Over the past few trips to Israel, I have made it a practice to visit a special bookstore at the southern end of the Cardo in the Old City and purchase a book for myself. Over the years I have picked up a copy of the Psalms, The Torah and on my previous trip I bought myself a copy of the Tanauch. This year I decided to obtain a copy of the Siddur, and this has been the instrument that the Lord has been using to deepen my understanding of prayer.
I have always known that this is one of those spiritual disciplines that I need to spend more time developing in my personal life. Prayer is one of those areas that one can assume that he or she has mastered but in reality has little more than a pre-schooler’s level of education.
It has been said that prayer is the catalyst that one uses to deepen the intimacy between God and man. In other words, there is a direct correlation between one’s prayer life and one’s depth of relationship with the Almighty.
So, if this is what “it is all about”… just what is it? Prayer has to be more than just informing God of what our needs are, more than the requests for Him to: “heal me,” “enlighten me,” “enrich me,” “redeem me,” “glorify me”; and, more often than not, to “forgive me.”
The greatest reward is not the receiving of gifts but a deeper experience with the giver. One may be driven to prayer because of need, but one remains in prayer because of God Himself.
The Siddur states that “prayer is not just a list of requests, but it is an introspective process. A process that aids one in their attempt of clarifying and is a refining process to help one to discover what one is, what he should be, and how to achieve the transformation. Indeed, the commandment to pray is expressed by the Torah as a service of the heart, not of the mouth. It goes on to state that prayer is the soul’s yearning to define what truly matters and to ignore the trivialities that often masquerade as essential.”
Did you know that the Talmud defines man as “the creature that prays.” Imagine, the one thing that separates us from all of God’s creation is our ability to pray. One of the Hebrew words for prayer is tefillah, and this word gives us insight into the Torah’s concept of prayer, because from the root tefillah comes the following concepts: to judge, to differentiate, to clarify, and to decide.
Prayer involves self evaluation, which leads to self judgment; it is a process of removing oneself from the tumult of life to a little corner of truth, refastening the bonds that tie one to the purpose of life.
With this as background, let’s begin to explore some of these concepts.
Have you ever pondered the questions, “What’s it all about” and “What truly matters?” Jesus makes it clear that it is not wealth and goods but something that he refers to as the “Kingdom of God.”
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
It is also noteworthy that we are to seek “His righteousness.” Righteousness is one of those religious words that I refer to as “christianeze,” meaning that it is a word that most Christians use but few truly understand its meaning. So, what does it mean? I remember once hearing the definition of righteousness as “doing the right thing.” I like this-DOING-not just knowing and not just preaching, but DOING the RIGHT THING! Are you seeking His righteousness?
We need to also understand that the currency in the Kingdom of God and that of one’s status within the Kingdom is about 180 degrees different from the things which our culture currently proposes. Now, I don’t want to be accused of preaching a works-based gospel, but have you ever taken the time to evaluate your current holdings within the Kingdom of God? How much wood, hay and stubble have you accumulated compared to the gold, silver and precious stones that will endure in the Kingdom that is yet to come?
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s works will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:12-14
Then He spoke a parable to them saying: “The ground of certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself saying, ‘What should I do since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
What does it mean to be “rich towards God?” I think at least a part of this kingdom currency has to be “visible” love and service. After all, according to Jesus, Paul, and John this is what defines one who claims the word Christian as a title. How to love and serve needs to be at least a part of our daily prayer life-we need to ask the Almighty to open our eyes and to inspire us to love and to serve on a daily basis.
A new commandment I give you that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:17-19
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:18
Whose life have you touched today? Who have you “loved” today? Self evaluation and self judgment can be brutal and, if one is not cautious, overwhelming. As you know, we have an enemy that lurks about as a roaring lion and loves the opportunity to add condemnation when we begin the process of self evaluation.
But remember, there is a difference between conviction and condemnation. One of the “jobs” of the Holy Spirit is to convict us in regards to sin and our shortcomings. We need the Holy Spirit to help us in this area of our lives or else we will slip into a lifeless spiritual mediocrity that will bear little fruit and will not reap rewards in the Kingdom that is yet to come. Now when the Holy Spirit convicts, there is an encouragement that is part of the process … a voice that says, “You can do it!”
You know it is the devil’s condemnation when you feel his foot on your neck and the thoughts of giving up and being a continuous failure is all that is in your mind. Just remember-one of the weapons that you have been given is the NAME of Jesus-use it in times of despair. It works!
As ones who follow in the dust of our Rabbi, let us be sure to carve out time each day to sit and reflect on the teachings and the examples of Christ when it comes to living in the moment. Let us prioritize our time so that we are not too busy planning our days and itineraries for what will go up in flames, but let us “pray” and reflect on what it means to be … Christian. Then and only then will we be rich in the things that matter … rich towards God.