This subject is one that, to a great degree, has been misunderstood, arid even with many who practice it, there has seemed to be more or less of haziness as to the place it occupies in the life of a believer. This haziness may be attributed largely to traditional views, and, as well, to the practice of it in the various religious cults, Pagan, Jew and Christian.
The word "prayer" is of Latin origin, from precari, to pray,meaning to "entreat or implore." Our word "precarious" implies dependence on the will of another. Among peoples the world over there is the latent feeling that our lives are, more or less, dominated by beings who are in superior positions of power in the various kinds of gods they recognize and worship. In ancient times this worship was inspired by fear, and thus called for sacrifices to appease and placate their gods. Undoubtedly the offering up of sacrifices was to some extent implanted by the early parents of the race, e. g., Cain and Abel must have had instruction in this respect.
But as peoples, became widely distributed over the earth, having lost their common speech, it became quite easy for the unscrupulous to play upon these instincts, and devise the various kinds of worship and sacrifice that have prevailed throughout the centuries, with little modification meanwhile.
When we come to examine the Hebrew Scriptures, we find that sacrifice to and worship of ONE god is enjoined. That worship and sacrifice was recognized long before Mosaism is prominent in the lives of many is attested in the records. But when we come to Exodus 19 and 20 we find a covenant relationship established by which the parties of the second part, the sons of Israel, are bound to worship ONE god, Jehovah, and deviation there from would involve them in certain calamities.
While approach to and worship of Jehovah was by means of "offerings" on the part of the individual, there was an exclusiveness involved in the covenant relationship, and the precepts accompanying. Individuals of other rationalities were not totally unaware of Jehovah, in fact we know there was recognition of the superiority of Jehovah above the gods of the nations themselves. Those aliens who prayed to and worshipped Jehovah were placed in two categories by Israelites themselves, designated as "proselytes of righteousness" which privileged the latter to worship with but subordinate to Israel as far as blessings were concerned; the other "proselytes of the gate," who were allowed entry into that part of the temple precincts only, known as the "court of the nations" and outside the barrier called the "soreg." Any attempt to violate the sacred precincts on the part of the second class, by entering inside the barrier was punishable by death.
That this "exclusiveness" in favor of Israelites existed is too well known to require further elaboration, and this situation continued even beyond the period of Christ's earthly ministry, until the destruction of the temple in A. D. 70 and the scattering of the people thru out the nations. And that there were individual Gentiles who were devout, God-fearing, and besought Him continually (Acts 10:1, 2), yet without any direct recognition of their prayers is also made known.
In the Hebrew Scriptures we find repeated instances of direct prayers to Jehovah by individual Israelites. Let us note that Abraham "prayed" (Gen. 18:22-32). Rebekah talked with Jehovah concerning her unborn children (Gen. 25:22), after Isaac had "entreated" Him on account of her barrenness (vs. 21). Jacob, in his distress, entreats Jehovah (Gen. 32:7-12). It is significant here that, it was not until he was in difficulty that Jacob turned to the One Who had been his Preserver throughout the years of his absence from home. Just like it is today, men cry to God only in their extremity, and the remarkable thing is that God has and does answer in such extremities. As for Joseph, even the Pharaoh acknowledged that "Elohim" was with him (Gen. 41:37,39).
It was after the making of the covenant with Israel that all approach to Jehovah was through the High Priest, Aaron, and his sons. And God's answers were given through them alone, with the exception that when Israel apostatized, and were in the hands of their enemies, Jehovah sent "saviour-judges" when they cried to Him. Later in their history, and because of their continued apostasies, He sent prophets, the priesthood having become corrupt and apostate as the people. The first of these prophets was Samuel, and the last John the Baptist.
Moses, while he was the Mediator of the covenant, made entreaty on behalf of his people following their transgressions (Ex. 32:30-33; 33:12-16; Num. 14:11-19; 21:7; Deut. 9:25-29, etc.). Joshua was a praying man (Josh. 7:6-9; 10:12-14). And in the time of the saviour-judges, when Israel cried out in their extremity, Jehovah heard (Judges 3:9). Hannah, the mother of Samuel prayed (I Sam. 1:10-13; 2:11). Samuel prayed (I Sam. 8:6, 21; 12:23).
That David was a praying man is evidenced by the many prayers recorded in the Psalms (see 3:1; 4:1; 5:1-3; 6:1-4; etc.). There are many other records in the Old Testament where prayers, entreaty, and praise as well as thanksgiving are mentioned. The wonderful prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple (I Kings 8:22-53) is one example, and the Psalm of David in II Sam. 22:1-51 is another.
When we come to the Greek Scriptures we note that Jesus spent whole nights in solitude and prayer to His Father. By request, He gave the Twelve Apostles an outline of a prayer, which, unfortunately, has been slavishly followed to the present day, by Christendom. Only in John 17 do we find the true "Lord's Prayer."
Following the release of Peter and John from interrogation by the Sanhedrin, the disciples in unison prayed to God (Acts 4:23-31). Stephen prayed that the sin of those who stoned him illegally would not be charged to them (Acts 7:60). Prayer was made in the ecclesia concerning Peter who had been imprisoned by Herod to please the Jews (Acts 12:1-5).
In the Concordant Version Concordance we meet with a very peculiar definition of the Greek word pros-eu-ch'o-mei (which in the A. V. is rendered pray, prayed, and make prayer), as "Toward-well-have, toward wish, pray." Pros-eu-ch'e is rendered prayer, and defined "Toward-well-having." At any rate we may take the word as meaning prayer but would include the thought of petitioning, praise, and thanksgiving.
Among those who hold the truths of universal reconciliation, and especially the celestial destiny of the Body-ecclesia, and with these, the belief that God is working all in accord with the counsel of His will, there has developed the idea that because of these truths, there is no use of resorting to prayer in any manner or form. Another thought is, "if all is of God, and He is working all in accord with His counsel" then our prayers will not change His purpose or plans. Strangely enough the records do not agree with such a conclusion. James, for example, states that "The operative petition of the just is availing much" and he goes on to instance Elijah, "'a man of like emotions with us, and he prays in prayer for it not to rain, and it does not rain on the land three years and six months. And again he prays and heaven sends a shower and the earth germinates her fruit." See James 5:17,18.
But some will say, "but James was a Jew, and what applied to the Jews does not necessarily apply to believers of today." Let us test this out with Paul, who is the pattern and exemplar for us today (2 Tim. 2:2). In Rom. 1:8-10 he writes, "I am thanking my God through Jesus Christ concerning all of you. . . . how unintermittingly I am making mention of you always in my prayers beseeching, if somehow, sometime, at length I shall be prospered in the will of God to come to you." If, as some say, God's plan is made and He will not deviate from it, why should Paul offer such a prayer, beseeching? Another remarkable feature about this prayer is that, it was not answered immediately, for he tells the Roman believers that "I was much hindered also in coming to you (this, undoubtedly because God had other plans that must first be consummated), yet, now, having by no means still place in these regions. . . . I shall be coming away through you into Spain" (chap. 15:22-24,29). Then the prayer was answered.
In Rom. 15:30 Paul carries the thought still further. "Now I am entreating you, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the spirit, to struggle together with me in prayers to God for me."
Further examples of Paul's prayers are now given as follows: Eph. 1:16: "(I) do not cease giving thanks for you, making mention in all my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may be giving you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the fuller knowledge (epignosis) of Him, etc." Again in 3:14-19: "On this behalf am I bowing my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . that He may be GIVING YOU, in accord with the riches of His glory,
In Eph. 6:18, we have another request of Paul, "During every prayer and petition, praying on every occasion. . . . that to me expression may be granted in the opening of my mouth with boldness to make known the secret of the evangel for which I am conducting an embassy in a chain." Do we not need prayers for boldness in the propagating of the Word? If not, then we may dispense with them.
Phil. 4:6: Please read in Con. Version. It would appear that the subject of the passage is not "prayer" as such, but rather the Greek verb "merimnao" which occurs 19 times as follows: Matt. 6:25,27, 28,31,34; 10:19; Luke 10:41; 12:11; 12:22,25,26; I Cor. 7:32,34, 34; 12:25; Phil. 2:20; 4:6. This word may be understood as meaning to be deeply solicitous or concerned to worry; or to be deeply anxious. Or as the A. V. had it in 1611, to be careful, which then signified to be full of care. Not only does Paul tell the saints "Let nothing be worrying you," but the verb being in the present or continuous tense, means literally, "Nothing go-ye-on-being-anxious" or "Nothing go-ye-on-worrying." To worry is not altogether condemned in the Greek Scriptures (in the sense of this verb). In I Cor. 7:32,34 it does not seem to be entirely useless. In chap. 12:23-25, Paul states the divine antidote for schisms—evidently that greater honor ought by the saints to be accorded to the humble members (instead of the opposite, which almost invariably happens). "That there may be no schism in the Body, but the same, over one another, the members may be solicitous" (or worrying, anxious). Should we not be exceedingly anxious about this matter, concerned? In Phil. 2:20 this anxious solicitude is encouraged. Of Timothy Paul says, "No one I have equally sensitive, who, indeed, (hostis) will be genuinely solicitous of your concerns."
The cure for such a state of worrying is that wonderful PEACE from God, which is superior to every mood. The PEACE is not the only answer to the Prayers. It is the cure of the worry. Paul is saying nothing about our burying our petitions in God and forgetting our needs, or the needs of others. This passage is cited as it is usually perverted as to its intent.
Col. 4:2: "In prayer persevering. . . . with thanksgiving." This is nearly the same as Eph. 6:18 in import.
Col. 4:12: "Greeting you is Epaphras (it was Epaphras who brought
the evangel to the Colossian ecclesias, Chap. 1:7) . . . . always
struggling for you in prayers,
(a) That you may stand mature, and
(b) Fully assured in all the will of God."
Is this not a splendid example of solicitude for others?
I Tim. 2:1: Here Paul instructs regarding some things for which Timothy and ourselves should pray for, despite the seeming contradiction of Rom. 8:26. We have here in this passage, evidence of the MELLOWING EFFECT of the evangel on the mind of Paul, when he exhorts prayer on behalf of ALL MANKIND, not to mention kings and those in superior stations. What a contrast to his attitude as recorded in Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1, 2.
I Tim. 5:5: "Now one really being a widow and alone (without children to care for her) and is remaining in petitions and prayers NIGHT AND DAY."
Philemon 4: "I am thanking my God always, making mention of you in my prayers."
In the foregoing are cited every occurrence of "pros-eu-ch'E" in the Pauline epistles. It appears, therefore, that the matter is one of obedience, not for speculation or reasoning about. It is not Paul, certainly, who asks us to consider any form of teaching which would deem perseverance in prayer to be futile.
Bro. Alexander Thomson of Edinburgh, Scotland, writes: "Those who claim that prayer does not alter things ought to really answer one question—why are we enjoined to persevere? He further comments: "It is not enough to say that God would have done the same things had we persevered or not. Such an answer is utterly 'unscientific.' Because, if it signifies anything, it means that prayer is superfluous. God does not wish prayers which are only a pious exercise. . . Those who approach God must believe that He is (exists) and that He is becoming a rewarder of those who seek him out (Heb. 11:6). Does He equally reward those who do not take the trouble to seek Him?"
In view of the evidence before us, there can be no question as to the need for prayer. We cannot imagine a son or daughter not having any converse or communication with an earthly parent who has given himself unsparingly for the material welfare of his family. He would delight in having requests for such things as were within his power to grant, and to receive thanks for any and all of his gratuities. Prayer, however, does not only consist in asking for things, but includes thanksgiving for the indescribable gift of His Beloved Son on our behalf, and the grace that has been wrought for tis in His death, burial, and resurrection and exaltation. "Being blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing." Appreciation of such gifts will unconsciously call for our praise and adoration.
W. E. FRENCH
Last updated 7.10.2008