A unique study of all the prayers in the Bible, with practical applications to help you enrich your prayer life.
Most of us never had anyone teach us how to pray. We mimicked what we heard from others. Sometimes this leads us to a repetitive and even shallow prayer life.
Yet the Bible contains hundreds of passages about prayer, with a lot of richness and variety. This third volume of the Praying through the Bible helps us enrich our own prayers by studying those found in the Bible.
Covering the 51 prayers in the four books, from the time of King David through the fall of Jerusalem, each chapter contains an exploration of the background of the prayer, a discussion of its meaning, and an application for your own prayers.
a sample chapter
Prayer and “Thin Places” and Thin Times” (1 Kings 8.27–30)
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ’My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
Solomon began the prayer with petitions that also included praise, then turns to the primary subject of the prayer—the Temple. Because this prayer is a formal one, it does not sound like most public prayers we hear. It is lofty, grand, and becomes theologically conversant at times. This is also a prayer of petition, but it, like the beginning of the prayer, hints at praise.
First, Solomon addresses a theological question about the Temple: can God really dwell on earth in a Temple built by humans? He answers the question himself—of course not! Even the universe cannot contain God, Solomon says, so certainly no building—however magnificent—can do so. It may seem strange to discuss divine philosophy in a prayer. Yet the question (and its answer) implies something about God’s character. He is a transcendent, sovereign, and unfathomable God. That qualifies this prayer as a praise prayer. Part of the function of this section may also be to contrast some popular beliefs that gods and goddesses did dwell in the temples which were built for them.
Next, Solomon turns to the petition itself. Because God cannot actually dwell in the Temple, Solomon asks that He be continually aware of it. He reminds God that He said “my name shall be there,” another example of how petitions can sometimes emphasize a promise made by God, with the implication that He will keep it, because He is faithful—an implied praise.1
Finally, Solomon asks God to make sure that all the prayers offered at the Temple are also heard in heaven. In other words, Solomon asks that the Temple become a conversational focus, a meeting point on earth that connects God and His people in a special way.
The ancient Celtic tribes, before Christianity, believed that there was a spiritual world beyond the physical world, dwelling alongside it but separate. They thought that there were certain places, times, and events that caused the barrier between these two realms to become “thin.” For example, the Isle of Iona, off the coast of the Scottish western Highlands, was considered a “thin place.” The moment when it was not quite night, but not quite day, was a “thin time.” And the four equinoxes and the festivals based on the agriculture year were “thin times.” This is not unlike the Jewish festivals of Passover (Pesach), First Fruits (Shavuot), and Gathering (Sukkoth), or the holding of the Sabbath prayers at dusk, or the place where Jacob built an altar at Bethel after escaping from his brother Esau (Gen 35.1-7.)
Solomon’s words here show a similar kind of thinking. Solomon asks that God regards the Temple as a “thin place” (to use the Celtic term); a place where God will be specially present. Note that Solomon has prayers of confession and repentance in mind, for he asks God to hear and forgive.
In the modern world, we might not quite have the same sense of “thin places” like the ancient Hebrews and Celts, though we might have a similar idea about a church building (and that was certainly the intent of those who designed great cathedrals). Some people feel especially close to God at certain prayer meetings or other worship events. Others find such experiences at certain locations in nature.
Are there certain places where you feel the presence of God more keenly? While some might dismiss such ideas as too “touchy-feely,” the concept is rooted in Jewish and Christian history. Take some time to consider that idea of thin times and places in your own prayer practice. If you cannot think of any such places, how could you seek them out? How could thin places or thin times affect how you offer prayers of petition, praise, and confession?
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