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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. In the Old Testament:
The history of prayer as it meets us here reflects various stages of experience and revelation. In the patriarchal period , when 'men began to call upon the name of the Lord' ( Genesis 4:26; compare Genesis 12:8; Genesis 21:33 ), prayer is naive, familiar and direct (Genesis 15:2 ff; Genesis 17:18; Genesis 18:23 ff; Genesis 24:12 ). It is evidently associated with sacrifice (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 26:25 ), the underlying idea probably being that the gift or offering would help to elicit the desired response. Analogous to this is Jacob's vow, itself a species of prayer, in which the granting of desired benefits becomes the condition of promised service and fidelity (Genesis 28:20 ff). In the pre-exilic history of Israel prayer still retains many of the primitive features of the patriarchal type ( Exodus 3:4; Numbers 11:11-15; Judges 6:13 ff; Judges 11:30 f; 1 Samuel 1:11; 2 Samuel 15:8; Psalm 66:13 f). The Law has remarkably little to say on the subject, differing here from the later Judaism (see Schurer, HJP , II, i, 290, index-vol, p. 93; and compare Matthew 6:5 ff; Matthew 23:14; Acts 3:1; Acts 16:13 ); while it confirms the association of prayer with sacrifices, which now appear, however, not as gifts in anticipation of benefits to follow, but as expiations of guilt (Deuteronomy 21:1-9 ) or thank offerings for past mercies (Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ). Moreover, the free, frank access of the private individual to God is more and more giving place to the mediation of the priest (Deuteronomy 21:5; Deuteronomy 26:3 ), the intercession of the prophet (Exodus 32:11-13; 1 Samuel 7:5-13; 1 Samuel 12:23 ), the ordered approach of tabernacle and temple services (Ex 40; 1 Ki 8). The prophet, it is true, approaches God immediately and freely
A new epoch in the history of prayer in Israel was brought about by the experiences of the Exile . Chastisement drove the nation to seek God more earnestly than before, and as the way of approach through the external forms of the temple and its sacrifices was now closed, the spiritual path of prayer was frequented with a new assiduity. The devotional habits of Ezra ( Ezra 7:27; Ezra 8:23 ), Nehemlab (Nehemiah 2:4; Nehemiah 4:4 , Nehemiah 4:9 , etc.) and Daniel (Daniel 6:10 ) prove how large a place prayer came to hold in the individual life; while the utterances recorded in Ezra 9:6-15; Nehemiah 1:5-11; 9:5-38; Dan 9:4-19; Isa 63:7 through 64:12 serve as illustrations of the language and spirit of the prayers of the Exile, and show especially the prominence now given to confession of sin. In any survey of the Old Testament teaching the Psalms occupy a place by themselves, both on account of the large period they cover in the history and because we are ignorant in most cases as to the particular circumstances of their origin. But speaking generally it may be said that here we see the loftiest flights attained by the spirit of prayer under the old dispensation - the intensest craving for pardon, purity and other spiritual blessings (Ps 51; Psalm 130:1-8 ), the most heartfelt longing for a living communion with God Himself (Psalm 42:2; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 84:2 ).
2. In the New Testament:
Here it will be convenient to deal separately with the material furnished by the Gospel narratives of the life and teaching of Christ and that found in the remaining books. The distinctively Christian view of prayer comes to us from the Christ of the Gospels . We have to notice His own habits in the matter ( Luke 3:21; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:16 , Luke 9:29; Luke 22:32 , Luke 22:39-46; Luke 23:34-46; Matthew 27:46; Jn 17), which for all who accept Him as the revealer of the Father and the final authority in religion immediately dissipate all theoretical objections to the value and efficacy of prayer. Next we have His general teaching on the subject in parables (Luke 11:5-9; Luke 18:1-14 ) and incidental sayings (Matthew 5:44; Matthew 6:5-8; Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 9:38; Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:19; Matthew 21:22; Matthew 24:20; Matthew 26:41 and the parallels), which presents prayer, not as a mere energizing of the religious soul that is followed by beneficial spiritual reactions, but as the request of a child to a father ( Matthew 6:8; Matthew 7:11 ), subject, indeed, to the father's will (Matthew 7:11; compare Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:39 , Matthew 26:42; 1 John 5:14 ), but secure always of loving attention and response (Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 21:22 ). In thus teaching us to approach God as our Father, Jesus raised prayer to its highest plane, making it not less reverent than it was at its best in Old Testament times, while far more intimate and trustful. In the &LORD'S PRAYER (which see). He summed up His ordinary teaching on the subject in a concrete example which serves as a model and breviary of prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4 ). But according to the Fourth Gospel, this was not His final word upon the subject. On the night of the betrayal, and in full view of His death and resurrection and ascension to God's right hand, He told His disciples that prayer was henceforth to be addressed to the Father in the name of the Son, and that prayer thus offered was sure to be granted (John 16:23 , John 16:24 , John 16:26 ). The differentia of Christian prayer thus consists in its being offered in the name of Christ; while the secret of its success lies on the one hand in the new access to the Father which Christ has secured for His people (John 17:19; compare Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-22 ), and on the other in the fact that prayer offered in the name of Christ will be prayer in harmony with the Father's will (John 15:7; compare 1 John 3:22 f; 1 John 5:13 f).
In the Acts and Epistles we see the apostolic church giving effect to Christ's teaching on prayer. It was in a praying atmosphere that the church was born ( Acts 1:14; compare Acts 2:1 ); and throughout its early history prayer continued to be its vital breath and native air (Acts 2:42; Acts 3:1; Acts 6:4 , Acts 6:6 and passim ). The Epistles abound in references to prayer. Those of Paul in particular contain frequent allusions to his own personal practice in the matter (Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2 , etc.), and many exhortations to his readers to cultivate the praying habit (Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17 , etc.). But the new and characteristic thing about Christian prayer as it meets us now is its connection with the Spirit. It has become a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 14:14-16 ); and even those who have not this gift in the exceptional charismatic sense may "pray in the Spirit" whenever they come to the throne of grace (Ephesians 6:18; Judges 1:20 ). The gift of the Spirit, promised by Christ (John 14:16 ff, etc.), has raised prayer to its highest power by securing for it a divine cooperation ( Romans 8:15 , Romans 8:26; Galatians 4:6 ). Thus Christian prayer in its full New Testament meaning is prayer addressed to God as Father, in the name of Christ as Mediator, and through the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit. See PRAYERS OF JESUS .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Prayer'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/p/prayer.html. 1915.