Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Dear" Jesus? - What Words Should Start Our Prayers?

Psalm 65:2 “O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come.”

Bruce Ware was speaking at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors a few years back and commented how he was careful to teach his children to address God in prayer without the word “dear” attached to the front end. His point? Something to the effect that the word “Dear” in this form of address is really more suitable to a written letter than a prayer.

At the time, I considered it a bit of overkill, but it is one of those thoughts that has kept pecking away at my considerably small brain.

I have been paying special attention to the prayers recorded in Scripture lately, and I cannot find a one of them that begins with the word “dear” (or some equivalent). In fact, most of the prayers recorded in the Word begin with the expression, “O,” to the Name of God followed by terms that extol some virtue or attribute of God.

Look at this quick sampling (Name of God, attributes of God):

David

2 Samuel 7:18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?

1 Chronicles 29:10 Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever.

Solomon

1 Kings 8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 who have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.

Hezekiah

2 Kings 19:15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

Jehoshaphat

2 Chronicles 20:5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.

Ezra

Ezra 9:6 “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.

Nehemiah

Nehemiah 1:4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah 32:16 “After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord, saying: 17 Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

Daniel

Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. (Daniel 9)

Jesus

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Early Church

Acts 4:23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them...

Thus, it seems if we desire to address God in a way that is modeled in the Scriptures, we would do well to begin by calling Him by Name. In fact, in nearly all of these prayers, the Lord is being addressed by His covenant Name, YHWH. And in nearly every prayer in the Bible, those who pray begin their petition by recounting some attribute(s) of God that relates most particularly to the request they are to make. So, when deliverance is needed, God’s saving work is extolled. When forgiveness is needed, He is praised for His mercy and steadfast love. When enemies attack, God is given glory for His sovereignty and the fact He made everything that is.

The name and character of God ought to be at the start of our prayers.

But not in a formal, distant sense.

By addressing God with terms like, “Dear Jesus,” we may be treating prayer like a child’s Christmas list for Santa Claus. Starting our prayers with words that reflect a direct connection to the Lord, followed by words that recount who God is in His essential nature will help us to pray aright. Praying in this manner will also help to guard us from “praying for the audience” that sometimes creeps into our corporate meetings for prayer.

None of this can be blown out of proportion, but if you are like me, you want to do things the way the Lord would like them done. The prayers of the Bible are there for a reason and I think the modeling our prayers after what is there will take us long way in the School of Prayer.

[Note: We had the most remarkable meeting for prayer last night at GFC... the Lord seemed to be quite “there.” I mention that because this post has nothing to do with our meeting last night nor with anyone who prayed last night. It is just something that I have been thinking about for a while.]