This is the 44th and last blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer That Never Ends (II). Our blog sojourn will come to an end, but the prayer sojourn is always ongoing.
To be a disciple of Christ means to follow a discipline. To accept the Lordship of Christ means to become a servant of His holy will. Prayer is one way in which we can practice a discipline and faithfully serve Christ who told us to love God and neighbor. Beyond being a discipline, prayer becomes a living relationship with the Triune God. And while we need a discipline of prayer, ultimately we are not trying to enslave ourselves to a discipline but we are striving to enter into communion with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
“True prayer is loving and serving the God of prayer, not the prayer of God. The call to unceasing prayer is not an invitation to divided consciousness; it does not imply that we pay any less attention to daily realities or retreat from life’s responsibilities. Rather: It is a call to learn to live always in the presence of God in a manner appropriate to changing circumstances, through these very circumstances, none of which are an end in themselves but which lead to God.” (Monks of New Skete, IN THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS, p 187)
The mystery of the incarnation of God the Word who becomes Jesus Christ in the flesh is at the heart of the Christian prayer life. For though the goal of the Christian life and thus of prayer is union with God, it is never an abandonment of this world or of our body. Rather it is a transfiguration of ourselves and our world. As the ancient Christians worded it, “God became human so that we humans can become god.” Christ came to unite divinity to humanity, not to destroy or eliminate our physical nature but to save it. In prayer we use our bodies, we don’t escape them, to become the very thing that God created us for in the beginning, namely, spiritual beings united to God. Spirituality and our spiritual lives are not opposed to our physical bodies. Our bodies and our physical experiences are the very means for us to experience the divine life.
“Every devotional act of the Christian is meant to emphasize one’s personal relationship to Christ in and through his Body the Church, of which one is member. A Christian at prayer, whether in the privacy of the ‘cell’ or in the company of the assembly, never prays as an individual but as a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. Moreover, prayer for a devout Christian is more than an activity; it is a state of being that is defined by an abiding love for and trust in God. St. Basil (d. 379AD) makes this point in a beautiful passage on prayer, which reads, in part, as follows:
‘Ought we to pray without ceasing? … Prayer is a request for what is good, addressed by the devout to God. But we do not rigidly confine our petition to words. Nor yet do we imagine that God requires to be reminded by speech. He knows our needs even though we ask him not. What do I say then? I say that we must not think to make our prayer complete by syllables. The strength of prayer lies rather in the moral attitude of our soul and in deeds of virtue reaching every part and moment of our life. ‘Whether you eat,’ it is said, ‘or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ [1 Cor 10:31] … Thus will you pray without ceasing; if you pray not only in words, but also by uniting yourself to God through all the course of life, so that your life becomes one continuous and uninterrupted prayer.” (Alkiviadis Calivas, ASPECTS OF ORTODOX WORSHIP, pp 51-52)
Thus we understand how we can fulfill St. Paul’s teaching that we are to pray unceasingly: we transform our hearts, minds and our lives into prayer. We consciously work to make everything we do, say or think an offering to God. Thus we direct every aspect of our lives to our Creator. Then everything we do is prayer.
“’Pray without ceasing’, St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5:17). And in other epistles, he commands: “Praying always with all supplication in the spirit’ (Eph 6:18), ‘continue in prayer and watch in the same’ (Col 4:2), ‘continue constant in prayer’ (Rom 12:12). Also the Saviour Himself teaches the need for constancy and persistency in prayer, in the parable about the importunate widow, who won over the unrighteous judge by the persistency of her appeals (Luke 18:1-8). It is clear from this that unceasing prayer is not an accidental prescription, but the essential characteristic of the Christian spirit.” (St. Theophan the Recluse – d. 1894AD – in THE ART OF PRAYER, p 81)
If we understand our life and everything we do, think or say as our offering to God, then we understand how we can pray without ceasing. Each and every thought, word we speak, action we take is what we have to offer and consecrate to God. As long as we are mindful of this, we are praying constantly. And in this we realize prayer is not a technique that we must master, rather prayer is learning to allow Christ to be Master of our entire lives.
The entire blog series on prayer is now available in PDF format at Prayer (PDF).