Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
In Scripture, prayer is often equated with the offerings that are made twice daily. There are references in Scripture to our prayers being as incense, as bulls of our lips, and other references that to us can be rather vague unless we understand the sacrifical/worship system of the Tabernacle/Temple.
Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Revelation 8:4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.
The incense is offered with the morning and afternoon offerings that are made every day. It is one of the things that is listed as “perpetual” and “throughout your generations” and “forever”. The incense as it burned created a cloud of smoke that filled the tabernacle, and later the temple. It is a reminder of HaShem dwelling among His people in the pillar of cloud. It is a sweet aroma that rose up to the Father. Just as the incense is a sweet aroma, so are our prayers. Regular and liturgical prayers accompanied these continual sacrifices each and every day.
But with no Temple for the past almost 2,000 years and no way to make sacrifices without the Temple or Tabernacle, the people do the same as the people of old did when they could not be in Jerusalem. They prayed. Daniel prayed every day at the begining of the day (evening) and at the same times as the daily offerings would have been upon the altar. Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. We also read of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, offering incense at the Temple and the people praying along with him in Luke 1:9 to 11.
Our Master, Yeshua, prayed often and we read of Him praying early in the morning, in the afternoon time as well as in the evening. Prayer was a major part of the lives of His followers as well. We read of them praying at the time of the morning offering in Acts 2 when the Ruach HaKodesh was sent to those in the upper room. We read of Peter and John going to pray the afternoon prayers at the Temple when they happened upon a lame man who was to be healed (Acts 3:1). Even the first Gentile to be immersed in the name of Yeshua and to receive the Ruach HaKodesh was praying the afternoon prayers as recorded in Acts 10. At this same time, Peter was praying on the roof top in another city and received his vision instructing him to go to the home of this righteous gentile.
All of this to say that there are apointed times of prayer and worship that the Father set out early on, in Numbers 28. This is part of how He instructed His children to worship Him. There is no secret to how He wants us to go about our worship of Him. He tells us very plainly early on what it is that blesses Him and brings glory and honor to His Name. We are not left to ourselves to come up with something that we think will bring Him joy.
What is more, Yeshua’s students asked Him to teach them to pray like John had taught his students to pray. It was not uncommon for teachers to instruct their students in prayer and often those prayers indicated which school they were from. It wasn’t that they were being instructed to pray differently than the liturgy of the Temple but it was in addition to the liturgy of the Temple. So when Yeshua taught His followers to pray the prayer we all know well, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name…” it was a prayer that was both a model for all prayers but was a prayer that identified His followers with Him. It is thought that this prayer was intended to be prayed at the end of the regular prayers. This is one way to pray “in His Name” because it is in His reputation that we are praying, we are His, His student/follower.
Personally, I have struggled with the subject of prayer for a very long time. I have always felt that my prayers were shallow and selfish. I would have a hard time staying focused and my mind would wander from these imortant issues I wanted to bring before His throne to things like grocery shopping or my chores for the day. I would get frustrated when my prayer list would include all manner of requests for myself and my family and yet I had a hard time entering into His presence with thanksgiving and praise without being distracted. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It isn’t that He didn’t answer my prayers, He did! But it just felt like something was missing.
As we have studied and learned more about these appointed times of prayer and the system of worship that HaShem outlined for the Tabernacle/Temple, our understanding has grown quite a bit. We have learned that as we approach our Father we can use the model of the Tabernacle as a guide for our prayers. We enter into His presence through our prayers by first setting ourselves aside, washing and cleansing ourselves (both physically and in asking for forgiveness), we praise and glorify His Name and bask in His goodness, then we bring our petitions before His throne. We visualize ourselves approaching the King of Kings in a reverent and respectful manner. After all, we wouldn’t approach an earthly king unprepared or in a hurried manner, would we?
So in recent weeks DH has led our family in daily prayers – the Maariv (evening – after evening Bible reading), Shacharit (morning) and Mincha (afternoon). We have been using the outline found here. But in addition to that, our spontaneous prayers are not neglected. Whenever we are reminded of a situation or a person, we do our best to pray. Liturgical prayer is not in place of spontaneous prayer, but in addition to it. After all, we are instructed to pray without ceasing. These times of prayer as a family have been amazing. I would encourage others to consider doing the same.
There is a conversaion online that I’ve been following which compares following the Torah to music theory. I woke up the other morning with the thought that prayer is like music. Let me tell you what my thought was.
I have a few musically talented children. When they were young they would enjoy playing songs on the piano as they passed by it. Mary Had A Little Lamb, Hot Cross Bunns, Old McDonald Had A Farm, etc. Of course at first they didn’t play too well but after a few tries they got the hang of it. They could play these songs whenever they felt like and they would often try to play other songs they could think of. As a parent, I loved hearing this. I love music and I love hearing my kids experiment with it. When they were a bit older we started them with piano lessons. It was there that they learned the names of the keys and where they go on the staff. They learned about things like whole notes, half notes and rests. The early half of the week after their lesson, their practicing wasn’t very beautiful. But by the end of the week they had practiced their assignments and could play them well.
Now, years later, we have some amazing musicians. One son thinks with music – his whole world is music. He plays spontaneously and he plays by ear amazingly well. There are pieces that others have said, “He’ll never learn that. It’s too hard to do without a teacher and proper music.” But he plays them because he has the songs on CD and hears them. Wow! We have another daughter who plays the most beautiful music but she reads the music rather than play by ear. Both children play with their hearts and the music is moving. One reads the sheet music and does not deviate from the notes as they are printed while the other can’t stand to read the sheet music, though he will and he will make mistakes quite often. Either way, it is sweet music to my ears and it brings joy to my heart.
Prayer is much the same. As we go through life we pray spontaneously and it is nice for our Father to hear, I believe. Sometimes He may chuckle as we struggle with something (focus, maybe) like I would chuckle as my children would play when they were young. Then as we learn more about the “music theory” of prayer, I believe our prayers take on a whole new dimention. We may pray the liturgical prayers in a rote manner at first but like music, once we get the hang of it we begin to play beautiful music with our hearts. We have noticed this take place in our lives. At first we may focus on saying the right words and then progress to really thinking about what those words mean as we say them. Then, at some point, we’re almost in tears as we pray – tears of joy or of praise or anticipation. I know that I have been overcome at times over during the HaMazon prayer after meals. I can only imagine how we may respond as we begin to memorize and really ponder these liturgical prayers and all they mean.
For those who may scoff at our family adopting traditional liturgical prayers, understand that we are learning to make beautiful music in the ears of our Father. We will still play our music spontaneously because we are commanded to pray without ceasing. But our lesson times and our theory practice times are teaching us so much, and growing new and deep things in us. I believe that these times honor our Father, our Creator, our Master.
Some resources we have found to help us on our journey are these:
Knocking on Heaven’s Gates DVD from First Fruits of Zion
Prayer resources from Bereans Online
FFOZ downloads about prayer and other topics
Lessons for Children from Torah Resource, scroll down the page as these are near the bottom of the page.
For a followup to this article, see Prayer and Worship, Offerings and Sacrifice
* edited to add link and short paragraph