I admit that in general when I think about prayer, I am thinking about something extremely broad that is virtually coterminous with the Christian life itself. Statements to the effect that we are not simply to pray but to have our lives become prayer seem closest to my sentiments. I might even adapt a popular Christian phrase and rework it to say:
Pray constantly. Use words when necessary.
I am not denying that there is a particular Christian activity called ‘prayer.’ Nor am I suggesting that Christians do not need to consciously pray.
However, if Christ is central to our lives, if God is the focus of our existence, and if our daily life is supposed to be transformed “on earth as it is in heaven”, than all we do and think and say is directed in some fashion toward the Triune God and/or moving ourselves towards Him.
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
“By means of words we find access to mysteries, for prayer draws the mind near to God.” (St. Isaac the Syrian in Orthodox Prayer Life, pp 31-32)
All we do as Christians (which ideally is our entire life) is thus prayer, part of the great conversation we are constantly having with our Creator. In the Triune God, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). So when we consciously believe in Him, we enter into prayer. So, prayer is not merely one activity among many in which Christians engage, alongside with repentance, charity, reading scripture, receiving Communion, fasting, and practicing self-denial. Rather, prayer becomes all that we do because all we do in one form or another is develop our relationship with our Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All of our activities in which we attempt to obey God or please Him are also inspired by Him – the Holy Spirit works in us to help us accomplish these works of Holy Communion with God. And all we do, we do as members of Christ’s Body, into whom we have been baptized. So our lives become ever increasing unity with the Holy Trinity.
“To choose what is good belongs to the good volition of the man who desires it; but to realize the choice of the good volition belongs to God. For this a man has need of God’s help. Therefore we accompany our good desire with constant prayer, and we pray not only because we need help, but also so that we can distinguish whether it is pleasing to God’s will or not.” (St. Isaac the Syrian, THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES, p 286)
Of course if we equate prayer with the Christian life some may feel ‘prayer’ as a very specific activity which Christ taught us to do gets lost. Many love to read about the mechanics of prayer as they want to know if they are doing it right. This series is not about the mechanics, as important as they can be. We begin this blog series on prayer considering prayer to be that synergism which exists between God and those who in faith agree to serve Him.
“What we aim at is to be made able to stand before God and to concentrate on his presence, all our needs being directed Godwards, and to be given power, strength, anything we need that the will of God may be fulfilled in us. That the will of God should be fulfilled in us is the only aim of prayer, and it is also the criterion of right prayer. It is not the mystical feeling we may have, or our emotions that make good praying.
Theophane the Recluse says: ‘You ask yourself, “Have I prayed well today?” Do not try to find out how deep your emotions were, or how much deeper you understand things divine; ask yourself: “Am I doing God’s will better than I did before?” If you are, prayer has brought its fruits, if you are not, it has not, whatever amount of understanding or feeling you may have derived from the time spent in the presence of God.’” (METROPOLITAN ANTHONY , p 54)
Our goal in life is to become one with God, to accept communion with Him that He offers to us. Prayer has everything to do with God’s will and our ability to accomplish it.
Next: Why Pray? (II)