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Praying ‘Repurposed’ Prayers

Jesus often prayed familiar words from other Biblical figures.

Family praying together for their Lenten journey
Credit: Getty Images
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Growing up, I attended Sunday school every week, and some of my earliest prayers were learned there. For example, there was one prayer I learned to treasure. It was called “the Mizpah Benediction.” Ever heard of it?

My Sunday school class and children’s church would often conclude with words imported from Genesis 31:49: “The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (KJV). Sweet, right?

Only much later did I learn that those words were first spoken in a much different context than a gathering of friends and fellow worshipers. In fact, the words were spoken by Laban to Jacob; neither of them trusted the other, so the original context was that of one man saying to another, “God will get you if you betray me.” 

That certainly changes things. Or does it?

As Jesus hung on the cross, dying an excruciating death, he called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV). The words are famous today as one of the “seven words” or sayings Jesus uttered on the cross, but they were originally the opening lines of a song (or psalm) written by David, giant-killer who became the shepherd king of Israel. We don’t know in what circumstances David wrote that line, but we can be sure they weren’t his dying utterance. We might say that Jesus “repurposed” David’s prayer, quoting it and applying it to His own agony on the cross.

Jesus did the same with another line from one of David’s songs, Psalm 31:5: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (NIV). Luke 23:46 records, “Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.’ And when He had said this, He breathed His last” (NIV). It was another prayer Jesus repurposed, so to speak, and may even have done so believing that those who heard His words would recognize them and see His sufferings as having been foreshadowed in scripture.

So, when recently I stood at the bedside of my wife’s mother, whose health was failing fast, and recited with her and other family members the familiar “Mizpah Benediction,” I didn’t mind at all that the others probably gave no thought to the original context of those words. They were a comfort, and a blessing from God’s Word.

So I would suggest that we don’t have to feel obligated to carefully duplicate the context of every prayer we pray, even when the prayer comes from the Bible. Jesus didn’t. In fact, I think His life was probably so saturated with the words of scripture that the words arose almost constantly into His mind and heart as prayer. May it be increasingly so with us, even when the prayer is “repurposed.” 

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