Monday, February 2, 2009

The Correct Attitude in Prayer

The following excerpt is from a paper I wrote entitled A Theology of Prayer. One of the purposes of the paper was to learn from the Hebrews their method of praying. This was the method used by Jesus, Peter, and Paul since they were all Torah observant Jews. The idea is that Christianity needs to return to its Jewish roots as in the first century. This is not about salvation as that is secured by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone all to the glory of God.

“Attitude” has been defined as a state of mind or a feeling; a disposition. An appreciation of what is occurring during prayer will assist one to understand the proper attitude to be practiced. Some see prayer as a time to manipulate God into fixing their respective dilemmas. If the correct words are said often enough, God will be compelled to answer according to the dictates of the one praying. This approach fails to achieve the correct attitude in prayer.

The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilah. It is derived from the root Peh-Lamed-Lamed and the word l'hitpalel, meaning to judge oneself. The word tefilah is a feminine noun meaning prayer. It is the word used to describe a prayer that was similar to a plea.

The word origin provides the reader direction concerning the attitude of Jewish prayer. The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it is a prayer of consecration, faith, commitment, corporate, or worship, is the introspection it provides. We are look inside ourselves, seeing our role in the world and our relationship to God. Isaiah the prophet experienced this type of self examination as seen in his declaration, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips….” Indeed, this was a strange admission of inadequacy from one that was a prophet of the Most High God. Yet, this reveals the beauty of self introspection; in the presence of God, he acknowledged his unclean lips that would soon be used to proclaim God’s Word.

When we approach the Creator of the Universe, we are to have an attitude of yielding to His Sovereign will. As stated by one scholar: “the Hebrew prays that his heart will be transformed in such as way that he will be fully prepared to accept what God has to offer.” This conflicts with the practice of many to seek God absent personal introspection.

Another issue concerning the attitude of prayer involves the question of how often should one pray concerning a particular issue: faith versus persistence. For example, one might advocate based on Scripture, that when you pray believing you shall receive, you have received even without seeing the manifestation of the answer. Another might contend that one should keep praying or requesting until the answer is observable. One can see that when the proper attitude of introspection and submission is present, the difficulty disappears. When I pray, I believe I have received although what I have received may not be what I sought. In fact, the answer may represent something currently not capable of being understood. Further, I may pray with importunity as I am to earnestly be in a place of self examination before God. As I seek God in prayer it is not inconsistent for me to believe that I have received something I may not yet understand while at the same time continue to seek God by further submitting myself in prayer until I do have comprehension. The key is that obedience precedes understanding; I am to obey regardless of my lack of understanding.

One may continue in the attitude of prayer throughout the day as we are to be obedient to Him regardless of the function we are performing in the material world. Observant Jews are constantly reminded of God's presence and of their relationship with God, because they are continually in attitude of prayer toward Him. The first thought in the morning, even before they rise from bed, is a prayer thanking God for returning their souls to them. Prayers are to be recited before enjoying any material pleasure, such as eating or wearing new clothes; prayers to recite before performing any commandment, such as washing hands or lighting candles; prayers to be recited upon seeing anything unusual, such as a king, a rainbow, or the site of a great tragedy; prayers to be recited whenever some good or bad thing happens; and prayers to recite before going to bed at night. All of these prayers are in addition to formal prayer services, which are performed three times a day every weekday and additional times on Sabbaths and festivals.

In sum, our attitude in prayer is to be that of submission to the will of God and continual introspection. This is to be maintained during our waking hours. An understanding of this proper attitude in prayer will assist us to live our lives continually before the Lord.

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