Thursday, August 18, 2011

Daily Prayer?

Over the years, I have had people refute my conviction that Christians should make a habit of spending time in prayer on a daily basis.  They argue that the Bible never commands us to do that, so they conclude that I am merely being legalistic.  I decided to put the theory to the test.  If I am right, so be it.  If I am wrong, I will stop urging people to spend time in prayer daily.  To put the theory to the test, I decided to do a study through the entire New Testament to see what it has to say about prayer, especially with regards to the frequency with which a believer ought to be approaching prayer.  While I am at it, I decided it would be a good time to look at the New Testament references about prayer to see how prayer is defined - what should we pray about, etc.

My study is only in its infancy, but I have made some surprising findings so far in going through Acts and Romans.  In the book of Acts, 19 of the 28 chapters make mention to prayer.  In the first 16 chapters, only two chapters do not mention prayer - chapters 5 and 15.  It is interesting to note that these two chapters contain some of the lowest moments in Acts: the death of two believers who lied about what they earned from a property sale, a sharp debate among the leaders at Jerusalem over whether Gentiles should be circumcised, and the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas regarding Mark's place in their travels.  The book of Romans, being a detailed explanation of the Gospel, does not highlight prayer but it does mention prayer 7 times in 16 chapters.

In these two books, we find words used to describe the frequency of prayer in individuals or a group of believers.  In Acts 10:2, Cornelius is described as a man who prayed to God continually.  The Greek word is diapantos, which means "constantly, through all, always."  Romans 11:10 uses the word to mean "forever."  It is also used in Hebrews 9:6 to describe the daily ritual duties of the Jewish priests in the Temple.

Three times and once in Romans, we find the Greek word proskartereo.  It is used in Acts 6:4 of the apostles stating their need to be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  We find the same word used a little differently in Acts 1:12-14; Acts 2:42 and in Romans 12:12.  In these three passages, the word is used as a Present Active Participle.  Essentially, this means it refers to a non-stop, ongoing habitual action with no thought of the action stopping.  My Greek professor told us to translate it as a verbal noun, in other words, an activity that defines a person.  "One characterized by" doing a certain activity.  The definition of the word is "adhere to, persist in, continue in, attach oneself to, busy oneself with, be busily engaged in, give unremitting care to."  So, these verses refer to a habitual, non-stop, ongoing persisting in prayer to the point where it is a defining activity.

So, back to the original question: should Christians spend time in prayer everyday?  Actually, I would suggest that, at least based on Acts and Romans so far, daily prayer doesn't quite get to the heart of the prayer lives of the early believers.  The descriptions of them were of non-stop, habitual persisting in prayer to the point that prayer defined who they were personally and corporately.

The study will continue through the rest of the New Testament.  But for now the question stands: how frequently do you have to do something to make it an activity that defines who you are?  While it is not a slam dunk argument for daily prayer, I would suggest it leans more in that direction than it does suggest prayer can be a random, occasional practice.        

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