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Flattering addresses

Prayer as Jesus regarded it is a purely private and personal affair. “When ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the comers of the street, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee” (Stein 11). That is the only real sort of prayer. The public utterance is too likely to be ostentatious, formal, and of no personal value.

Jesus was familiar with such public prayers, and he saw in them the absence of that intense sincerity, that striving to know the divine will which should mark true prayer. His own acts of praying are all done in places of quiet and escape from public gaze, not literally in a closet, but alone, where the most secret things of the heart could be expressed to God. Public prayer is no doubt valuable to a degree, but only to the degree that individuals echo and repeat for themselves the thought of the leader. Even where that is done, public praying falls short of what Jesus meant by the word.

Prayer in its deepest sense will be personal and earnest beyond what most of us think. In it the individual relates his deepest problems and desires to the will of God. Such praying, Jesus taught, God hears and answers. Prayer will be brief, to the point, and the soul of simplicity and sincerity. “In praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of before you ask him.

” Verbose and rhetorical prayers, prayer-chains, prayer-beads – all such Jesus regarded as typical of paganism. The true prayer is a cry from the heart, a word, a single petition. Jesus’ own prayers are all short. Except for the Lord’s Prayer, only one of them is longer than a single sentence. Professor Bundy has pointed out how lacking in detail they all are. “In none of his prayers does Jesus catalogue his needs; he does not rehearse the situation in which he finds himself; he does not elaborate upon all that is involved for himself.

” That is because his faith in God was real and personal. “Your Father knoweth what ye have need of. ” It is also noteworthy that the prayers of Jesus contain no laudatory introductions or flattering addresses. Most of them begin with the simple expression, “Father. ” Prayer is not telling something to God. Neither is it wheedling something out of God. It must be neither formal, nor elaborate, nor rhetorical. It is a deeply sincere endeavor to know and to correlate oneself with the purposes of God as they work themselves out in the world (Hamerton-Kelly 89-97).

These various aspects of the prayers of Jesus and of his words about prayer lead to the question of the proper objects of prayer. For what did Jesus pray and for what did he urge his disciples to pray? There is the prayer of thanksgiving. The only actual quotation of one of Jesus’ prayers of this sort are the words, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding and didst reveal them unto babes; yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight.

” The whole spirit of grateful thanks, however, pervades all of Jesus’ thought. It is to be seen in his words about how God clothes the lilies, feeds the sparrows, and cares for men. Gratefulness or gladness is a necessary part of the true religious spirit, and its most natural expression is in spontaneous words or expressions of prayer (Lyman 80). There is the prayer for the necessities of life. “Give us day by day our daily bread. ” That Jesus believed in God’s care for the material needs. So believing, he declared that men should pray with reference to them.

The statement, “Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things,” is not to be taken to preclude prayer for such daily necessities. To eliminate prayer for these things would be to eliminate the belief that God provides for man’s daily needs and to destroy the gratitude which men correspondingly owe him. Jesus does not go into details; he does not elaborate the various daily wants, but he does include in his model prayer petition for the basic needs of life (Filson 99-104). It is obvious that Jesus’ words on prayer were not uttered as part of a theoretic exposition of the subject.

His approach to prayer was direct, sincere, and practical. The theoretic difficulties which modern scientific thinking propounds were not present to his mind. He prayed at first no doubt because prayer was part of his religious inheritance, but then because in prayer he found strength and guidance and a means by which he believed and taught that God’s power for good could be brought into the world. The Lord’s Prayer which Jesus teaches his disciples might truly be called the summary of all his sayings about prayer. But it is more. It is no longer only a word about prayer and a call to prayer, but is itself a prayer.

It occurs twice in the Gospels, in a longer and a shorter version (Mt. vi. 9 ff. ; Lk. xi. 2 ff. ), which shows how little interest the Church had in preserving even these sayings of Jesus as it were for the archives (Hunter 267). The text, if we are to follow Matthew, speaks in the first three petitions of what is God’s (“Thy . . . “); in the last four of matters concerning man (“us . . . “, “our debts. . . “, etc. ). For almost every petition one could find a parallel in the treasury of Jewish prayers, above all in the prayer of “Eighteen Petitions”.

The first characteristic of the Lord’s Prayer in contrast to Jewish prayers is the great simplicity and plainness, and the absence of all pompous calling on God’s name, all pompous homage. Most characteristic, however, is the completely different order of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer compared with the Prayer of Eighteen Petitions. Jesus’ prayer begins with petitions, making no reference at all to national expectations and apocalyptic embellishments. The opening petitions are three versions of one and the same idea, that God’s name may be hallowed, that his kingdom may come, and that his will may be done.

These first three petitions pray, as it were, for the revelation of God and his kingdom, while the following petitions pray for the deliverance from the troubles which beset and threaten the petitioner now: our bodily concerns, guilt, temptation and the power of evil (Bockmuehl 48). The individual remains before God in his distress and in the perils of the world, and yet it is just in this way that the group of praying men and women is united into a fellowship which is founded on the Lord’s Prayer alone.

God, the endeavor to understand God’s will, the devotion of oneself to the universal reign of goodness and truth, the presentation of one’s desires and difficulties to God, all this with no set formula, no repetitious rhetoric. It is evident that prayer is essential for religion. It is a natural corollary of belief in God, and varies in its intensity with the definiteness with which one believes in God. It is also clear that such prayer is necessary in the modern world.

In an age of intellectual flux and moral change, when older standards are being modified and the true values of life are obscured and confused, one needs more than ever to strive through prayer to find the eternal values which God is creating in the world. Works Cited Bockmuehl, Markus, The Cambridge Companion to Jesus. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, England, 2001. Filson, Floyd V. , Jesus Christ: The Risen Lord. Abingdon Press: New York, 1956. Guignebert, Charles, Jesus. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1935. Hamerton-Kelly, Robert, God the Father: Theology and Patriarchy in the Teaching of Jesus. Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1979.

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