Our calling to call upon God – our vocation to pray – is not something that we instantly know how to do. The reality is, learning to pray is similar to learning to speak. A child can communicate with her parents through crying and cooing, but only after a few years of hearing others speaking does the child herself learn to speak. In the same way, learning a foreign language takes time and effort to become proficient. One must not only study the vocabulary but also the syntax and grammar that frames that language. Prayer, while easier than learning a foreign language, presents its own difficulties to learn. What should we say? How should we say it? Yet, God, who has given us the command to pray, who has given us the Holy Spirit to inspire our prayers, does not leave us to figure that out on our own. Instead, God gives us His Holy Word, the Scriptures, to guide us into prayer.
Prayers of the Scriptures
The easiest example of learning to pray and the highest model of prayer is given by God Himself in the Lord’s Prayer. Luke 11 records:
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Jesus gives His very words for us to pray. He teaches us directly how to call upon God. (The more common version of this prayer is recorded in Matthew 6:9-13. We will consider that text in a separate post. Furthermore, check out AJ’s work on the Lord’s Prayer here.)
While the Lord’s Prayer is the chief example of prayer in the Scripture, there are numerous other examples that God had written down for our learning. In this post, we will consider a few of those prayers from the Old Testament (not including the Psalms) as models that we might learn to pray.
Jacob’s Prayer – Genesis 32:9-12 – A Prayer for Deliverance
In Genesis 32, Jacob calls upon God for deliverance from his brother Esau. Many of the prayers of the Old Testament are prayers of deliverance, but I highlight this one from Jacob as a model because of the simplicity and structure of it.
- Jacob begins by calling upon the name of God – the God of his Fathers, the Lord (YHWH).
- Jacob calls upon the word God had given to Him.
- Jacob confesses his own unworthiness before God while simultaneously exalting God’s favor and blessings to him.
- Jacob then makes his request to God.
- Jacob ends his prayer recalling the promise God had made to him.
Jacob’s prayer emphasizes for us the reality that we must have both humility and confidence when calling upon God. We must have humility because we are unworthy of anything that God gives; yet, we must have confidence because of God’s promise to hear our prayer. What is also worth noting here, Jacob does not treat God as a genie or a wish granter. He does not bargain with God. No, Jacob humbles himself before and calls upon God as the One who always keeps His promises. Our prayers should imitate that same mindset.
Moses and the People of Israel’s Prayer – Exodus 15:1-18
Calling Upon God to Praise
What God records in this chapter of Exodus is technically a song, yet it serves as a prayer of praise – a calling upon God for what He has done for the people. In fact, many of the songs/poetry found in Scripture are prayers: the Book of Psalms, Hannah’s Prayer (1 Samuel 2), Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55), Simeon’s Song (Luke 2:29-32), etc. (Songs/hymns as prayers will be another topic addressed – especially concerning teaching our young children to pray.)
Moses and the People of Israel sing a song to the Lord immediately after their deliverance from Pharaoh through the Red Sea (Exodus 14). This prayer is a calling upon God in joy and exaltation for what He has done: God has delivered His people and crushed His enemies. The majority of this prayer is recounting God’s mighty and powerful deeds back to Him: that the people might stand in awe and fear of Him, but might also take comfort that He “fights for them” (Exodus 14:25).
In our prayers, we should stand in awe and fear of God’s might and power, but we should take comfort that He has used His might and power to defeat our true enemies – sin, death, and the devil. He conquered those enemies through the death and resurrection of Christ. For those who trust in Christ, Jesus extends that victory to us. For this reason, we can rejoice and be glad -even in the midst of trouble. Our prayers not only bring our needs before God but also praise Him for the innumerable blessings He gives to us.
King Solomon’s Prayer – 1 Kings 8:22-52
Calling Upon God for grace
King Solomon was the second wisest man in the history of the world. Though his heart turned away from the Lord in the latter days of his life, he still offered much wisdom to the people of God (see especially the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiastes.) In this prayer of dedication from 1 Kings 8, King Solomon enlightens us with what we ought to pray for: grace.
As with Jacob, King Solomon begins calling upon God by first recounting what God has already done – keeping His covenant promises. For us today, we call upon God by first recounting what He has done – keeping His covenant promise by sending a Savior, Jesus Christ. King Solomon then calls upon God to bless the Temple with His presence – that the Temple would be the place where God’s people can find hope, comfort, and peace. For us today, we still call upon God for these gifts, though not at the Temple in Jerusalem, but in the “temple of Christ’s body” (John 2:21).
The theme that emerges from King Solomon’s prayer, and the primary request King Solomon calls upon God for, is forgiveness. That theme is still the primary request for us as Christians this day. Forgiveness, in its most basic terms, is “to release someone from an offense” or “not to hold an offense against someone.” To put that more colloquially, to ask for forgiveness to ask that the past not get in the way of the future relationship. King Solomon continually asked this for the people of Israel. We continually call upon God for this same blessing – that our past failures do not get in the way of His future relationship with us.
In learning to pray the Scriptures, to call upon God from His Word, this request is always the foundation of our prayers. The magnificent promise is – for the sake of Jesus Christ, God does grant this blessing of forgiveness. Because of Christ – His atoning death on the Cross, His resurrection from the dead – God does not let our past get in the way of our future relationship with Him. Trusting in this blessing – literally, this grace – then we can approach God for hope, comfort, peace, wisdom, guidance, provisions – anything that we need to support us in this life and to keep us steadfast unto eternal life.
Our Calling to Call Upon God
Learning to call upon God is like learning a new language: it takes persistence and effort. Yet, God has not abandoned you to figure it out on your own. He has given His Word to guide you and the Spirit to empower you. Prayers need not be elaborate (as Jacob demonstrates). Prayers must, however, come from a place of humility before God and confidence in God. We find both of those when we meditate on who Christ is and what He has accomplished for us.
This week, pray in the way Jacob, Moses, and Solomon did. Humble your heart and mind at God’s might and power, but confidently approach Him with your needs through your Savior Jesus Christ. Call upon God for His deliverance in times of trial and uncertainty; call upon God in praise of any of the blessings you receive; call upon God for grace to sustain your relationship with Him. May God guide us to continue calling upon Him in times of need and in times of joy.