Prayer as Priority
Prayer can happen anywhere, but personal prayer, the kind spoken of by the Messiah in Matthew 6:6, takes place in secret—alone with our Heavenly Father. This type of prayer is an intimate form of communication. It is a holy conversation, heart to heart connection. If God had a telephone number, it would be Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”
Our God longs for our call. We understand this because our younger son, Jesse, lives with his bride, Christine, in San Francisco. When Jesse calls, we stop everything to answer, and at least hear his voice and tell him that we will call him back as soon as possible. How much more does our Father in Heaven delight to see our names come up on His screen (Prov. 15:8)!
We know how the Lord loves our prayers, but our lives are so busy. It is difficult to carve out alone time, quiet time, devotional time with God. Nevertheless, prayer is the need of the hour! I (Jamie) recently felt convicted concerning this reality, and when one of my friends gave me a book by Mark Batterson titled Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge, I embarked on an adventure in prayer that has been extremely meaningful and fulfilling. It necessitated a fast on my part, not of food, but of
sleep—rising one hour earlier each morning for 40 days. I am writing on Day 38 and have decided to continue my extra morning time with Abba. I love to sleep, but I love Him more.
Sometimes we ask: “Why pray when God knows our thoughts, our needs, and our desires?” Prayer is not about imparting information to God. It is about being with Him, fellowshipping with Him, sharing with Him. It is above all about love and a God who wants to hear what is on our hearts and answer our hearts’ cries. God can do whatever He chooses to do, but He chooses to work through the prayer of His beloved ones: us.
For Messianic believers, prayer involves friendship. Yeshua, the Messiah, is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). He wants us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares deeply for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He is our compassionate High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16). Yeshua wants us to bring our problems and concerns to Him in prayer. He has all the answers.
A man named Joseph Scriven was deeply in love and engaged to be married. Shortly before his wedding day in 1855, his fiancée drowned in a tragic accident. Years later, a second love also died before they could wed. Out of his deep sorrow came a poem, which later became a famous hymn: “What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
How do we pray? When we were young believers, we followed an acronym: ACTS—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. There is still much merit in beginning our time with God praising and worshipping Him (Ps. 145:1-5), followed by a confession of sin (Ps. 66:18, 1 Jn. 1:9). Thanksgiving comes next (Ps. 95:2, Ps. 100:4). Finally, supplication, asking God to do what we cannot do. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matt.7:7). The tense of the verse actually implies, keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.
While some of our supplications are self-focused, depending on our life situation at the time, I have found that, if we ask God what is on His heart, He will mention other people. Lost people. Hurting people. Depressed people. Those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2). The Holy Spirit will bring these people to mind. I have also discovered that when you pray for people, they are drawn to you. There is some kind of irresistible, spiritual magnetic pull. This happened recently with an ex-sister-in-law who calls perhaps once a year. I had decided to include her in my 40-day prayer challenge. God moved. She called!
Jewish Roots of Prayer
The Hebrew word for prayer is Tefillah (teh-fee-LAH). It is derived from the root פלל which means “attachment.” When a religious Jew stands before God and pours out his heart in Tefillah, he seeks to draw closer to Him and is considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah of Deuteronomy 10:20, “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name.”
In Judaism, prayer is largely a group activity rather than an individual one. Most prayers are expressed in the first person plural, “us” and “we,” instead of “me” and “I.” Prayers are corporate and collective, recited on behalf of all the Jewish people. (The Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9, which begins with “Our Father…” follows this tradition.)
Prayers in traditional Judaism are also fixed or set prayers. Observant Jews pray throughout the day (“without ceasing,” 1 Thes. 5:17, from a Jewish root), giving thanks always (Eph. 5:20, 1 Thes. 5:18, from a Jewish root). The prayers of thanksgiving are called b’rakhot (bra-KHOAT), singular bra-KHA. A brakha is a blessing or brief prayer that thanks and honors God as the source of every good thing (James 1:17, from a Jewish root). Every blessing begins with “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe…” God is thanked for each part of our bodies that still function, the sun that shines, men who have wisdom, etc. etc. In the morning, adults and even little children pray, “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” This prayer is called the Modeh Ani: “Modeh ani lefanekha, melekhkhaivekayam, sheh-hekhezarta bi nishmati be-khemla, raba emunatekha.”
Since the prayers are fixed, not spontaneous, one might think that they are not from the heart. However, prayer in traditional Judaism is called the “service of the heart,” in Hebrew Avodah shebalev (ah-voe-DAH sheh-bah-LEV). The use of the word avodah (service) connects prayer in the Jewish mind with the ancient Jewish Temple sacrifices. It also connects prayer with a verse from Deuteronomy: “And now Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, to serve (v’la-ah-VODE) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all
your soul” (Deut. 10:12). One of the ways to love God is to “serve” Him sacrificially through prayer.
In traditional Judaism, prayer is kept heartfelt through kavanah (Kah-vah-NAH). This mindset for prayer is generally translated as “concentration,” “intend,” “direction,” or “devotion.” Kavanah includes focusing one’s entire being on prayer, focusing on the meaning of words as opposed to rote repetition. Tefillah without kavanah is not a service of the heart, but mere lip service. To help pray with kavanah, some Jews daven (DAH-ven), a Yiddish term for prayer, accompanied by “shuckling,” swaying in
rhythm to chanted prayers. This practice is based on Psalm 35:10, “All my limbs shall declare, O Lord, who is like You?”
There are three prayer services daily in synagogues: Shacharit (shah-Kha-REET), morning, mincha (mean-KHA), midday, and ma’ariv (ma-ah-REEV), night. Scripture alludes to these times of prayer: “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Ps. 55:17). A formal prayer service cannot be conducted without a quorum of at least 10 adult Jewish men, referred to as a minyan (MIN-Yun), based on Abraham’s intercession in Genesis 18. A prayer book is used, called a siddur (sih-DURE). People face toward Jerusalem when praying (1 Kings 8:30, 38-39, 42).
Jewish people (and Christians) from around the world pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem. Why? God told Solomon that His eyes and His heart would be in the Temple in Jerusalem perpetually (1 Kin. 9:3). The Kotel is the only remaining part of that Temple. Therefore, the Jewish people believe that the Spirit of God remains behind the Wall. (See Song of Songs 2:9.)
The ultimate goal of Jewish prayer is to draw close to God, as King David expressed in Psalm 73:28, “But it is good for me to draw near to God…” In this, we as believers in Messiah have a huge advantage. We have the Ruach HaKodesh inside of us. God is not only near us. He is within us, as Gift and Helper, guiding us in prayer. What Jewish sages hope for, we have experienced as reality. One of these men, Maharal, writes: “With Tefillah, a person demonstrates that he is dependent upon Hashem, Blessed is He…the whole concept of Tefillah is an expression of man’s utter dependence upon Him…when a person expresses this dependency, it is as if he is drawing close to Him…” In Yeshua, we have moved from “as if” to “in reality.”
Praying the Scriptures
We have found that praying God’s Word back to Him is one of the most effective ways to pray. Praying His Word is praying His will. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15). There are many prayers that God cannot resist answering. For example, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). “For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Pray, “Abba, please show me the good works that You have prepared for me.”
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jam. 1:5). Pray: “Lord, I ask you for wisdom according to James 1:5, and I receive it by faith in Yeshua’s name.”
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the heavens. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…” (Eph 4:29-30a). “Father, I don’t want to grieve Your Spirit. Please help me control my tongue and have gracious, positive speech rather than corrupt, negative speech.”
“You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance” (Ps. 32:7). Pray: “Thank You, Abba, that You are my hiding place and that You preserve me from trouble. Please give me a song of deliverance.”
“…a lamb for a household” (Ex. 12:3). Pray: “Thank You, Most High God, that Yeshua is the Lamb for my household, and my family members will come to receive Him as Savior and Lord.”
The Scriptures have a lot to say about bold, passionate, and persistent praying. There is power in prayer. Little prayer, little power. More prayer, more power. No prayer, no power. Persevering prayer, utmost power. Have you heard of PUSH? Pray Until Something Happens!
We can come boldly to God’s throne of grace, finding mercy and help in our time of need because of Yeshua, our High Priest, who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15-16). We also have authority in His name to pray powerful prayers for others, interceding for both believers and pre-believers to be set free, blessed, healed, and made whole in every way (Mk. 16:17-18). In an
article about the Times Square Church Prayer Movement (Charisma, Oct. 2018), the senior pastor, Carter Conlon, said the following: “Like Esther entering the king’s throne room to plead for her people, believers have authority in prayer to fight for their nation.” Pastor Conlon also said, “To unlock the true power of prayer, pray for others. As we pray that others will be set free, we will be free. As we pray for others’ families to be healed, God will bring healing to our families.” Amen.
We need to pray with holy hutzpah (HOOTS-pah), boldness, and never give up! Be like the Syro-Phoenician woman of Mark 7 who kept asking Yeshua to cast the demon out of her daughter. She would not take no for an answer. Consider the widow of Luke 18 who persisted until justice was served. Yeshua praised her for her perseverance and said that this parable was about prayer: “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
Pray. Pray. Pray. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jam. 5:16).
Prayer Challenge Points
Mark Batterson’s Draw the Circle book is a treasure chest of truths about prayer. We highly recommend it. Following are a few samples of the author’s thoughts on prayer. 1. “If we give more of ourselves to God, God will give more of Himself to us.” 2. “The primary purpose of prayer is not to change circumstances but to change us.” 3. “It’s the impossible prayers that honor God because they reveal our faith and allow God to reveal His glory.” 4. “If we hit our knees, the Holy Spirit will give us God-ideas for our ministry, family, business—for our lives.” 5. “Our prayers bear fruit forever.”
Consider ordering Draw the Circle this month and participating in the 40 day prayer challenge. The spiritual discipline will be life-changing.
Prayer and Thanksgiving
So much more could be said about prayer, but one of the most crucial, effective aspects of prayer that touches the heart of God like nothing else must be mentioned: thankfulness or thanksgiving. When we express thankfulness to God, it lets Him know that we don’t take Him for granted. We appreciate Him and all that He does for us. We are told in Psalm 100, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (vs. 4).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).
“Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving, meanwhile, praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Messiah…” (Col. 4:2-3).
Let us thank God together this month for…His great salvation (Heb. 2:3), His love that never fails (1 Cor. 13:8), the Jewish roots of our faith (Rom. 9:4), His mercy (Ps. 138:8), His protection (Ps. 91:1), His forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), His provision (Phil. 4:19), His grace (Jn. 1:16), and the precious gift of His Spirit (Eph. 4:8).
Final Thoughts on Prayer
One of my favorite authors, M. Basilea Schlink of blessed memory, lived a lifestyle of prayer. Her comments on prayer are deep, concise, and full of grace and truth.
“Prayer means pouring out our hearts to the Father with complete confidence and infinite trust in His fatherly love.” [Note: We pray to the Father in Yeshua’s name.]
“Prayer means looking away from visible things to the invisible God, who rules over all powers and principalities, over the visible and the invisible.”
“Prayer means lovingly bringing all the needs of our family, friends, neighbors, and our nation, indeed, the whole world, before the Father and persisting in faith until help and salvation come.”
Praying for you and all Israel daily—Love in Yeshua,