How to Pray

And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

Genesis 25:21 (KJV)

Intreated – Did it ever occur to you that out of all the procedures and laws for bringing a sacrifice to the LORD, there is none that instruct us how to pray. Nowhere in the Tanakh will we read a step-by-step guide to prayer. Prayer isn’t about clasping hands and closing eyes. It’s not about signaling hand gestures across the heart, or standing a certain way. And it’s definitely not about memorizing words. Hebrew prayer is much different than we might think about it today.

Prayer was never meant to be governed by restrictions or ordinances. It was meant to be impromptu, disorganized, and done in sincerity when the heart longed for the relationship between man and his Creator.

The Hebrew has over a dozen words for the English equivalent, “prayer”. This might give a sense as to how fluid this action was in Hebrew, and by ‘fluid’ I mean unstructured. The word here is `athar, and bears a very close resemblance to the Arabic cognate, atara, meaning “to slaughter for sacrifice”.(Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, p.708) This leads many scholars to interpret this word as a sacrificial form of prayer, or a prayer relating to sacrifices. We can gather that Isaac not only intreated the LORD, but did so through a sacrificial offering. His prayer of need was done in conjunction with drawing closer to YHWH.

On the surface, this sounds a lot like us, right? When I need something, I immediately draw closer to God. For many of us, that’s about the only time we come near to Him. But for Isaac, in his time of need, he chose to give up something valuable to the LORD. He sacrificed something to draw nearer to God and then intreated Him. Do we do that, or do we just come to God with requests? “God, I need help with this” or “God, can you make this happen?” or “God, can you do this?”. Think about that. Have you sacrificed something of value in your life when intreating God?

Next time you find yourself in need and turn to Adonai for help, think about what you can offer up first. This is a relationship based on hesed – another Hebrew word we’ll have to explore. It’s about a mutually giving relationship. So go out there and sacrifice something to God, go out there and do something good in this world.

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