Prayer, what does it mean to you? How do you approach God in prayer? Do you wait until your back is up against the wall and you need help this minute, or do you make a habit of daily prayer? Are your prayers lifted up in praise and worship of the Creator, or is it a time to hand Him your wish list? A combination?
People pray for many reasons and in many ways. Is there a right way to pray? In my opinion, no. Whatever way we choose to approach God is part of our journey, our relationship with God. As our relationship deepens, our prayer journey will change and deepen.
The Hebrew word for prayer is “tefillah”; it means to judge oneself. In Western Christianity our word “prayer” is derived from the Latin word meaning “to beg”. Very different, wouldn’t you say? The Jews pray 3 times a day and their prayers bear different approaches to God.
I have studied Judaism and have a deep appreciation for the “roots”, if you will, of our journey with God. Study has changed the way that I look at scripture, interpretations, and deepened my understanding. And yet, I have only scratched the surface.
Like this prayer thing; I have spent the better part of my week meditating on the differences in our definitions, and my approach to God when I pray. Tefillah; examining oneself before God. The very essence of examining self is to be honest, open, and vulnerable. That can be very difficult; what do I see in myself that is not pleasing to God and what am I going to do about it? If I am honest with myself I see qualities that I don’t like, that need to be changed. Selfishness, for one. Without the magnifying glass of tefillah I can fool myself into believing that I am generous, but the reality is that I’m not; at least not as generous as I would like to be with those outside my circle of family and friends, and even then I find myself lacking.
Tefillah is humbling. I don’t want to be humbled, do you? I want to feel like I have “got it all together”, but again in the light of self examination I have to admit failure in the presence of God’s perfection.
At times, self examination has the ability to break us; to reveal those moments when we have hurt another of His Creation. The realization that we have hurt another person should pierce the core of our being. Careless words wielded like weapons at others for the sole purpose of inflicting pain should drop us to our knees and lead to brokenness.
But God doesn’t leave us there on our knees. One of His attributes and gifts to us is mercy. In His mercy He wraps His loving arms around us, holding us to His breast to comfort us in our moment of pain. That alone is humbling; to know that a Holy God, perfect in all His ways and desiring relationship with us, will comfort us like a father comforting a child.
The subject of prayer from the Hebrew perspective is complex at best. The Hebrew approach to God is with reverence, awe and familiarity. Reverence and familiarity are polar opposites, and yet we can experience both; He is a Holy God, and we are but a speck in a vast universe. Still, He desires a close relationship with each of us.
The pious Jews sometimes prepare for hours before going to God in prayer. Their motives for what they are asking for are examined before bringing them to God. That kind of blows me away! The idea here is not to bring the “laundry list” of needs and desires, but to understand why I want the things I am asking for, and how those things will better the world; in other words what contribution is that thing that I am asking for going to make in the grander scheme of life? Rather takes the selfishness out of prayer, don’t you think?
It’s not that God doesn’t want us to bring our needs and desires to Him. He knows we have needs and desires; it is the approach that needs to be considered, the attitude, the reasons. Realizing that when God gives to us that we are receiving a gift rather than we are deserving of the answer to prayer. Believing I am entitled to whatever desire I bring to God is a selfish mindset. “I want what I want when I want it” without thought to how my desire affects the world at large is childish, self-centered. And if I don’t receive the answer I want? What will my response be then? To sulk, pout, turn my back on God, shake my fist in anger?
Our relationship with God is a journey, our own personal journey, unique to each of us. Just as parents have a unique relationship with each of their children, so it is with God. Our prayer life is unique to each of us as well. How many times do we pray out of obligation without a thought as to what we are praying for and why? Before a meal, in church, when we want something, when a friend asks us to pray for a need, to name a few? What if we adopted the attitude and mindset of the Hebrew definition of prayer instead of the Latin “to beg” we are most familiar with? What if before the next prayer you pray, you figure out why you want that prayer answered, and how that will answer will better our world? What if………?