I remember back in the beginning days of the Jesus Movement one of the first bands I listened to was Love Song. Among those early recordings was a song from the first three verses of Psalm 5, straight out of the King James Version.
Give ear to my words, O LORD,
Consider my meditation.
Hearken unto the voice of my cry,
My King, and my God:
For unto thee will I pray.
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning,
O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer
Unto thee, and will look up.
(Psalm 5:1-3 KJV)
It’s a beautiful meditation. You can listen to it here.
I’ve often struggled with prayer, especially when there wasn’t an immediate, pressing need or a situation that called for a prayer (for instance, a meal). When I just say, “I’m going to pray,” I sometimes don’t know what to say, or even remember all of the things I mean to pray for, and my mind will wander off onto who knows what. I don’t like to ad-lib prayer in a public setting. Perhaps you’ve had the same struggles.
Setting Things In Order
When David said “in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee,” he wasn’t speaking in King James prose. The Hebrew word translated here as “direct” is ‘arak (Strong’s Hebrew #H6186) and doesn’t just mean to point your words in the direction of Heaven. If “direct” is an appropriate English translation, it is more in the sense of directing an orchestra. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says this word means “to set in order, arrange.” David’s prayer in this context was structured, not a random rambling of thoughts and words.
In this passage the verb is the Qal stem, and Brown-Driver-Briggs offers this:
H6186 ערך ‛ârak
1) to arrange, set or put or lay in order, set in array, prepare, order, ordain, handle, furnish, esteem, equal, direct, compare.
1a) (Qal) to arrange or set or lay in order, arrange, state in order, set forth (a legal case), set in place
Most of our English translations don’t fully convey this meaning. The New King James Version uses the same terminology as the KJV. The New American Standard Bible is a little better:
In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.
This is from the Stone Edition Tanach:
HASHEM, at dawn hear my voice, at dawn as I arrange my prayer before You, and I wait expectantly.
Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible, focused on the emphasis of the sentence structure, brings out this deeper meaning (note the emphasis on the time of day):
O Yahweh! <In the morning> shalt thou hear my voice. <In the morning> will I set in order unto thee, and keep watch.
I was once attending a service in a church with which I was not familiar when it came time for prayer. One man was called upon to “lead” the prayer. He began to pray in what would seem to be a normal manner. But to my amazement, within about ten seconds the entire sanctuary was filled with people praying out loud, such that I could not even hear the man who was “leading” in prayer. It seemed like mass confusion, and was much too loud and chaotic for me to even hear my own thoughts. It was impossible to concentrate on anything. I have no idea when the “leader” finished, but after several minutes everyone was quiet again.
Another church I attended held Prayer Meetings for a while where we prayed for one hour – 20 minutes of praise, 20 minutes of petition, and 20 minutes of giving thanks. On the overhead projector (OK, that was a while back) was a list of suggested things to pray about. And even though there were many of us praying at the same time – some silently, some quietly and some a little louder – it was much easier to focus as well as to stand in agreement with others. It also is much more like the directed or ordered prayer David is describing.
The Amidah – Ordered Prayer
The Amidah is a wonderful pattern of ordered prayer. If you are not familiar with it, you can read earlier post on it here. It may also be helpful to have it in front of you for the remainder of this post. You can view it here.
First, as with any planned time of prayer, preparation is essential. Before beginning the actual Amidah prayer, when possible I like to get out my guitar and sing a few worship songs. And if I can, I stand and face toward Jerusalem in keeping with the instructions of King Solomon.
Hear the supplications of Your servant and Your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from Your dwelling place, from heaven, and when You hear, forgive. …Moreover, concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel but comes from a distant land for the sake of Your great Name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this House, then may You hear from heaven, Your dwelling place and do whatever the foreigner asks of You.
(2 Chronicles 6:21,32-33 TLV)
I begin with the traditional morning blessing Modeh Ani, followed by:
The Blessing of the Messiah
Yeshua’s Model Prayer
The Attributes of God
The Shema and V’ahavta
Now I am ready to begin the Amidah, starting with Psalm 51:17(15):
Adonai, open up my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise.
When I am praying this ordered prayer, my mind still wanders. That’s just what it does. But my wandering thoughts are now directed by the outline of the prayer. Here are a few ways that happens.
There are at least four specific places in the Amidah where a brief pause sends my attention to certain thoughts. Compare it to the Hebrew word selah (#H5542), an uncertain term used in the Psalms that probably indicates a pause for contemplation and meditation. The Amplified Bible actually writes, “pause, and calmly think of that!” when this word appears.
The first is #5 Teshuvah/Repentance (these sections are numbered). At this pause, I think about times in the preceding days when I’ve fallen short. This isn’t limited to gross sin, and usually what comes to mind is things that just aren’t that pleasing to my Heavenly Father. It’s time to repent – to turn from that.
Baruch atah Adonai, harotze bit’shuvah
Those Hebrew words have become meaningful to me. Most of us are familiar with the first phrase, “Blessed are you O Lord,” and we can recognize the word teshuvah, or repentance. I learned the other word by singing, in Hebrew, the song “Open the Eyes of my Heart” – ani rotze lir’ot otcah “I want to see you.” This phrase harotze bit’shuvah expresses that God wants (desires) repentance.
The second place to pause is #8 Refuah (Healing). During this pause, my mind thinks of those I know who need a healing touch from the Father. I don’t try to remember all the details or diagnose their problem, I just think about them needing healing.
Baruch atah Adonai, rofeh cholei amoh Israel
I learned the word for “heal” from the transliterated phrase Jehovah Rapha. I know, it’s a butchered form of the Divine Name using the wrong vowels in order not to say it, but nevertheless it is how I learned the word rapha when I was in church. God heals His people.
The third place to pause is #15 Tefillah (Prayer). It is a good place to let my mind wander to other things I may want to ask of my Father, knowing that he hears me.
Baruch atah Adonai, shome’a tefillah
Think of shema, or “hear,” and tefillin, prayers, and also what some Jewish people wrap on themselves when praying. God hears prayers.
The fourth place to pause is #17 Modim (Thanksgiving). Focus on the whole section, a beautiful prayer of thanks, then give thanks for specific things.
Lecha na’eh l’hodot
“You are proper to thank.” Think of hodu l’Adonai ki tov, give thanks to the Lord for He is good.
There are lots of other places where I allow my thoughts to wander while I am reading aloud the words of the Amidah. Here are just a few (be sure to look at the words of the Amidah as you consider these).
#9 Birkat HaShanim (Blessings of the Years). I think about daily provisions, even if I am not growing them myself. This ties directly to Yeshua’s model prayer, “give us the food we need today.”
#10 Kibbutz Galuyot (Ingathering of Exiles). Do you recognize the word kibbutz, a gathering, also at the end of this section, mekabetz? God is gathering his scattered people from both houses of Israel all across the world.
#11 Birkat HaDin (Justice). I pray for Godly leadership in our nation. We sure need it.
#12 Tzadikim (The Righteous). While reciting this part, I think about those that are a part of our local fellowship, as well as others coming to understand this walk.
#13 Binyan Yerushalim (Rebuilding Jerusalem). Pray for the nation of Israel and for the peace of Jerusalem.
#14 Malchut Ben David (Davidic Reign). It is the blessed hope; pray for the soon return of King Yeshua.
You get the idea. These prayers are written out word-for-word, but as I am praying them my thoughts still wander. Having this direction causes me to focus those wandering thoughts in specific areas, the same way that conversation with a close friend might cause me to think of something and remark, “oh, that reminds me…”
I hope this encourages you to follow David’s practice of directed, ordered, yet personal and heart-felt prayer. I find the Amidah to be a great vehicle for this. Search out whatever method works for you and then make it a habit.
O LORD, in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.