The day that prayer began
Praying has always been hard for Christians. I once heard John Stott say that it was his greatest struggle in the Christian life, and I suspect that most Christians today would add a heartfelt Amen to that! I know I have never found prayer easy.
Add to that the fact that right now, at this point in the history of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, prayer is not front and centre, and the reasons for taking a fresh look at prayer from first principles are pretty obvious. So let’s start by looking at what the Bible actually says about prayer.
Where is the first prayer in the Bible? It’s tucked away at the end of Genesis 4. Here’s what we find in Genesis 4:25- 26: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him’. To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” This is the day that prayer began.
But why did people start to “call on the name of Yahweh”? At first glance, it isn’t all that obvious. Not much happens in the verses (or the whole chapter) leading up to this announcement. But there really can be only one reason – people start to pray because of the birth of Enosh.
Enosh doesn’t get much airplay in the Old Testament – in fact, you may never have given him a second thought – but his birth triggers the start of prayer. Why? The answer is simple but important: it is because people begin to understand the gospel. For the first time, people start to get a glimpse of God’s masterplan that would ultimately lead to the coming of the Lord Jesus and change the whole universe.
Where does it say that in Genesis 4:25- 26? Let me show you! Back in Genesis 3:15, God promises Adam that one of Eve’s children will stamp on the head of the serpent. Who is the most likely candidate? At the start of Genesis 4, the two likeliest possibilities are Abel and Cain. But then Cain kills Abel, ruling out both of them.
So who’s the next contender? It has to be Seth, doesn’t it? But what are we told about Seth? Nothing, so it can’t be him.
By this stage, people might be getting a little impatient.
That’s when Enosh comes along. And it’s at this point that people start to twig to the fact that everything may not get sorted out straight away. It’s at this point, it seems, that they realise that they are going to have to wait a while for God to fulfil His promises. So it’s at this point that they start to “call on Yahweh”. It’s at this moment that they start to pray.
“To call on God” here surely means to cry to God to come through on His promises, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and to admit our weaknesses and appeal to His awesome strength.
They start to pray because they see both God’s commitment to us, and their own helplessness. They pray because they know God is for them, because He has said so, and that they are weak, because He has said so. In other words, prayer starts with the gospel. It always has and it always will.
Gary Millar is principal of the Queensland Theological College