What is Prayer?
What is prayer? Is it asking God to give us our daily bread, or is it fellowship with God? Is the aim to get health and happiness from God or to grow into conformance with his will? Is it a public, vocal practice, normally done in a worship service, or a private, internal matter? Or both? Classic writings on prayer can be very illuminating on what people have thought about prayer and how they have practiced it over the centuries, and perhaps it can shed light on limitations of thinking and practice in our era. For the next few months, I hope to highlight certain classic writings on prayer.
The first classic is On Prayer by Tertullian (155-222 A.D.), who has been called the "great founder of Latin Christianity." For Tertullian, prayer replaced temple sacrifice. It was essentially spoken petitions. Individual petitions could be added to the Lord's Prayer; the more diligent also added Psalms. Prayers were apparently normally to be said standing, with hands raised, though for modesty not too loftily elevated, nor the sound of the voice too loud. Those praying should kneel or prostrate themselves, at the least in the first prayer of the day. Women were to dress modestly and have a covered (veiled) head. And no prayer was complete if divorced from the kiss of peace, "which is the seal of prayer." No particular daily hours for prayer have been prescribed, according to Tertullian, though he says that the third, sixth, and ninth seem in scripture to be more solemn than the rest.
For Tertullian, prayer is essentially a worship service or liturgy. There is no mention of prayer as private, continuous, a means of fellowship with God or sanctification, or the like. (Future classic writings will vary greatly on this view.) I wonder if there was a notion of a "private devotional life" in the early church?