“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV)
Jesus’ praying inspired his disciples to ask him how he did it. So, what sort of upbringing in prayer formed Jesus?
A cornerstone of prayer for Jesus, as a child in a faithful Jewish family, would have been the “Shema,” quoted above. Here’s the context. Moses is speaking to the generation that will enter the Promised Land. He is reiterating the commandments and teaching of the Lord so that this generation will be equipped for a faithful life before God in this new land.
This verse and those that follow came to be seen as summarizing the whole Law. This verse became a touchstone verse for the Jews–for their understanding of God and of their relationship with him.
This verse had a creed-like function in that it expresses truth at the core of their faith. But it also provided a foundation for a life of prayer. Here are three reflections on this central verse and prayer.
1. Christian Prayer responds to God’s speaking first to us. (“Hear, O Israel”) To place such preeminence on a verse that begins by saying, essentially, “Listen up!” is to know that we are not initiating the conversation with God. God has spoken and speaks. Hopefully, our praying has a healthy dose of listening.
2. Christian Prayer is addressed to a particular and personal God, no generic spirituality here. (“The Lord our God”) This is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of the Exodus, and of Jesus Christ. It will not do to muddy the waters and get squishy about the particular identity of the God to whom we pray. We are praying to the Lord, our only deliverer and hope.
3. Christian Prayer rejects the idolatry of hedging our bets. (“the Lord is one.” or perhaps “the Lord alone”) Hedging our bets in prayer is praying to God but trusting in some other power (usually our own ability) to orchestrate a solution or to come up with an answer apart from God. This is praying without authentic trust. To acknowledge that “the Lord is one” in prayer is to acknowledge there is no other (including ourselves) to whom we can pray, to whom prayer makes any sense.
Prayer: God, thank you that the life of Jesus was a life of prayer. Thank you for the formation in prayer that Jesus received as he grew up. Grow us up in you–in our praying, and through our praying. Amen.