Prayer

Proskartereo: Dedicated, Committed, Devoted, Persistent and Focused

A sermon delivered at Calvary Baptist Church, Derby, Kansas. Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

Tonight, I want us to study a single word in the NT: proskartereo. It looks and sounds like a perfect candidate for use in a Jeopardy category: “twelve-letter Greek words that are difficult to pronounce”!

This word caught my attention as I ran across it at various times over the years in my studies of the NT in Greek, and I thought its various occurrences and uses rather interesting.

It is a compound word, composed of the preposition pros, which means, “to, toward, in the direction of” and kartereo, a verb with the root idea of “to be strong, firm.” So it literally means “to be strong toward something or someone.” As used in the NT, the word carries the sense and meaning “to be devoted to, to be dedicated to, to focus on, to be committed to, to persist in” some purpose, object or person.

This word is used ten times in the Greek NT, six of which occur in Acts. I want to briefly note each of these uses.

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Pater Noster

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Jesus taught His disciples to pray by uttering a prayer. While some have taken this prayer—the Lord’s Prayer—as a kind of incantation to be recited on cue, it is better viewed as a template. In this most famous prayer, Jesus was providing His disciples with categories that they could use to construct all of their future prayers.

The prayer opens with the words, “Our Father, which art in heaven.” This marvelous phrase sets the tone for all the petitions that follow. In these syllables we learn whom to invoke when we pray and, by implication, in what attitude the invocation ought to be made.

“Our Father” is not a form of address that Old Testament saints typically used in addressing the Almighty. Jacob prayed, “O God of my father,” (Gen. 32:9). When the nation of Israel was about to be struck by God, its leaders prayed, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh,” (Num. 16:22). Defeated in battle by Ai, Joshua cried out, “Alas, O Lord GOD,” (Josh. 7:7). Out of the bitterness of her soul, Hanna prayed, “O LORD of hosts,” (1 Sam. 1:11). Solomon, given permission to ask for anything he wished, prayed “O LORD my God,” (1 Kings 3:7), and in the belly of the fish Jonah echoed this language (Jonah 2:6). At the dedication of the temple, Solomon repeatedly prayed, “O LORD God of Israel,” (2 Chr. 6:14, 16, 17). Interceding for the sins of his people, King Hezekiah prayed, “The good LORD pardon every one,” (2 Chr. 30:18). Later, facing conquest by the Assyrian army, this righteous king prayed, “O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims,” (2 Kings 19:15). Some prayers began as simply as “O God,” or “O LORD,” but rarely did they address God as “our Father.”

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The Proof of the Living God, as Found in the Prayer Life of George Muller of Bristol

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CHAPTER V. THE PROOF OF THE LIVING GOD, AS FOUND IN THE PRAYER LIFE OF GEORGE MULLER, OF BRISTOL.

BY REV. ARTHUR T. PIERSON, D. D.

In Psalm 68:4, we are bidden to “extol Him who rideth upon the heavens by His name, JAH, and to rejoice before Him;” and in the next verse, He is declared to be “a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, in His holy habitation.”

The name, “Jah,” here only found, is not simply an abbreviation of “Jehovah;” but the present tense of the Hebrew verb to be; and expresses the idea that this Jehovah is the Living, Present God; and, as the heavens are always over our heads, He is always a present Helper, especially to those who, like the widow and the orphan, lack other providers and protectors.

George Miiller, of Bristol, undertook to demonstrate to the unbelieving world that God is such a living, present God, and that He proves it by answering prayer; and that the test of this fact might be definite and conclusive, he undertook to gather, feed, house, clothe, and also to teach and train, all available orphans, who were legitimate children, but deprived of both parents by death and destitute.

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Don't Pray Like This, Either

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Jesus wanted to teach His disciples how to pray, but He also wanted to teach them how not to pray. In the Sermon on the Mount, He told them that they should not pray like the hypocrites (Matt. 6:5-6). For Jesus’ followers, prayer should never be offered in order to impress the people who might overhear it.

He also taught that His disciples should not pray like idolaters (Matt. 6:7-8). According to Jesus, idolaters pray in empty repetitions, believing that their verbosity will gain a hearing from their deities. The true and living God, however, is never impressed by pointless reiteration.

By forbidding empty repetition, Jesus was not forbidding all repetitions. Not every repetition is necessarily empty. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain how certain biblical prayers could have been honoring to God.

Perhaps the best illustration is Psalm 136, in which every verse ends with the refrain, “for His mercy endureth for ever.” This phrase is repeated twenty-six times in the space of a short psalm. That certainly counts as repetition.

It is not, however, empty repetition. God’s mercy (His cheesed or covenant faithfulness) is the point of the psalm. The psalm is composed of couplets, each of which begins with some fresh focus upon or description of God’s cheesed. The result is that each repetition of the refrain reflects a slightly expanded or re-aligned understanding of divine mercy. In other words, the refrain means something slightly different each time it occurs. A congregation that prays this psalm thoughtfully is never simply repeating itself, because the refrain takes on fresh meaning with each new iteration.

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