most beautiful prayers of praise can be found in the Psalms. Psalm 146 begins this way, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.” (vs. 1-2).
Confession is the next step in the pattern of prayer. Perhaps the best known confession is that of King David in Psalm 51. Scholars believe he offered this prayer after his affair with Bathsheba. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight…” (vs. 1-4a) The importance of confession is examined in Psalm 32:3-5. “While I kept silence (about my sin), my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
We move next to prayers of thanksgiving. One of the great prayers of thanksgiving is offered by King David when he had the Ark of the Covenant brought into Jerusalem (I Chronicles 16:8-13). “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually. Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, offspring of his servant Israel, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” In the Book of Daniel we find Daniel giving thanks for the ability to interpret dreams (Daniel 2:22-24). “To you, O God of my ancestors, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and power, and have now revealed to me what we asked of you, for you have revealed to us what the king ordered.”
The final piece of the prayer pattern is that of supplication or intercession. A first example of this type of prayer is found in I Samuel when Hannah prays for a child (I Samuel 1:11). “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” We also witness Moses interceding for God’s people following the golden calf incident. (Exodus 32:11-12) “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? …Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.”
My hope is that this very cursory look at prayer in the Old Testament will be a reminder that God’s people have always sought to be connected through prayer to the God who called, freed, saved and corrected them.
prayer - the lord's prayer as a pattern
Due to the fact that prayer was a spiritual discipline practiced for more than a thousand years by God’s people who believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a God who was both approachable and caring, it is understandable then that prayer also plays a pivotal role in the New Testament. We see this most clearly when Jesus is approached by his disciples with the request that he teach them how to pray. This request can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. For many of us it might seem odd that the disciples, good pious Jews, would need Jesus to teach them “how to pray.” After all they had been praying all of their lives. Context helps us understand their request. Jesus had been critical of those who prayed long-winded public prayers in order that they might be acknowledged as spiritually superior individuals. That being the case the disciples desired to know how they ought to pray. He then gave them a formula for prayer which has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer.
For those of you who read last week’s article you will remember that we followed the ACTS model for prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). The obvious question then is if Jesus gave us a model, why ought we to have another model? My response is that much of what is in ACTS is also contained in the Lord’s Prayer. Thus they work together as a means of teaching us about prayer. My hope is that this will become clear as we examine Jesus’ model prayer.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” We begin with Adoration. The concept of “hallowed” means that we acknowledge that God is holy, meaning something or someone that inspires awe and reverence. The word “hallowed” is a reminder that when we address God we are not texting a friend or speaking with our best buddy. We are in communication with the creator and ruler of the universe.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” This phrase is an extension of the first phrase and its theme of Adoration. This is so because it reminds us that God is greater than we are and therefore God’s will and the eventual establishment of God’s kingdom are more important than our desires and our kingdoms.
“Give us this day our daily bread…” This next phrase is one of Supplication…which if we were strictly working with ACTS means it is out of order…yet it reminds us that it is acceptable to seek from God those things that we need. I realize that many Christians struggle with praying for their own needs (this may seem selfish). Jesus however teaches that this is an acceptable practice in part, I believe, because it reminds us that God is giver of all that we have.
“And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” We now reach Confession. Jesus makes it clear that confession and seeking forgiveness is central to a God-centered life. Without confession we would more than likely continue living in ways which are counter to the will of God. Confession allows for realignment. In addition we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven.
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one…” Once again we return to Supplication. We are taught that we are to ask God not to lead us into places where we might be tempted (recall Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan) as well as to protect us from the evil one who would lead us away from God. We are asking then for God’s protection.
What is notable about this prayer is that it does not contain a portion for Thanksgiving. I would offer that a reminder to give thanks was unnecessary because any observant Jew was already giving thanks multiple times during the day. Jewish teaching was that one gave thanks for virtually everything; another day, food to eat, beauty in nature, the ability to perform good works and many others. In a sense thanksgiving did not need to be mentioned because a good Jew could not exist without it.
prayer in the new testament
Prayer is in come ways the glue that holds together the entire New Testament. We can see this in the prayers around the birth of Jesus, Jesus’ own prayers and then the prayers of Paul in his letters.
The Gospel of Luke begins with the acknowledgement that Zechariah the priest and his wife had been praying for a child. An angel says to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid for your prayer is heard…” (Luke 1:13). We move from this prayer to Mary’s prayer of praise which she offers when she is told she will bear the messiah. It begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47). The opening chapter of Luke finishes with Zechariah praising God for the gift of his son John, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for he has visited his people” (Luke 1:68). Soon after Jesus’ birth we meet Simeon who gives thanks to the Lord (Luke 2:29ff) and Anna who worshipped, fasted and prayed every day (Luke 2:37).
The recorded prayers of Jesus are relatively few, though the scriptures make it clear that prayer was an integral part of Jesus’ life. The prayers of Jesus which have been preserved are those which were offered to God at significant moments in Jesus ministry. The first appears in Matthew 11:25 which is a transition point between Jesus’ initial teaching ministry and his laying claim to the messiahship. Jesus prays, “I thank thee Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding….” This prayer is a reminder of why Jesus will be rejected by the religious authorities. Next we have Jesus praying to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41ff). Jesus asks God to raise Lazarus in order that people will believe that Jesus is the one sent from God.
In John 12:27 we listen to Jesus wrestling in prayer, with his impending crucifixion. This prayer will be echoed in the other gospels when we find Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39ff; Luke 22:42; Mark 14:43). John 17 contains one long prayer. Jesus prays for himself, for his disciples and for all of his followers who were and are to come. Finally we hear Jesus praying on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34) as well asking forgiveness for those who crucified him (Luke 23:34).
Finally we have the prayers of the Apostle Paul. Paul’s prayers throughout his letters and in the Book of Acts are so numerous that we could spend weeks looking at them. What I want to do instead is to look at some of the topics Paul covers in his prayers. One of the most prominent topics for Paul is that of Christian living; that Jesus’ followers live lives which reflect the love and grace of Christ (2 Cor. 13:7-9; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-10; 1 The. 3:12-13, 5:23). A second topic of prayer is the Apostle praying for himself and his ministry asking that God would bless and protect not only him but also those who share in Christian work (Rom. 1:9-11, 15:30-31; Eph. 6:19; Col. 1:10; 2 Thes. 1:11, 3:1). Strengthening is a third area of prayer. Paul prays that Jesus’ followers will have all the power they need to succeed (Eph. 3:16-17; Col. 1:10-11; 1 Thes. 3:13; 2 Thes. 2:16). Next, as one who was well educated the Apostle Paul prays that Christians grow in the knowledge of God (Eph. 1:17; Col. 9-10), of God’s will (Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9), of God’s love (Eph. 3:17b-19), of the hope of God’s calling (Eph. 1:18) and of all that God has given us (Eph. 1:18; Philemon 1:6). In addition Paul prays for more love (Phil. 1:9; 1 Thes. 3:12; 2 Thes. 3:5), Christian unity (Rom. 15:5-6), hope (Rom. 15:13) and grace and peace for believers (too many passages to mentin).
My hope is that his brief overview of prayer will help us to see that prayer is central to our identity as Christians and essential to our own spiritual journeys.