This is the 3rd blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray? “ and the previous blog is Why Pray? (II).
When prayer is not merely one activity among many that we do, but becomes our way of living in which all we do is to acquire God’s love, then we can pray without ceasing. When all we do is directed toward God, then all of life is prayer.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Notice how St. Paul does not separate out prayer as an activity unrelated to other aspects of the Christian life. Things we are to never stop doing:
Sometimes we find fellow believers quoting and focusing only on “pray without ceasing” while ignoring the context of St. Paul’s words and his complete message. Too often there is this idea that prayer is the only activity worthy of Christians, but this is not the teaching of St. Paul. Prayer is one continuous activity in our lives as believers, but so is rejoicing and giving thanks. When we forgot all of these elements, we practice a reduction of the Christian faith and of St. Paul’s teaching.
“We must pray that we may be constantly and firmly assured in our hearts that everything we have – both of soul and body, in prosperity and adversity, and all our possessions as well as all the circumstances of our life – come from God, from His Power, and not from nature, or chance, or from ourselves. If you cease praying to God, you will soon forget your Benefactor, Creator, and Lord, and in forgetting Him you will fall into every evil. Therefore, you see that prayer always brings you real benefit.” (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 128)
When we remember that all things come to us from God, then we learn to give thanks and rejoice in every circumstance. Prayer is the means by which we can acquire the love of God, but also the way we remember God’s love in and through the world He created for us. Rejoicing and giving thanks equally with prayer gives us proper orientation toward our God, the God of love. Prayer restores in us the memory of God and of all of his deeds.
In so doing, by establishing our relationship with God, prayer is also a way to learn, think about and remember virtue – those things which those who know the love of God do in their daily lives.
“Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance, suppresses anger, restrains pride and envy, draws down the Holy Spirit into the soul and raises man to heaven.” (St. Ephraim the Syrian in Orthodox Prayer Life, pgs. 31-32)
Notice how in St. Ephraim’s teaching: prayer helps us in knowing how to live on this earth while simultaneously lifting us to heaven. Prayer makes God present in our lives.
“With prayer I cleanse the vision of my faith, lest it lose sight of you in the mist, O Most Radiant Star.
“What use will your prayer be to God?” asks the swarthy workers of the earth.
You speak rightly, sons of earth. What use is the mariner’s telescope to the North Star, when it sees the mariner even without a telescope? But do not ask me, since you already know what use a telescope is to a mariner.
Prayer is necessary for me, lest I lose sight of the salvation-bearing Star, but the Star does not need it to keep from losing me.” (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake, pg 70)
Prayer keeps us oriented toward and focused on the Triune God of love.
Next: Why Pray? (IV)