"When you pray, know before Whom you stand." —Ber. 28b
The predominate Hebrew word that is translated prayer in the Old Testament is "li-heet-pallel," which comes from the root word "pallel" meaning to "inspect," "to judge oneself," "to assess." The prefix "li-heet" is in the reflective form, denoting an action that one performs. Personal introspection is conveyed as we view ourselves in relation to God and our complete inadequacy in reference to God's will and the life He has purposed for us. In the light of God's diagnosis of our true condition (Ps. 36:9, Gen. 18:27, Job 42:6) we are stricken with a sense of complete inadequacy and our sinful mortality weighs heavy upon us. God brings us to a terminus of human resources. He extracts from us all trust in human ingenuity and ability. He puts us in cul-de-sacs of despair to reduce us to humility with the concomitant recognition of who He is, as a precondition of our crying out to Him for the resources that reside solely in His nature. Whatever drives us to our knees is a divinely-designed pedagogue that instructs us of our desperate need of God. "A sense of contact with the ultimate dawns upon most people when their self-reliance is swept away by violent misery." (Abraham Heschel, The Philosophy of Judiasm, p. 422) Even the desire to pray comes from divine provocation engendered by circumstances, tragedy, loss, self-exhaustion and despair. A sense of insufficiency overwhelms a desolate heart. It is then revealed to us that from His hands we have come unto His glory alone. "The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God." (Abraham Heschel, Man's Qwest for God, p. 87) The quintessential nature of prayer is to know God. "...the idea of prayer is the foundation of the whole Torah. This means that man knows God, recognizes His greatness and His splendor with a serene and whole mind, and an understanding heart. Man should reflect on these ideas until his soul is awakened to love God, to cleave to Him and to His Torah,..." (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 13, p. 983)
The first recorded epoch in history when men began to cry out unto God was at the birth of Enosh. He was the son of Seth and his name would indicate the desperate condition that held humanity in bondage. "And to Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord." (Gen. 4:26) The Hebrew word Enosh, which is one of the predominate words for man in the Old Testament, means "sick, dying, anemic, desperate, incurable, weak, frail, mortal." The name of this child would shatter the illusion of the line of Adam that perceived themselves as self-sufficient, self-fulfilled, in need of nothing outside their own natural capacities. The name of this child would deflate the pride and arrogance attendant to faith in one's self. The searing diagnosis embodied by the life of Enosh would enlighten men to perceive their desperate condition. In the light of this revelation from God, men began to cry out unto the Lord. They now understood that in God's nature alone was their only hope of redemption. "In this name, therefore, the feeling and knowledge of human weakness and frailty were expressed (the opposite of the pride and arrogance displayed by the Canaanitish family); and this feeling led to God, to that invocation of the name of Jehovah which commenced under Enosh." (Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1, p. 119) God uses the pedagogues of need, despair, anxiety, pressures and self-limitations to drive us to the posture of prayer that depends on Him alone. "But the best stimulus which the saints have to pray is when, in consequence of their own necessities, they feel the greatest disquietude, and are all but driven to despair, until faith seasonably comes to their aid; because in such straits the goodness of God so shines upon them, that while they groan, burdened by the weight of present calamities, and tormented by the fear of greater, they yet trust to this goodness, and in this way both lighten the difficulty of endurance, and take comfort in the hope of final deliverance. It is necessary, therefore, that the prayer of the believer should be the result of both feelings, and exhibit the influence of both—namely, that while he groans under present and anxiously dreads new evils, he should at the same time, have recourse to God, not at all doubting that God is ready to stretch out a helping hand to him." (John Calvin, Institutes, Book 3, Ch. XX.11)
"For we kneel and bow low before the supreme King of Kings,
The Holy One, blessed be He,
Acknowledging that He has stretched forth the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth.
His glorious abode is in the heavens above,
The domain of His might in exalted heights.
He is our God, there is no other,
In truth our King, there is none else.
Even thus is it written in His Torah:
‘This day know and lay it to your heart,
That the Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth below.
There is none else.’"
—(David De Sola Pool, The Traditional Jewish Prayer Book, pg. 90)
In the prayer literature of Judaism, the Sovereignty of God is the focal point of praise and petition. The nature of Jewish prayer is centripetal, centering around the truth that God controls and guides the universe, from the ordaining of the celestial spheres to the most intimate details of a man’s life. Psalms 16:8, describes the proper attitude of prayer, "I have set the Lord always before me." As man contemplates the world, Israel, his daily life, and family, he recognizes that God is the Master and he a servant of the Most High. Man’s thoughts are to focus centrally upon the Lord as the "Center of the world." "When thou prayest always remember before whom thou standest," is the ancient admonition. (Ber. 28b.) One was to meditate on the Glory, Power, Majesty, Love, Mercy, and Holiness of God before formal worship commenced. Otherwise prayer would degenerate into an empty, hypocritical, self-seeking exercise completely devoid of truth. The use of God’s Name as a Divine Imprimatur put upon one’s concealed lusts (Ps. 78:36-37, Ezek. 33:31, James 4:3) fallaciously passing as prayer, is unmasked by the searing condemnation of God, "Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote..." (Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:7-9) Prayer required "Kavvanah" (i.e., "directed intention", "concentration", a conscious awareness of Whom we address in prayer). "Kavvanah means that a man should empty his mind of all other thoughts and regard himself as if he were standing before the Divine Presence." (Moses Maimonides, 1135-1204, Yad, Tefillah, 4:16) "One may stand to pray only in a solemn frame of mind. The early pious ones used to tarry one hour [before they would pray], so that they could direct their hearts to the Omnipresent." (Mishnah, Ber. 5.1) When R. Elizer was asked by his disciples to teach them the ways of life that they might learn them and by following attain the life of the world to come, part of his reply was: "When you pray, know before Whom you stand." (Ber. 28b) "The Rabbis have taught: ‘He who prays must concentrate his heart upon heaven.’ Abba Saul said: ‘We find a suggestion of this in the Psalm (10:17): ‘Thou wilt direct their heart, Thou wilt cause thine ear to attend.’" (Ber. 31)
"Prayer to be efficacious must be predicated on true conceptions of God and reality." —Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism, pg.119
The Yarmulka (i.e., skullcap) is worn during prayer and study of the Torah. The etymology of the word comes from "yare Mulka" (i.e., one who fears the King). "Reverence before the Almighty to whom we address our petition is essential." (David De Sola Pool, from The Traditional Prayer Book, pg. 17.) "The great men among the Sages would not uncover their heads because they believed that God’s Glory was round them and over them;..." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide to the Perplexed, Part 3, Chapter 52.) "And know before whom you are standing, before the King of kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. He tests the heart and searches out one’s thoughts and knows the hidden things. So plead before Him for your soul which sins, and for your heart which strays." (Commentary of Joseph ben Judah Iben Aknin on the Aboth, 1160-1226 C.E.) When the Jew approaches God in prayer he comes before the Ruler of the universe, the King of the world. As petitioners they see themselves as suppliants addressing the King of the universe. Elie Weisel relates a childhood incident that underscores the holy nature of prayer, as an audience with the August King of the Ages. In the month of Elul (corresponding to the month of September) while preparing for the High Holy days, news of the German army’s advance reached his town of Sighet in Hungary, "In a corner of the synagogue, my father and his friends, draped in prayer shawls and wearing phylacteries [box-like religious objects], talked about the latest news. There excited voices rose, and the elders hissed at them to be quiet. ‘Ssh!’, they said, ‘We’re praying here!’ To this day, I can still hear that ‘ssh’, and I know so well what it meant: what an idea to chatter and fret when Jews are addressing the King of the Universe. What an idea for peoples and their armies to slaughter one another over a few scraps of land or a few slogans while God is listening to His faithful." (Elie Weisel, professor of Humanities, Boston University, All Rivers Run to the Sea, excerpt in Parade magazine, Aug. 27, 1995) There is nothing (whether a Hitler, Hussein, terrorism, calamity, famine) that will ever supercede the preeminent importance of addressing the King of the Ages. "For we kneel and bow low before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, acknowledging that He has stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth. His glorious abode is in the heavens above, the domain of His might in exalted heights. He is our God, there is no other, in truth our King, there is none else." (Aleinu, from The Traditional Prayer Book, David De Sola Pool, pg. 26.) The depth of the mercy of God who hears the prayers of the faithful, not as an aloof potentate, but as One who is immanent within their lives. God humbles himself to speak personally to each petitioner in the most intimate manner. The Rabbis declared, "See how exalted the Most High is above the world! And yet let a man enter God’s House and but whisper a prayer, and the Almighty hearkens, even as a friend into whose ear one pours his secret." (Y. Ber. 9.1)
"Prayer...is an experience which completely overwhelms an individual with the divine presence. The encounter is not subject to the ordinary dictates of reason, and therefore, it is impossible for naturalistic law to illuminate it." —Rabbi Howard R. Greenstein, Judaism: An Eternal Covenant, p. 68
To the Orthodox Jew, prayer is existential theology in the truest sense. In prayer, the eternal God speaks to His handiwork thus freeing man from a prison of interminable silence and in that communion changes the petitioner. "The older generation of pious ones used to spend an hour in silent devotion before offering their daily prayer, in order to concentrate heart and soul upon their communion with their Father in heaven." (Ber. 5,1) For in lieu of a formal theology, prayer became the "Theology of Israel." "Judaism needed no theology in a narrow sense, no ‘Science of God’, no philosophy; prayer took their place. He who prayed knew to whom he prayed, His glory, His power, His majesty, and His love. God simply was. He was there, He was near. Formal prayer was the system of Jewish philosophy, simplified, made accessible to everyone." (Leo Trepp, A History of the Jewish Experience, pg. 110-111) Thus prayer embodied the ever-living relational knowledge of the One True God. R. Simeon says, "Be meticulous in the recitation of the shema (Deut. 6:4, 5) and the Prayer. And when you pray, don’t treat your praying as a matter of routine. But let it be a plea for mercy and supplication before the Omnipresent, blessed be He. As it is said, ‘For he is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of mercy, and repents of the evil (Joel 2:13).’" (Aboth 2:13, from The Mishnah, A New Translation, pg. 677, Jacob Nuesner.)
All prayer has as its central focus the Divine Kingship of God. As all the planets in our solar system revolve around a central foci, so all praise, intercession and petition center upon the central Source of Life, the Great Sovereign (I Chron. 29:11-14, Matt. 6:8-13). "A benediction which contains no reference to the Divine Kingship is no benediction." (Ber. 40b) Every benediction had to be introduced by the formula, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe." (A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, pg. 64.) Prayers are addressed to God as "Melek haolam" (Heb. "the King of the Universe") and "Ribbono shel olam" (Heb. "the Universal Lord"). Theocentric prayer presupposes the eternal will of God who has the power to intervene in a micro or macro manner within His creation. "Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult (Heb. pala, "incomprehensible, arduous") for Thee..." "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult (Heb. pala) for Me?" (Jer. 32:17, 27) God’s transcendent authority was the foundation upon which all prayer was offered. The confidence in which the petitioner could address the Eternal Sovereign is engendered by the knowledge that the object of prayer is the King of the universe, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe." Let us listen across the ages to the Distant Voices of affirmation that pierce through the vicissitudes of Israel’s history collectively and individually, declaring the ever-present Sovereignty of the Eternal God. The following prayers come from the Taanaitic and Amoraic periods of Israel's history:
"Prayer was not to be interrupted even if a message or command came from an earthly potentate, "[While one is praying], even if the King greets him, he may not respond." (Mishnah, Ber. 5.1) For the worshipper was addressing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Prayer was to continue even in the face of eminent danger. "And even if a serpent is entwined around his heel, he may not interrupt [his prayer]." —Mishnah, Ber. 5.1
The morning prayer seeks the mercy of the Eternal Sovereign God, "In the morning my prayer comes before Thee." (Psalms 88:13) R. Phinehas said, "The angel who is appointed to prayer (i.e., a sort of Heavenly Secretary of State for the Department of Prayer), awaits till the Israelites in the last synagogue have finished their prayers, and then he takes all the prayers, and makes them into a chaplet, and places them upon God’s head, as it says, ‘Blessings are upon the head of the just, that is upon Him who is the life of the Worlds, who lives forever.’" (Proverbs 10:16) From the Midrash, Psalms on 88, 4 [190b, section 2]. "Sovereign of all Worlds! Not because of our righteous acts do we lay our supplications before Thee, but because of Thine abundant mercies." —Ancient morning prayer, Traditional Prayer Book, by Singer, pg. 7
A prayer for thanksgiving was included in the liturgy to be said after attending to nature's call; "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our King, King of the Universe, Who hast formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and vessels. It is revealed and known before the Throne of Thy Glory, that if one of these be opened or one of these closed, it would be impossible to exist and to stand before Thee. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Who healest all flesh and doest wondrously." —Ber. 60b
The blessing one recites over produce, over the fruit of a tree, "[Blessed are You, O Lord God, King of the Universe] Creator of the fruit of the tree," [as regards] any [kinds of produce] if one says, "[Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe] for all was created according to His word..." (Mishnah, Ber. 6:1, 2) When the much needed rains came, Rabbi Elekiah would bless the Lord: "May your name be magnified, sanctified, and exalted, our King, for every drop that You send to us." (T. J. Ber. 9, T. J. Taanit, chapter 1, halachoh, 2, pg. 14a, halachoh 3, pg. 64b.) "We are obligated to praise Your Name our King for each drop that You send to us, for You do good to debtors." —T. J. Taanit, 64b
The Rabbis ordained that "on beholding shooting stars, earthquakes, thunders, storms, and lightnings, the benediction to be uttered is, ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Whose strength and might fill the world.’" (Ber. 9.2) A blessing is recited when seeing lightning, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, Who performs the act of creation." (Lewis Jacobs, Book of Jewish Practice, pg. 137)
God's sovereignty was constantly proclaimed as the foundation of prayer. "For we bend the knee and offer worship and thanks before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, the seat of whose glory is in the heavens above, and the abode of whose might is in the loftiest heights. He is our God; there is none else, in Truth He is our King; there is none besides Him;..." (An ancient prayer from approximately the 4th century, the "Alenu Prayer" in Rabbinic Anthology, pg. 365, by C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe.) "For the Kingdom is Thine, and to all eternity Thou wilt reign in glory; as it is written in Thy Law, ‘The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.’ And it is said, ‘And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the Lord be One and His Name One.’" (Singer, Traditional Jewish Prayer Book, pg. 76-77) On hearing good news one must say, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who art good and dispensest good." (Rabbinic Anthology, pg. 377) On hearing evil one says, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, The True Judge." (Rabbinic Anthology, pg. 377)
The heavens are portrayed as praising God’s Sovereignty over all the Universe, "...when God gave the Torah to Israel, earth gave praise, but the heavens were silent. God said to the heavens, ‘You whose place is above, should have given praise to My Glory and to my daughter [the Torah], even more than the earth has done.’ They [the heavens] said, ‘Sovereign of the Universe, the earth may well give praise since it is to her that the Torah has been given; but we, from whom the Torah goes forth, how can we praise and not be grieved?’" (Pes. R. 95a) "Our God and God of our fathers, reign Thou in Thy Glory over the whole universe and be exalted above all the earth in Thine honour, and shine forth in the splendour and excellence of Thy might upon all the inhabitants of Thy World, that whatsoever has been made may know that Thou hast made it, and whatsoever has been created may understand that Thou hast created it and whatsoever has breath in it’s nostrils may say, ‘The Lord God of Israel is King, and His dominion rules over all. Sanctify us with Thy Goodness, and gladden us with Thy Salvation: O purify our hearts to serve Thee in truth, for Thou art God in truth, for Thou art God in truth and Thy Word is truth, and endures forever. Blessed art Thou, King over all the earth, who sanctifiest Israel and the Day of Memorial.’" (Ancient prayer found in the liturgy for the New Year, Traditional Prayer Book, pg. 249.)
An ancient blessing that appears in the present-day Jewish Prayer Book, is recited after a sick person has recovered, or someone has returned safely from a dangerous journey, "Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the World, who does good to debtors for He has done good to me." (From Sidur Rinat Israel, pg. 272, quoted from the pamphlet Jewish Background to the Lord's Prayer by Brad Young) A prayer that praises God for the resurrection to come, "Thou O Lord art great in all Thy Greatness: Thou art mighty in all strength; Thou revivest the dead by a word; Thou doest great things unfathomable and wonders uncountable." (The Talmudic Anthology, ed. by Louis I. Newman.) "O Master of the World! Redeem, help, save, and assist Thy nation from pestilence, the sword; from rapine, blight, and drought; from the evil which assails the world. Before we call unto Thee, answer us. Blessed be Thou who canst remove calamity among the peoples." (Ketubot, 8)
The Night Prayer conjoins God's Transcendence and His immanent Presence over us, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who makest the bonds of sleep to fall upon my eyes, and slumber upon my eyelids." (Ber. 60b) "Lord of the World who hast been ruling for eons ere creation came and all was made by Thine ordaining; as King Thy Name then found a claim. And afterwards when all’s complete alone wilt rule in majesty; Thou always wast and Thou art now, and through eternity shalt be. And Thou art One, no second Person compares to thee nor Thine associate be; without beginning, without end, the power Thine and Sovereignty. Thou art my God, living Redeemer; in pain Thou art the strength I need; my banner Thou and my Protection; salvation’s cup Thou givest when I plead. Into Thy hand I put my soul when I’m asleep to wake with cheer; and with my soul my body too; Thou God art with me and I shall not fear." (Leo Trepp, A History of the Jewish Experience, pg. 120)
Prayer affirmed God's absolute unlimited sovereignty, "He who lives forever is the creator of the whole universe; right belongs to the Lord alone. Who can steer the world with his little finger, so that all things obey his will..." (Ecclesiasticus 18.1-38) "God overthrows and judges who boast of and trust in, their power status and do not recognize the Sovereignty of God." (The Chumash, pg. 1031, D. Kimchi)
The recognition that man was the polar opposite of God infused all prayer. "Thou art the Sovereign and I the subject. Who should have mercy on the subject if not the Sovereign? Thou art the Mighty and I nothing. Who should have mercy on the nothing if not the Mighty? Thou art the Ruler and I the ruled. Who should have mercy on the ruled if not the Ruler?" (From a Yemenite Prayer Book, in "An Offering of Prayer," ed. by Rabbi Morrison David Bial, pg. 24) The Rabbis declared, "See how exalted the Most High is above the world! And yet let a man enter God’s House and but whisper a prayer, and the Almighty hearkens even as a friend into whose ear one pours his secret." (Y. Berakot, 9, 1.) "Therefore place the fear of you, O Lord our God, upon all your works, and the awe of you upon all that you have created. That all your works may revere you and all your creatures prostrate themselves before you, that they may all be made a single company to do your will with a perfect heart. Even as we know, O Lord our God, that dominion is in your presence, power is in your hand, and might is in your right hand, and your name is to be revered above all that you have created." (George Nickelsburg and Michael Stone, The Amidah for Rosh Hashana, petition 3, Faith and Piety in Early Judaism, pg. 156)
The evening prayer for protection during the night and continued security for the nation: "Grant us, O Lord our God, to lie down in peace, and raise us up again. O our King unto life. Spread over us the tent of Thy peace. Direct us aright through Thine own good counsel; help us for Thy Name sake. Be a shield about us. Keep away from us every enemy, pestilence, sword, famine, and sorrow. Protect us from evil desires that may confront us or follow us but shelter us in the shadow of Thy wings. For Thou, O God, art our Protector and Deliverer. Guard our going out and our coming in unto life and peace, from now on and forever more. Blessed art Thou, O God, who guardest Thy people Israel forever." (Leo Trepp, A History of the Jewish Experience, pg. 120)
A prayer that God would continue to preserve the nation until the Day of Messiah, "O Master of the Universe, if per chance it is not yet time that the cattle should be gathered together and redeemed from their exile, I pray Thee, at least, to water the sheep and go and feed them, to let the Jews make a living so that they will have enough to eat and drink until the time is ripe for their deliverance." (Rabbi Meyer of Przemyel, 1780-1850, a Hasidic Rabbi, Wellsprings of Torah, pg. 59)
Crushed under the heel of tyranny, persecuted as a hunted animal, with martyrdom as a legacy to faith, the Jew, though faced with the perplexity of oppression could pray. When human language failed, when even a monosyllabic cry was curtailed by incalculable suffering, the language of the heart reached God, and God was not silent! "This is how Rabbi Uri expounded the words of the prayer: ‘May He who knows that which is hidden accept our call for help and listen to our cry.’ We know very well how we ought to pray; and still we cry for help in the need of the moment. The soul wishes us to cry out in spiritual need, but we are not able to express what the soul means. And so we pray that God may accept our call for help, but also that He, who knows that which is hidden, may hear the silent cry of the soul." (Rabbi Uri of Strelisk, 1826 C.E., quoted from Tales of the Hasidim, pgs. 195-196, Martin Buber, ed.)
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." —Ephesians 6:12
"Therefore, woe be unto our daintiness, who, having suffered a little persecution, do by and by give up the torch to another as if we were now old worn soldiers." —John Calvin, Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p. 228
The Apostle Paul sees the present age as influenced by demonic powers (Eph. 2:2, 6:12). Fallen man is a captive and is motivated to possess a passing world and forfeit eternity (Matt. 16:26, I Jn. 2:15-17). The governments of this present age are the outward manifestations of an unseen order of demonic power, to exalt man and his transitory plans to the level of transcendence (Gen. 3:15). "Behind the visible structures and institutions of society and culture, evil forces are at work using these invisible powers to enslave..." (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 651). The movement toward "building a kingdom on earth," which President Obama and other world leaders have expressed, come from a malignant source in defiance of God's word. "These forces are called rulers of the world [Eph. 6:12] in order to bring out the terrifying power of their influence and comprehensiveness of their plans..." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, p. 914). These insidious powers are under God's control and execute his will in ways that defy the sequence of logic (Col. 2:15, Eph. 1:21-22). Paul says that the powers of darkness are encountered in prayer, in an ongoing conflict between them and the believer. The believer, in the power of God's presence and equipped in God's own armor (Isa. 59:16-17), can withstand and triumph through intercessory prayer (Eph. 6:17-18). "The Christians new wardrobe includes a war suit! The cosmic purpose of God embroils the believers with the spiritual hierarchy of the unseen world organized under the power of Satan." (George E. Harpur, The International Bible Commentary, p. 1438). God's will is accomplished through the weakness of our flesh. This is far more expansive than praying for the spirituality of a local pastor or for church growth. This is combat in the spiritual realms. Tragically, few understand the battleground. Prayer renounces all of our natural capacity, the will and limited power of our flesh, and consigns our dependent self into the hands of the powerful Lord of heaven and earth. In prayer we are stripped of natural reliance and then, and not until then, fortified for the fight in His armor and strength. It is a battle waged for His Glory. In intercessory prayer the powers over the world systems are restrained and enlightenment from the Word reveals the glory of God. All of this is orchestrated by the Victor of all heaven and earth. "Whoever reads the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) upon his bed is as though he holds a two-edge sword in his hand (to ward off evil spirits); as it is said, 'Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edge sword in their hand.' (Ps. 149:6)" (Ber. 5a). "And the children of Israel feared and cried unto the Lord (Ex. 14:10) when they saw Pharaoh approach. They betook themselves to their ancestors weapons [prayer]." "For prayer, the weapon of the mouth is mighty. Why is Israel called 'the worm, Jacob' (Isa. 41:14)? The worm's only weapon is her mouth but with it she fells mighty cedars." (Tanh., Beshallah, Sect. 9, folio 111a). "Sovereign of all worlds! Not because of our righteous acts do we lay our supplications before thee, but because of thine abundant mercies. What are we? What is our life? What is our piety? What our righteousness? What our helpfulness? What our strength? What our might? What shall we say before thee, O Lord our God and God of our fathers? Are not all the mighty men as not before thee, the men of renown as if they had not been?..." (The Jewish Prayer Book, p. 7).
If every demon in America went on a holiday most of the church world would not notice the absence. Several years ago in one of the largest churches in California, located in Sun Valley, the pastor expressed to the church that for several years there were only the same four people attending the prayer service each week. In a church, at the time of approximately 15,000 members, this admission of weakness was rather shocking. Unfortunately, this condition is not rare but characterizes the current spiritual climate in America. This is weakness and retreat, not combat. To those who respond in a hackneyed fashion to the passivity and indifference of the church with the mantra, "I am concerned about spiritual matters, not earthly. My job is to evangelize the lost." They invariably have no interest in the spiritual realm either. They are not confronting the realm of darkness with concerted prayer. During World War II, there were many military men and women in Pensacola, Florida, that performed clerical work. At the same time thousands of GIs were storming the beaches of Normandy. The majority of Christians are content with clerical work while only a few fight in the heavenly realm, asserting the victory of Christ. The church is in full retreat from the conflict of the age. "When the whole of Scripture compares this present life to a stern warfare and teaches that it is filled with many different struggles, they [anemic Christians] nod their assent that it is all true and correct. Therefore, the name 'Church Militant' is so commonplace and trite that it echoes even on the lips of children but when it comes to the point of decision, they seem to have forgotten all those things and run away from the image of Christ as though it were some strange monster." "...as long as it is a sojourner in the world it [the church] is to wage war under the perpetual cross." (John Calvin, Concerning Scandals, p. 29, 30). As the church removes itself from confronting the declining culture, it is indicative that the confrontation with the spiritual realm has been forfeited.
The need to pray currently for our nation is incumbent upon all of God's people. A united confluence to seek the will of God is the only restraint to the encroaching darkness over the land. There are thousands of believers across America that are grieved and are being awakened by God for the future of this nation. Only dependence on the Sovereign God can redirect the present course that embraces progressively an autocratic view of life. At signal moments in our past, God has drawn his people to concerted prayer. "It is very absurd, therefore, to dissuade men from prayer, by pretending that the Divine Providence, which is always watching over the government of the universe, is in vain importune by our supplications, when, on the contrary, the Lord Himself declares, 'He is nigh unto all that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth.' (Ps. 145:18)." (John Calvin, Institutes, Book 3, Ch. XX.3)
""Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who opens the eyes of the blind.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who clothes the naked.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who releases the bound.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who raises up those who are bowed down.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who stretches forth the earth over the waters.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who has provided for my every need.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who guides the steps of man.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who girds Israel with might.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who crowns Israel with glory.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who gives strength to the weary."
—Blessings of Thanksgiving, The Traditional Jewish Prayer Book, David De Sola Pool, pg. 108-110
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