Friday, April 27, 2012

Prayer? Pray Tell!

How important is it to know what Jesus meant when He talks about praying?

οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς, Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου.
Matt 6:9

The following quote is an excerpt from a comment I read on a news story about the new “drive-thru prayer1 outreach program at the Christian Life Center, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
JESUS SAID DON’T GO TO CHURCH, because it’s full of hypocrite priests and hypocrite people. He said you should go to your ROOM to pray (Matthew 6:6). And notice, you can’t be at church if you’re supposed to be following Jesus by praying in your room.
This idea that Christians shouldn’t ever pray in church kind of intrigued me so I decided to look into it a bit more. Utilizing the information in the English text of the KJV, in a way that further bolsters the case for keeping it as the Authorized English Bible, I discovered the actual meaning of Jesus’ words.

Here’s Matthew 6:6 from the KJV:
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
It certainly does seem like Jesus is saying not to pray in public. However, if we look in the next verse, we find another instruction on how to pray:
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do]: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Now, laying aside what Jesus is saying for the moment, look at who He is addressing in both of these verses (the red text). In the first, He is talking to “thou”; in the second, “ye”. Thou is the old 2nd person singular pronoun; ye is the old 2nd person plural pronoun. In v.6, Jesus is speaking to a single person; in v.7, He switches pronouns to address two or more people.

In using these two words the KJV translators were able to more accurately reflect the separate singular and plural pronouns used in the original Greek text of the NT. In modern translations, with no way to distinguish singular and plural in the 2nd person, the two different Greek words are both rendered “you”.

So, clearly, v.6 is an instruction for individual prayer; that it should be done in secret—in contrast to what hypocrites do—and v.7 is an instruction for communal prayer; that it shouldn’t be just thoughtless babbling—in contrast to what heathens do.

Later, in the course of telling Sandy about this newfound insight, I happened to mention that what we modern Christians call “praying” isn’t what Jesus called “praying”. This statement, and the explanation of it, came as a bigger surprise to her than my newfound insight. To her, where to pray isn’t nearly as important as is the very nature of prayer itself.

In the KJV, there are five different Greek verbs, each with different meanings, translated “to pray” and four Greek nouns translated “prayer”. Several of these mean “to ask”, “to express a need” or even “to offer supplication”, but the one occurring in Matthew 6:5, 6 & 7, and every other time when referring to Jesus praying, is the word προσεύχομαι, proseuchomai, which means to demonstrate and express your submission to the Will of God.

Here’s a 58 second video clip of Jim Brown of Grace & Truth Ministries on the word proseuchomai:

This is the kind of praying that Jesus did and it is the kind of praying He instructs us to do. When He prayed privately—He always prayed privately—in Gethsemane, He said “thy will be done” (Matt 26:42), demonstrating and expressing His submission to the Will of God. When He taught us to pray individually, He taught us to do so privately, with no one but God present to see or hear us, where we would make an honest demonstration and expression of our submission to the Will of God. When He told us how to pray together, He taught us to say “thy will be done” (Matt 6:10), so we would demonstrate and express our submission to the Will of God.

This is the kind of praying that matters to God; this is what Jesus means when He talks about praying. It is not the kind of praying they’ll be doing at that convenient drive-thru in Florida.

1. This is a link to the Fox News version of the story. The comment I read was on a CBS Miami page that I didn’t link to in order to spare you their annoying habit of “auto-refreshing”. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry; you will thank me when you find out.

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