Prayer is Reflexive

What is prayer really all about? Does God need our prayers, or perhaps we need them more than ever in this generation? Take a look at the language of the Bible and the light it sheds on our understanding of prayer with Rev. Aaron Eime.

Pray, praise, Psalms

The Psalms are the Prayer Book of the Jewish People.

The English title, the Psalms, is derived from the Greek translation of ‘Psalmoi’ meaning "instrumental music". In Hebrew the word Psalm is derived from the verb "to pray" and the Psalms are indeed at their essence prayers.

They are also songs and poems and have been incorporated into public and private worship for close to 3000 years, becoming part of the liturgy in both Judaism and Christianity.

Praying hands holding a lit candle
Star of David

Going deeper...

Psalms in history

From the Second Temple Period the Psalms have been part of the daily prayer life of the Jewish People.

They had become a recognisable collection of material by the turn of the Common Era that was distinct from other sections of Scripture. Jesus says to his disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44).

Today the Psalms are prayed daily, weekly, monthly and at special feast days in the religious calendars. All 150 Psalms are prayed every month in the Jewish calendar. So every psalm is said at least 12 times a year. Prayers are personal as well as communal. You can pray them alone, but also pray them together.

What is prayer?

The word ‘Prayer’ in English is derived from a Latin word ‘Precari’ which means to beg, or to entreat.

Subsequently, and too often, prayers represent mostly petitions and requests to God. The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilah which comes from the verb L’HitPallel and this Hebrew verb is what's known as a "reflexive verb".

What's a reflexive verb?

A reflexive verb is something that you do to yourself.

For example, the Hebrew verb "to dress" or "to wear clothing" is lilbosh. The reflexive form of this verb, to dress oneself is L’HitLabesh.

Yet how can prayer be reflexive? We pray to God and not to ourselves, right? Doesn't He listen? Even Jesus prays! The Hebraic concept of prayer contains within itself the concept of self analysis and self evaluation while in communication with God. The goal therefore is not to try to influence God, rather the opposite, to let God influence you.

So perhaps we should consider that prayer is more listening than speaking?

A question - does God need our prayers?

The answer is of course, no, He does not need our prayers.

Whether we pray to Him or not He will still be God, He will still rule and He will still have His Will done. But does God want our prayers? The answer is a definite yes! He loves to hear our prayers, He wants us to talk to Him and probably more importantly He wants to talk back. Our prayers as they say, are like sweet incense before the Throne of God.

The Psalms - a prayer book of human emotion

Within the Prayer Book of Psalms we can see the full gambit of human emotion.

There are Psalms of praise and adoration through to prayers of sadness and despair. Some Psalms just don't end well at all, they just stop at rock bottom, such as Psalm 88 which ends in utter darkness.

God has emotions, just like we do. We are made in His image and as we have emotions, so too does the Lord. He gets angry, He gets jealous, He loves, He weeps and He laughs. God is in greater control of His emotions than I am.

God made us and He knows us better than we know ourselves. And so He has provided us with a prayer for every emotion that we might come across. He knows that we will have days where we are in distress and days when we are sad, and He has prayers that reflect that. There will be other times to shout, dance and rejoice, and there are prayers for those times too.

If you prayed today because you prayed yesterday...

Some people find it difficult and uninspiring in praying the same prayers over and over again.

Praying as a routine can indeed lose its meaning and a spontaneous prayer life perhaps seems more preferable. However, the Rabbis have a saying, "If you prayed today because you prayed yesterday, then you haven't prayed." 

This reflects that Prayers must always come from the heart of the person praying. Whether they be spontaneous and free form prayers or liturgical prayers and psalms. Jesus prayed both types of Prayers and even taught His disciples a liturgical prayer.

You can tell a lot about someone by how they pray

You can tell people’s theology and how they think and feel by how they pray.

It’s not what goes in your mouth that is important (says Jesus), instead it’s what comes out (Matthew 15:11). One of the things that comes out of our mouths are our prayers, how and what we say to God. Our prayers and prayer life reflect our thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

Prayer is reflexive, we should listen to our own prayers as they will reveal things about ourselves. About the things that are bothering us, the issues on our hearts and minds, and how they are affecting us and perhaps our response to those issues.

God doesn't need our prayers (although He does desire them).

So who truly needs to pray? We do.

"If you prayed today because you prayed yesterday, then you haven't prayed."

Rabbinic Saying

Ready for further study?  Return to the Yeshiva page.

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