Jesus' prayer life - liturgical or extemporaneous?

I have been arguing that based on historical research and biblical evidence, we can be sure that Jesus, his disciples, and his contemporaries prayed liturgically. The reason I have been arguing this point is that most low-church evangelicals (a) want to follow Scripture as the authoritative guide for matters of faith and worship, and (b) stamp out liturgical prayer because it smacks of (what they think of as) unbiblical, Catholic tradition. That is a self-contradictory position. What I am saying is that to be biblical is to be liturgical. If Jesus practiced liturgy, why wouldn't we?

I am making an argument based mostly on silence and circumstantial evidence. Jesus nowhere makes a point of teaching his followers to pray liturgically. On the contrary, he cautions them against praying with empty repitition. In other words, mean what you say.

However, he nowhere instructs his followers to stop saying the set prayers (like praying the Shema in the morning and evening). If it was accepted practice in Jesus' day to pray set prayers multiple times a day, and if Jesus does not instruct his followers to stop doing it, then we can safely assume that he intended them to continue the practice -- just not with empty words. In fact, we can safely assume that Jesus himself practiced liturgical prayer.

If that's the case, then to be biblical is to be liturgical.

But let's look at what the Gospel writers record about Jesus' prayers. They do not record Jesus praying the set prayers -- but then, that wouldn't be very newsworthy, would it? No, they record his extemporaneous prayers. The best example is John 17, when Jesus intercedes for his disciples. He pours out his heart spontaneously to the Father. Now that is newsworthy, and John conveys it to his readers. In Jn 17, we eavesdrop on a conversation between the Son and his Father -- a conversation about us. That is a conversation worth telling about.

Here is a noteworthy fact. The normal Greek word for prayer is proseuchomai. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all use that word to refer to Jesus' prayer life and his instructions to his followers on prayer. However, the word proseuchomai is completely absent from the Gospel of John and the letters of John. In John's Gospel, Jesus "talks" to the Father. John uses verbage the Greeks would use to refer to normal speaking and interacting. This is John's way of highlighting Jesus' intimate relationship with Abba -- a relationship into which we are invited.

We have, then, two ways the Gospel writers use to describe Jesus' way of interacting with the Father. Not to stretch the terms too far, but you could say that whereas "talking" with God emphasizes intimacy, "praying" to him emphasizes reverence.

If the question of the day is whether Jesus prayed extemporaneously or liturgically, the answer is: both! He "talked" with the Father, and he "prayed" to the Father. He expressed intimacy, and he showed reverence.

My point is that if we are to follow his example, our prayer life should include both extemporaneous and liturgical prayer. We should "talk" with the Father, and we should "pray" to the Father. We should express intimacy, and we should show reverence. It is not "either-or," it is "both-and."


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