The First Century Prayer Paradigm
These people knew how to pray! The record in the Book of Acts is impressive.
- Prison doors yielded to the force of the prayers of the church.
- Buildings shook.
- Lame men walked.
- The gospel was preached in power.
- The church enjoyed unity and grew as the Lord gave the increase.
The centuries following the time of the Apostles saw the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers who served the Lord at the risk of their lives. Soon the Roman Empire itself fell before the prayers of the church. Jesus’ words proved true: the gates of hell could not prevail before the people of God.
Yes, they prayed and served the Lord in their generation, but how did these first century believers pray? Can we learn from them in the school of prayer? The worship tradition of my youth, while introducing me to the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Spirit and plunging me into the joy of public worship, did not serve me well in the area of private prayer. The Apostles and those who followed them had methods of prayer I never learned about. Their prayer lives were richer and more varied that I ever imagined. I want to share with you what I have learned. I call it the Apostolic Prayer Paradigm.
The Apostolic Prayer Paradigm
Jesus and His followers were products of the Old Covenant prayer paradigm. This method featured two powerful modes of praying:
- extemporaneous or simple prayer, conversing with God and
- fixed prayers from Scripture.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, a third mode of prayer came into the devotional lives of the followers of Jesus—prayer in/by the Spirit—prayer in unknown tongues.
With the addition of prayer in/by the Spirit, the Apostolic Prayer Paradigm was complete. As New Covenant people we believe that the fullness of this prayer life is available to us today. As a result of 20th Century renewal movements, two of these methods of prayer have been included in our spirituality: extemporaneous prayer and prayer in/by the Spirit. For many, however, the use of fixed prayers has not been a part of our tradition. I believe the Lord wants to add this to the spirituality of all believers in the twenty-first century.
Prayer in/by the Holy Spirit
The benefits of this mode of prayer are clearly set forth in Scripture:
- to speak mysteries (1 Cor 14:2-5),
- to be built up by the process (1 Cor 14:14),
- to pray beyond the limits of the human understanding(1 Cor 14:14),
- to pray in the Spirit and also with the mind (1 Cor 14:14-15),
- to offer perfect praise to the Lord (1 Cor 14:17 NKJV),
- to bring things gained in the Secret Place to the public service (1 Cor 14:26), and
- to intercede with specific details when those details are unknown to the intercessor (Rom 8:26-27).
The fullness of New Covenant prayer in the hope of the world!
A walk with someone is characterized by a conversation with them. The old song beloved by so many English speaking worshipers says “And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.”( In the Garden Words and Music by C/ Austin Miles) This is an effective description of conversational prayer, a running conversation through the day and through the night, an unending awareness of the voice of God in our spirits and our ready access to the ear of God through the prayer of faith. This powerful privilege was a part of Old Covenant spirituality and has intensified for us under the New Covenant because of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Richard Foster calls this running conversation with God simple prayer.( Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home)
Fixed Prayers from Scripture and Tradition
While the first two modes of ancient prayer are quite familiar to us, the third mode is not so familiar. In the seventeenth century, the radical reformers, groups like the Puritans, sought to reform the Reformation by eliminating all things that looked Roman Catholic. Much of Twentieth Century spirituality was a descendent of these revivalists. So those who formed the ones who would discover and established our traditions threw out recited prayers as inherently unspiritual, insincere and “Roman” before we ever had a chance to use fixed prayers. The Lord’s Prayer was even seen, not as prayer, but as an outline to prayer.
There was an exception. When they were set to music. some fixed prayers were maintained and were known as hymns or gospel songs. What a difference a tune can make!
Actually, fixed prayers, especially Scripture prayers, are ancient. Their use goes back at least to the time of King David and was the common practice of Jesus and the disciples. It is likely these prayers including praying the entire book of Psalms. It is intriguing to think of Jesus reciting these scriptures as prayers. No wonder he was ready with the answer to the lawyer’s question about the greatest command; he prayed it, as the Shema, every morning! Before Jesus prayed the psalms from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Ps 22:1) and, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Ps 31:5), he had recited them countless times since childhood.
The truth is this: The Apostles prayed in three modes,
- in/by the Spirit,
- extemporaneously and
- with fixed prayers from Scripture and tradition.
The daily use of fixed Scripture prayers and the great classical prayers of the church are an excellent structure for daily private worship.
Fire and Form 108
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved