In the series New Studies in Biblical Theology J. Gary Millar, principal of Queensland Theological College, Australia, informs us about prayer in the Bible. Millar starts that the first explicit reference to prayer in the Old Testament can be found in Genesis 4. In Gen. 4:25 we read that people began to call on the name of the LORD. The author shows that this way of praying is clearly designed for a fallen world. The focus of prayers in the Old Testament is the fulfillment of the covenant promises of the LORD. Prayer is only made possible by the gospel. All real prayer is gospel prayer. It is remarkable that we do not find prayers in Leviticus. What is the reason? Millar suggests that is to indicate that prayer is not the basis of forgiveness. Only a perfect sacrificial death can achieve atonement.
In the books of Joshua to Kings (Former Prophets) we find a consistent strand of teaching on prayer. One of the great needs of the people of Israel is to call on the name of the LORD. Both the Mayor Prophets and the Book of the Twelve share a common view on the place of prayer in the sight of the exile. As the curses of the covenant are poured out, in a certain sense the calling on the name of the LORD is temporarily withdrawn. But the prophets speak with one voice that exile can not be the final situation, because the LORD is faithful to his own name. That is the pleading ground in prayer.
The book of Psalms is the prayer book of the Bible. Millar rightly says that the psalter is dominated by psalms of the Messiah. When any given psalm of David is a prayer, it is foremost his prayer. They reflect the intense reality of God’s Messiah. At the same time the prayers of the Messiah are also the prayers of the people of the Messiah. So a foundation is laid and a foreshadowing is given of the incorporative sonship of Jesus the Messiah. His people are to pray ‘Abba, Father’ on the basis of his life and work. The richness of the psalter – lament, thanksgiving, praise and wisdom – flows from the urgent need to plead with God what he has already committed. The psalter shows the calling on the Name of the LORD in all its richness.
All the four gospels highlight that Jesus as the Christ had intense life of prayer. Especially the prayers when his death approached (form the garden of Gethsemane to Golgotha) are very urgent. Even more than Millar does I would stress that Jesus prayed with the Psalms. Characteristic for his prayers is that just with one exception his address God as ‘Father’ of ‘my Father’. Herein he surpasses the language of the Old Testament Psalms.
I agree with Millar that in the book of Acts the prayers are shaped by the gospel. The overwhelming matter prayed about is the promised progress of the gospel. Nobody would disagree with Millar that when any of the New Testament writers can claim to be a theologian of prayer it is the apostle Paul. The matter of his prayers is that the gospel may take root in the life of believers through his ministry and broader through the ministry of the church. His teaching on prayer is focused on growth in grace.
The book of Revelation – and especially the end of it- highlight the deepest longing of believers living in the new dispensation is the second coming of Christ and final manifestation of the kingdom of God. New Testament believers call on God to do what he has promised in the Lord Jesus Christ. The importance of the covenant in relation to prayer is rightly valued by Millar. I myself would stress somewhat more than Millar does the longing for communion with God expressed in prayer and the lament connected with the experience that God withdraws sometimes his friendly face. Nevertheless, I consider this study of Millar a rich book on the Biblical material on prayer.
Gary Millar, Calling on the Name of the Lord: A biblical theology of prayer, New Studies in Biblical Theology 38 (Londen/Downers Grove: Apollos/InterVarsity Press, 2016), paperback 264 pp., ₤14,99 (ISBN 9781783593958)