Why do we have the prayers we do each week in our synagogue worship. Is there a role which prayers in synagogue worship play in drawing us closer to God/Adonai? To answer this question, let us first look at prayer in the world we live in.
Prayer in Daily Living
We live in an age when it is not fashionable to pray. Sure we may say a short prayer before we eat, or if we attend a church service, there may be 5 minutes spent in prayer, but really how much time is spent in prayer?
A very small percentage of the people who attend a synagogue/church pray daily or even weekly. Those who do not worship regularly may put on an air that they are somehow beyond that stage—they do not need to pray. Their reason for affiliating with a church/synagogue is to identify with the fact that they are “Christians” or “believers” because they go to church. But their participation is not for the purpose of prayer.
Perhaps for some individuals it is skepticism and doubt that makes it difficult for them to engage God in conversation. It is not that they are atheists or even agnostics; it is simply that they waver between faith and doubt. Our generation often appears to be precariously balanced between believing and not believing—sometimes leaning in one direction, sometimes in the other.
Or perhaps the reason for the unfashionability of prayer is simply that most people don’t know how to pray.
Yet prayer is more commonplace then most people realize if we stop thinking of it as taking place only within a structured religious service. Even Moses, considered the greatest of the prophets, said the most simple prayer for his sister Miriam (in Numbers 12:13), “Please heal her, O God, I pray!” In one form or another this prayer is recited by countless mothers and fathers, children, relatives and friends. Or consider the sigh of relief, “Thank God!” that comes after a serious accident, or when loved ones seem suspended between life and death or between success and ruin.
How many times have you looked at the oceans or the mountains and exclaimed at the grandeur of it all. Consider the person who has qualms of conscience about some wrongdoing and in the privacy of their own thoughts says, “How truly sorry I am!”. This, too, is a prayer, especially if the words “forgive me” are added.
There are four types of prayer our service is built around.
Petitionary Prayer—what most people think of as the nature and purpose of all prayer
Thanksgiving—thanking God for everything that He does for us
Praise—praising God for how great He is and for the wonders that He performs
Soul-searching/Confessional—recognizing how we have wronged God and others
Next week I will go into greater detail how each of these prayers are woven through our services and why we should make them a part of our daily prayer life.