Day 1 – The Old Testament
Effective Prayer Podcast, by Colin Dye
“Well, we are beginning with Effective Prayer, and it is my heart and my concern that every believer knows how to pray effectively—not just that we say prayers, but that we pray with passion and power and see our prayers answered.
We are looking, first of all, at prayer in the Old Testament. We begin in the Old Testament. We dig the foundation, because in the Old Testament we find everything in foundation form that is extended in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, we have the principles introduced; in the New Testament, we find the principles developed and fulfilled. In the Old Testament, we find this teaching in like bud form; in the New Testament, it’s fully in bloom. And so, we need always to trace our New Testament teaching back to its foundation in the Old Testament—and there is no exception with prayer.
In the Old Testament, we find this teaching in like bud form; in the New Testament, it’s fully in bloom.
Now in the Old Testament, and indeed, throughout the whole of the Bible, the word prayer is used to describe all kinds of communication with God, and sometimes people are coming to the Lord with great, desperate need; sometimes people are talking to the Lord about their pains; sometimes they are talking to the Lord about their pleasures and joys and sharing that with Him. Sometimes they are just appreciating God.
Now there are about eighty-five prayers which are recorded in the Old Testament—specific prayers. These include prayers of confession, adoration, praise, supplication, thanksgiving, and also, in addition to that, prayers of prophetic revelation, prayers of faith declaration, prayers in which the enemies of God are rebuked, and prayers of repentance.
Now any prayer that we pray may be any one of these elements, or a combination of these elements. Sometimes praying is all thanksgiving; sometimes it’s all adoration. Sometimes it’s all pleading, asking God. But any one prayer that combines these elements is usually exciting and effective.
One thing I’d like to encourage you from the start is to learn how to pray with variety. Don’t just stick to one kind of praying. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into lots of different ways of praying.
Now there is Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12. You should read that at some time and see how praise and thanksgiving, pleading, confession, supplication are all blended together.
Now generally speaking, the Old Testament prayers concentrate a lot of the time on physical needs and practical needs. The New Testament takes the focus deeper into a more spiritual direction—although there are deeply spiritual prayers and prayers in which people cry out to God for the deep, moral concerns of their life also in the Old Testament.
Now when we read the Old Testament prayers, we find that there are three things that God establishes: Number #1, God hears and answers prayer. He hears prayer. Number #2, God is moved by praying. When we pray, we move God. We touch God when we pray. Then we also see that when we study these prayers in detail that not every prayer is answered.
Yes, God is a prayer-answering God, but He doesn’t answer just any and every prayer. We need to pray with wisdom, with insight, with direction and guidance. I believe that God answers every prayer according to His will, and therefore, we should aim in our prayer life for the heights of 100% answered prayer, but that presupposes that we know how to flow with Him and pray according to His will. Prayer is not persuading God to do something He doesn’t want to do; rather, it is lining up with God concerning His will and praying that will into reality on the earth.
God is a prayer-answering God, but He doesn’t answer just any and every prayer.
Now in the Old Testament there are different words used in the original Hebrew language for the word “prayer.” This is something that you need to understand. If you are coming to these kind of studies fresh, you may not appreciate that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew—nearly all of it in Hebrew; the New Testament written in Greek.
Now when the English translators and the other foreign-language translators translated the Bible, sometimes they would use one word in the English, or the language into which they were translating, and that word covers many words in the original. So the word “prayer,” in the English version of the Bible, is a translation of at least six main Hebrew verbs, and we’re going to look at these, because each one of these verbs describe for us something special about prayer.
The first one is qara, which means, literally, to call upon. It is the oldest and the simplest form of praying in the Bible, and one of the first verses we find this in, in fact the first verse, is Genesis chapter 4:26, and it says, “And as for Seth, to him also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.” Genesis 4:26 is the Bible’s first mention of prayer, and it shows that people began to call upon the Lord and to pray very, very early on.
We read it in other parts of the Bible. For example, in Genesis chapter 12:8, it says, “And he,” that is, Abraham, or Abram, as he was called in those days, “moved to a mountain east of Bethel and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east and there he built an altar to the Lord and he called on the name of the Lord.” Genesis 21:33, then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and there called on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.”
And so we see, from the very beginning prayer is something simple. There is a simplicity about this, a directness and a familiarity about it when people call on the name of the Lord, and we find this throughout the whole of the Old Testament. Time and time again, people are simply calling on the name of the Lord, so whatever the reason, they have a need or a situation in their life, they call on the name of the Lord. And throughout the whole of the Old Testament they continue to do this.
It is also something that is carried on into New Testament times. Acts chapter 2:21, here we have on the Day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter quoting from Joel chapter 2 and he says, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
And so this is something that carries on right into the New Testament; however, in the New Testament understanding, our praying is in the name of Jesus, so when we call on the name of the Lord, for us that means characteristically that we are praying in the name of Jesus.
So that’s the first Hebrew word. The next one palal. That, again, simply means “to pray,” and it is the commonest word for prayer in the Old Testament. It is the one that is most frequently used. But it means, literally, “to pray habitually,” or “to pray repeatedly.” So when people were called, in the Old Testament, by God to palal, or to pray, God was calling them to pray habitually and persistently. So they weren’t promising just to pray if they prayed like this once or twice, but to continue to pray.
“Palal” means “to pray habitually,” or “to pray repeatedly.”
It is first used in Genesis chapter 20:17, when God called upon Abraham to pray for Abimelech, and it says, “So Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children.” So Abraham is praying for Abimelech, but he knew that this kind of prayer to break the curse that had come upon Abimelech’s life and family was going to be a persistent prayer, a continuous prayer.
And in Numbers 11:12 [the correct reference is Numbers 11:2], we find Moses, during the time of judgment when the fire of God was falling in judgment upon the people of God, it says, “Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the Lord, the fire was quenched.” That is Numbers 11:2. This is a persistent prayer that Moses had to pray to avert the fire of God’s judgment.
And again, in Deuteronomy chapter 9:25 to 26, Moses says, “Thus I prostrated myself before the Lord, forty days and forty nights. I kept prostrating myself because the Lord had said He would destroy you. Therefore, I prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your inheritance, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.’”
So here we have persistent praying. Time and time again we’ll be called on by the Lord to be involved in persistent praying, and we read how people prayed throughout the whole of the Old Testament, persisting in prayer.
Perhaps we should look at 1 Kings 8:28 and onwards. It is Solomon’s prayer, and you can look at that for yourself — 1 Kings 8:28 to 54 — praying persistently because he knew the temple was dedicated, he needed God’s blessing on that. And that’s just like the dedication of your life and my life to God. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and so we need to pray that the blessing of God would come upon us, and that our lives would come under the blessing of the Holy Spirit, and that will require continual, persistent prayer.
Now in the New Testament again we have the same stress that the Holy Spirit places on persistent praying. Jesus, in Luke 18:1 speaks a parable and He says in this parable, the meaning of it was that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. Here is a cry for persistent praying. And in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.” So we see time and time again God expects us to persist in prayer.
Now the next Hebrew word is paga. It means “to approach” or “to plead,” and it is the strongest form of Old Testament pleading. It is often translated “intercede” or “entreat.” It literally means to approach with violence. Now we’re going to look at that in more detail and give a whole session to the ministry of intercession, but let’s note right now in passing that intercession in the Old Testament was especially the role of the prophets, because they were called with the necessary anointing to approach God’s face, and when we come to look at that in detail, we’ll see how significant it is.
It is also the chief ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53:12 speaks about the intercessory ministry of the suffering servant of the Lord, “Therefore, I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul unto death and he was numbered with the transgressors and he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”
This is speaking about the ministry of Christ, the Messiah, God’s suffering servant, and in New Testament passages — Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34 — we find that the chief and principle work of Jesus Christ now, seated at the Father’s right hand, is to ever live to make intercession for us.
Now the fourth Hebrew word we’re looking at is sha’al, which means “to ask.” It is a word which the Old Testament uses to describe when people pray for special needs, like when they need His grace or deliverance or some special need for information or guidance, and it was first used as a word for prayer in Joshua 1:1. “It was after the death of Joshua, and the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, ‘Who shall be the first to go up for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’”
They felt the need, because the great warrior and leader, Joshua, was gone. He was dead. Who, now, was going to lead the armies of Israel? Who, now, was going to be the one to deliver them against the enemies—deliver them from the enemy that had come against them? And so they asked God.
Now this reminds you that when you are in a situation where you have a need in your life, this should be your instinctive response — crying out to God, asking Him for His grace and for His mercy.
Now we find throughout the whole Old Testament again that people are asking God for many situations, and He puts that prayer request upon them. In 1 Kings 3:5, “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, ‘Ask what shall I give you.’” So God suggests to Solomon that he should ask. So God wants you to ask. He would just come to you and say, “Please, ask me.”
I don’t know if you recall Psalm 2:8. Let me quote it for you, “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, the ends of the earth for your possession.” Now when God wants you to ask, He wants you to ask big requests. These actually are the words that God the Father put on the lips of God the Son so that Jesus Christ would intercede for the nations of the world, and when we line up with the intercessory will of Jesus, you will find that we will be praying exactly the same things, so that we will be praying what Jesus is praying for the nations of the earth. And God says, “Ask me, and I will give it to you.”
Now when God wants you to ask, He wants you to ask big requests.
So when God calls on us to ask, He calls us to ask for big things, as well as the small things. In fact, there is nothing too big that is beyond God’s ability to deal with, and there is nothing too small that God is so big that He will not be concerned about. Not at all.
Now this type of praying continues in the New Testament. Jesus says in Luke 11:9, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” And again in John 14:13, “And whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” And so we see God is serious about this. He wants us to learn to ask.
Now the next word we’re looking at is chala— chala, which means “to beseech,” and it’s an unusual phrase in the Hebrew which means, literally, “to smooth God’s face,” or “to make God’s face pleasant or sweet.” It is usually translated “beseech,” but chala suggests talking sweetly and quietly to God, gently reasoning with Him, as opposed to the noise or the violence that is implied in the use of the word paga, for example.
In Exodus 3:11, it says of Moses that he “pleaded with the Lord his God and said, ‘Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?’” Now can you pick up the sweetness that is behind that praying? “Lord, why does your wrath burn against us like this?” It seemed that God was about to consume the people of God, and Moses intervened, and that sweet expression and persuasion and beseeching turned away God’s anger.
It’s wonderful to be able to come to a God like that who will listen to us in times of crisis or difficulties, or at times, perhaps, when His judgment is upon us or there are some very serious issues that need resolving and we know God’s anger is kindled against us. We can come to Him, speak to Him; He invites us to beseech Him, to smooth His face.
Now many, many times in the Scriptures this kind of praying is found. In Malachi 1:9 it says, “But now entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us. ‘While this is being done by your hands, will He accept you favorably?’ says the Lord of hosts?” So God is confronting the people of Malachi’s day with the sin in the nation, with the sin in the hearts of the people of God, and He says, “Okay, deal with that sin. Put that sin away and begin to entreat the Lord, speak to Him tenderly, speak to Him and persuade Him, be sweet in your praying and you will be able to turn away His wrath and His anger through your repentance and through your humble praying..”
This kind of association between prayer and entreating developed throughout the Bible and this is how and why we read at times that prayer is like incense. It is that sweet-smelling fragrance that comes to God. For example, in Psalm 141:2 it says, “Let my prayer be set before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” And we know you will see that this is developed throughout the Bible until it comes to the Book of Revelation, where we find that the prayers of the saints are considered as incense before the throne of the Father.
Now we come to another word, za`aq, which means “to cry out.” The Old Testament uses this phrase to describe prayer when God asks us to correct, or when we want to ask God to correct something which is going wrong in our lives, where there is a crisis and we need to be set free from some trouble or other, we cry out to God. Time and time again we read in the Bible how the children of Israel cried out and in Exodus 2:23 it says, “Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage and they cried out and their cry came up to God because of the bondage.”
It doesn’t say that they actually cried out to the Lord in this verse—maybe they did—but more than that, they were crying out because of the burden that was upon them, the bondage that they were facing, and God heard that cry. Isn’t it wonderful to know that even when we cry out in our heart—not necessarily conscious that we are crying out to God—God heard the cry of the heart?
In fact, characteristically, God hears the cry of the heart, and all other forms of praying, if they are intellectual praying, is not going to be heard by God. It is when you cry from your heart concerning the need, that’s when God hears you. And more explicitly, in Exodus 14:10, the people of God cry out to Him. You will remember they have escaped from Egypt and yet Pharaoh and the army are behind them. The Red Sea is before before them. There is no escape. Exodus 14:10, “And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold the Egyptians marched after them, so they were afraid and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord.”
So during this time of great need, we cry out to God and ask Him to help us and bless us and strengthen us and rescue us. And the New Testament shows us that this kind of praying is taken up by the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to cry out to the Lord in Romans 8:15. It says, “For you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out ‘Abba, Father.’” Yes, the Holy Spirit helps us to cry out to the Father.”