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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Responding to a Comment/Question on "How To Pray"

There are far better people to teach you how to pray, believe me, but I will briefly outline some of the most basic lessons I have been learning along the way. I hope this helps some of you.

There are various modalities of prayer. The giftedness set, temperament, life situation, and maturation stage for each individual will suit him or her to one or more of those modalities at various times and seasons of their life. But it is my conviction that there is much to be gained by learning to become a “multi-style pray-er,” rather than relying upon one modality exclusively.

The wisdom of multi-style praying is attested to in both Testaments, and in both Jewish and Christian sources. For example, the great scholar Moshe Greenberg succinctly and cogently speaks of Older Testamental prayer in his “Biblical Prose Prayer: As a Window to the Popular Religion of Ancient Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1983.” Among his statements is the following:

"These three levels of praying were coeval, and one and the same biblical character is attested as praying on more than one of them. Hannah is said to have extemporized a long prayer on one occasion (1 Sam. 1:12), and on another, she recites a thanksgiving psalm (1 Sam. 2:1–10). Samson expostulates formlessly on one occasion (Judg. 15:18), but later he carefully follows a conventional petitionary pattern (Judg. 16:28). One of David's prayers is a one-line exclamation (2 Sam. 15:31), but he also extemporizes patterned petitions, confessions, and benedictions; furthermore, he is famous for composing highly stylized poems and psalms. King Hezekiah, fallen sick, extemporizes a brief prose prayer of petition; healed, he dedicates a written psalm (miktab ) of thanksgiving to God (Isa. 38:2 f., 9–20). Nothing warrants setting up an evolution, starting at either end of this ladder of prayer. All three levels were available throughout the period of biblical literature, and narrators might choose to place their characters on any level according to circumstances. Not only can anyone pray in the Bible, but anyone may pray on any level of prayer—though to be sure, only experts can compose prayers of the highest technical and ideational level (psalms) [Moshe Greenberg, Biblical Prose Prayer, c. 1983:46]."

Paul bears witness to the reality of multi-style praying more than once. In Ephesians 6:17-18 he says this: “17 And take the helmet of deliverance; along with the sword given by the Spirit, that is, the Word of God; 18 as you pray at all times, with all kinds of prayers and requests, in the Spirit, vigilantly and persistently, for all God's people.” He speaks of praying “with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

I have attempted in recent postings to say something about the how’s and why’s of prayer. But let me here add some general advice which might be helpful for some. My focus will be on personal, private prayer.

First, have a place where you habitually pray—a place that becomes resonant and weighty with accumulated memories and experiences. It should be a place conducive to prayer—quiet, free from distractions both visual and otherwise. You might make the place "special" by how it is decorated, by using incense, or candles, or other means of marking the place and time as "holy space." It should be a place you can return to again and again.

Second, consistently orient yourself to the appropriate purpose of prayer. The purpose should be the same as it was for Yeshua, to grow in intimacy with God, and in knowledge and conformity to his character, his ways, and his purposes, that He might be increasingly and consistently glorified in your life. Of Yeshua it was said, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.” And Paul put it this way, “When the Messiah was executed on the stake as a criminal, I was too; so that my proud ego no longer lives. But the Messiah lives in me, and the life I now live in my body I live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20].

Third, you will need a pattern for your prayers. A good pattern is the book of Psalms. I find that reading the psalms aloud, and, as the words either express your life situation or convey the sentiments of your own heart, comment upon them in your own words. Let the words of the psalms become grist for your mill . . .fuel for your prayers.

Another pattern is of course the siddur, an extraordinary resource for Jewish prayer. But this warrants a longer treatment than I will give at this time. But for now, let it suffice to say that having such a pattern for prayer "primes the pump" for us and leads us into the life of prayer.

Also let the holy words of the Psalms and of the siddur call you forth to holy thoughts and senstivities. The words of the Psalms, of the siddur, or other holy books you might use, do not merely express what you want to say--they say things you would not have otherwise said but which speak to you from the depths of the Tradition and call you forth to higher ground and a higher vision of God. This is what Abraham Joshua Heschel, of Blessed Memory, termed "the prayer of empathy," where the words of the prayers [as in the Psalms or the siddur] come first and we join our hearts to them, as opposed to the prayer of expression, which finds its genesis in our need to give expression to something welling up in our hearts.

Fourth, the premise of prayer should be our access through the sacrifice and high priestly work of Yeshua our Messiah. In the words of the letter to the Ephesians, in Yeshua “we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him." It is interesting that the wider Jewish community also comes in prayer on a basis, a premise--we pray in on the basis of Hashem's promises to the Patriarchs, a very scriptural basis of prayer by the way. Moses prays on this basis atop Sinai when he pleads for God's mercy toward Israel after the incident of the Golden Calf, and Paul speaks of Israel being "beloved for the sake of the patriarchs" [Romans 11:28].

Fifth, there is the matter of posture. It is hard to slouch and have an upright spirit. I am not saying that one must fold one’s hands, kneel, or raise one’s hands when praying. It is not a question of “must.” But one ought to realize that prayer is not simply something that happens “in the heart” or in our mouths. The body prays as well, and we should consciously bring our bodies into our prayer lives.

Sixth, one should also be mindful of the people of God. There is a special power that attends praying with God's people assembled. This is one of the reasons why the Jewish community so emphasizes the priority of having a "minyan" (a quorum) for prayer. Whenever possible, one ought to pray with the community.

Seventh, there is the provision for prayer, and that is the help of the Holy Spirit. Paul, no neophyte in the matter of prayer, said, "26 . . .the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we don't know how to pray the way we should. But the Spirit himself pleads on our behalf with groanings too deep for words; 27 and the one who searches hearts knows exactly what the Spirit is thinking, because his pleadings for God's people accord with God's will." It is always a good idea to ask for the help of the Spirit in the midst of our prayers.

Eighth, learn to thread the promises of God throughout your prayers. Repeatedly we see biblical characters doing this, as in the case of Daniel's prayers to God on the basis of God's promises to Jeremiah [Daniel, chapter nine]. This should not be done as a means of leveraging the Holy One, God forbid, or obligating Him. But it is a well-established pattern of God's people, ubiquitous in both the Bible and the Siddur. We should learn to do so as well--praying to God on the basis of His track record, His covenants and promises.

Ninth, cultivate a sensitivity to the Divine Presence during your time of prayer and seek to live in that awareness, in that sensitivity, as you go forth from your time of prayer. Prayer is not, after all, some kind of spiritual calisthenics, what James Kugel sardonically refers to as "spiritual jogging." Rather, it is an encounter with the Holy One, and a time of offering to him the sacrifice or prayer and, utlimately of ourselves.

Tenth, remember that all of this takes place within the context of priesthood--of your identity as a member of a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. We pray as part of a people, a people of destiny, of covenant, a people of privilege and responsibility. In part, the place of prayer is our place in the world. We would do well to remember this.


That’s all for now. More another time.

At 7/16/2006 5:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome! Thank you for putting the obvious time, thought and consideration into this post. (All your posts reflect it, but it would have been easy to let this one slide as "just a followup".) Your ministry here on your blog is a wonderful addition and a great blessing to those of us not privileged to attend your shul on a regular basis. Thank you!!!


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