Prayer in the Bible (Introduction)

Today I was thinking about prayers in the Bible. Perhaps this is because over the past few weeks some friends from seminary were discussing the prayer life of Moses, and other Old Testament prophets. About 15 years ago, I remember one prayer burred in a genealogy turned into the model prayer, and I remember the criticism that it had a very different nature from the Lord’s prayer.

Recently I read a suggestion that Dr. Wilkerson discovered something new when he wrote “Prayer of Jabez”. While I can’t find ancient examples of Jabez-spirituality any more than that reviewer could, there is nothing new to Wilkerson in the book. Charles Spurgeon preached on using the prayer of Jabez as a model. John Newton wrote a hymn setting of the prayer. This little prayer has been remarkable for the very reason that it is an example of God answering a ‘selfish’ prayer.

I remember that I was somewhat concerned about the interpretive methods of the book, because it assumed that the model for every-day prayer was to be found buried in genealogy.  The book raised up the prayer of Jabez above the prayers of the prophets, and above the way Jesus taught the disciples to pray.  I disliked that one of the most self-serving prayer in scripture became the model for daily prayer life.

Over time, I’ve come to think that our selective reading of scripture gives us an idea of what is Biblical that is far removed from the contents of scripture.  There is nothing in scripture to justify Jabez being raised up as that we should all emulate, but the prayer is something that the writer of 1 Chronicles felt should be included.

I believe that instead of seeking the magic model prayer we should pray every day for the next thirty years, we should recognize that scripture records the prayers of all kinds of people.  When we read scripture, we read the prayers of Adam, Cain, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Saul, David, Solomon etc. We read prayers of not only people of great faith, but people who were deeply flawed.  When we read the Psalms, we read not only praises to God, but prayers of desperation, isolation, and even anger.

Few of the prayers in the Bible are set forth as models for us to follow.  They are narrative that tell us about the person who prayed and the relationship that the person had with God.  If there is an overarching message, it is that God hears, and at times answers the prayers of all kinds of people.  Biblical prayer is many things, but often it is not pious, “theologically correct”, nor ‘censored’.  The prayers we see throughout scripture is one where people speak to God as they are — and we find that God listens.


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