Zvi Aug/Sep 1995
In these times of great uncertainty in Israel, the leaders of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) rabbis have taken it upon themselves to compose a new prayer—a nice poem that will comfort the people. One of those rabbis is the leader of a large synagogue in my neighborhood. When we first met, he was not very friendly with me because he knows that I believe in Jesus as my Savior. For a long time he would not even look at me if we passed on the street, but when he learned from members of his synagogue that I often make repairs to their homes free of charge, he gradually changed his attitude toward me. We have since become good friends, but I always wonder how long that friendship will last.
When I met him recently, he was the first one to say “Shalom,” and I knew immediately that he wanted my help. I was happy to do the work he requested, and, as always, I did not charge him for my services. When I was finished, he surprised me by asking, “Zvi, have you lost your head, believing in this man Jesus? And how did you come to your decision to believe in Him?” Because we were in his synagogue, I pointed to the extensive library and said,
“Look at the many books you have here, but can you show me even one copy of the Bible, the Holy Scriptures? How can you call this a house of prayer when you do not have even one Bible here?”
He then told me, “You can see for yourself that most of the books here are prayer books. Even now I and other rabbis are wracking our brains trying to compose a new prayer, a nice poem to comfort the people of Israel in these difficult days. In fact, I would be interested in any help you can offer in composing the new prayer.” I replied, “I am not a writer, but I can give you some important help for this project. If you want to know how to really pray to God, you must ask Him directly for His help. All of the composed poems and prayers in the world will not help you. They are nothing more than what King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:2, ‘Vanity of vanities … all is vanity.’ So also are all of your prayer books and this effort to write a new poem or prayer. It will be no more help than cupping a glass for the dead or giving eyeglasses to a blind horse. If the prayer does not come from the depths of your heart, it is, as I just said, nothing more than vanity. Even you, a rabbi in a large synagogue, cannot turn people into robots. Each person is free to come before God and open his or her heart to Him. You must not tell them how to pray. Remember, you can kill the body, but never the spirit.”
The rabbi was listening intently, as never before, and then he asked, “How do you pray? With what words do you start?” I then opened my Bible to Psalm 25 and read, “Unto thee, O Lᴏʀᴅ, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee … Show me thy ways, O Lᴏʀᴅ; teach me thy paths … for thou art the God of my salvation” (vv. 1–2, 15). I then told him, “These are the word of King David. He prayed to God and said all that was in his heart, without worrying about whether it was a nice poem. He knew all the sins he had committed against God’s will, and so, in another prayer, he said, ‘Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me’ (Ps. 51:11). You can see that the Holy Spirit of God was very important to David. Also, he humbled himself before God, yet you want to come before Him with great words and fancy poems. Listen to what King David said to God when he prayed: ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lᴏʀᴅ; for I am weak’ (Ps. 6:2); and again, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lᴏʀᴅ, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies’ (Ps. 27:11).
“David uttered all of these words, not because he was a great poet, but because he was a great sinner. I am not suggesting that you copy his words as your new prayer, but you can use David’s words as an example of his simplicity and humility before God.”
The rabbi then asked, “How do believers in Jesus pray?” I replied, “As I said before, we never pray from books that have been written by others. We only pray what is on our hearts at any given time, in any given situation. This ability comes through the Holy Spirit of God as people place their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. Believe me, you do not have to be a great poet or compete with others to see who can write the nicest words. Your prayers must come from the depths of your heart, and the words you use do not matter to God. In fact, you do not even have to speak out loud. Hannah prayed silently in the Temple at Shiloh, but her petition came from deep within her heart. God heard her prayer and gave her the desire of her heart, and the result was the birth of Samuel.
“Believers in Jesus do not have prayer books or pray special prayers on special occasions. We come before God Almighty with open hearts, and He answers our prayers according to His holy will. This is what God wants from His children. He has said in Ezekiel 36:26, ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.’”
The rabbi was surprised that I read from the Bible, because he was sure that believers in Jesus did not use the Bible. Finally, his eyes have begun to open to the truth about those of us who have trusted Jesus as our Messiah and Savior. He told me, “I have learned much today, but the distance between us is still very far.” I said, “You must not try to bridge the distance between you and me, but between yourself and God. As it is written in Isaiah 53, He was bruised for our sins and crushed for our iniquities, and because of all that He has done for us, we must come to Him in the way He has directed in His Word.”
The rabbi and I parted on a very friendly basis that day. I trust I will have many more opportunities to speak with him about the Lord Jesus, and in the meantime I have put the matter in God’s hands, trusting Him to do a work in this man’s heart. Please pray with me to this end.