The Heart of Prayer

In the aftermath of tragedy Synagogues and Churches alike are filled like no other time. Hymnals are sung and Liturgies are chanted by those who at any other time would be enjoying the weekend Football games. It is in the midst of tragedy that people are shown to be vulnerable and in need of the comfort and help of the Almighty. We often mistakenly believe that when GOD hears our cries He will come running at the convenient time to our aid, only to be put back on hold once again when our comforts are restored to us.

To be honest there is a certain amount of truth in this. GOD through Moses teaches us that He hears the cries of the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Exodus 22:26 “When he cries out to Me I will hear, because I am gracious.” This is an act of grace  by GOD and we all of course depend upon His grace. It is important to remember that GOD is not our servant that comes running whenever we call. In contrast we are called to be His servants. Luke 4:8 “But answering, Jesus told him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship Adonai your God, and Him only shall you serve.”

I had always believed that there was something more to prayer than seeking the aid of GOD but it was the words of a special mentor, Reb David Rogers of blessed memory which opened my eyes for the first time to the Jewish understanding of prayer. His words were remarkably simply and yet incredibly profound. “Prayer is not our means of conforming the Almighty to our will, but conforming us to the will of the Almighty.” In other words our Prayers should not be trying to convince GOD to do something that he has not already willed, but it is our means of knowing more of who GOD is and his will in our life.
The Talmudic sages expressed the same idea of prayer throughout their teachings. This belief is traced all the way back to the first relationship of GOD and man. According to Rashi, the 11th Century commentator, GOD did not bring rain upon the Earth from its very beginning because man had not asked for it. It was only when Adam recognized the need for rain that he would petition GOD . GOD’S will from the beginning was to shower the Earth with rain but it received when Adam asked for it. Just as Adam, when we pray we are acknowledging our need for a relationship with GOD and his divine will to be revealed in our lives.
Prayer should not be motivated by selfish concerns alone. A look at traditional Jewish prayers finds that the petitions unto GOD are on behalf of the community. There are very few examples of “I” or “me” in the siddurim but countless examples of “we” and “us”. So should our hearts be before GOD . “Whoever prays on behalf of a fellow man, while himself being in need of the same thing, will be answered first” B.K 92A.
The most obvious example of Jewish prayer is found in the Amidah prayed 3 times daily by observant Jews. The Amidah follows a pattern of prayer of praise and worship of the Almighty followed by prayers of repentance and right standings before Him. Before we can petition our needs before GOD we must first acknowledge his majesty over all his creation and than over our lives. Once a proper relationship is secured we seek the face of the almighty for all of our needs. The Amidah continues with prayers on behalf of the community of Israel finally closing with prayers of thanksgiving for his perfect will in our lives and strength to be the vessel through which His wills are performed. I believe we can find a great similarity between the Prayers of the Amidah and the “LORDS Prayer” given to us by our Messiah Yeshua.
The most important point that the Talmudic Sages express in terms of prayer is the need for the prayer to emanate from the very depths of our hearts. Prayers should be an earnest seeking of a relationship with the creator of the universe. This is the heart of what our Messiah taught us about prayer. Whether our prayers are in the form of liturgy, song, dance, recitation of psalms, or free flowing words of expression it must vain and empty but filled with our very being. The shortest prayer in the Older Testament is from Moses on behalf of his sister Miriam when she was afflicted with Tzarat (skin affliction), “Please, LORD, heal her now.” Moses’s prayer is simple and powerful because it contains his very heart.

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