What is prayer? (II)

This is the 6th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is “What is prayer?” 

The Book of Psalms has been a prayer book for Christians from the beginning of the Christian movement.  The Psalms are Jewish and Old Testamental, yet they speak of Christ, are prophetic and are called in Orthodoxy, “the mind of Christ.”   The Psalms teach us how to pray and from them we learn what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself prayed.

The Psalms like all prayer inform, form us, transform us and at times reform us!   They place us in the plan and process of salvation.

“Most likely, the Psalms in the Bible finally became part of the scriptural canon because they were the most universal and relevant, the most unreservedly expressive of their kind.

If we read them with open and attentive mind, their striking and colorful words can help us to understand the essence of Scripture, what loving God actually means.  Before all else, it means offering the whole of our experience to him: joy, sadness, anger, suffering, desires, frustrations – hiding nothing from him, even our deepest thoughts.  This is what prayer is.”   (Monks of New Skete, IN THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS, p 191)

In the Psalter we find the complete range of human emotions, and we learn from this that there is nothing we need to hide from God.  We offer our entire life to God, including our frustrations, failures, pains, disappointments.  God cares about the entirety of our lives, and is not absent from us in our worst moments.  This again is how it is possible to make our entire life a prayer to God.  We can pray at every moment, no matter what our emotional disposition.  We can offer up to God all of our emotions and thoughts, seeking His mercy and blessings no matter what we feel in our hearts.

But prayer is not merely offering to God our every  moment of our existence, but prayer also informs, forms and transforms us.   In prayer we come to realize the importance of doing God’s will and the need for repentance in our lives in order to help bring our self-will into conformity to God’s will.

“It is true, as St. Mark the Ascetic says, ‘Prayer is called a virtue but in reality it is the mother of virtues: for it give birth to them through union with Christ.’  … Thus, prayer for the Christian is not an externally imposed duty.  It is an essential aspect of true human life, required for its fulfillment and realization. …

Prayer is a necessity for the Christian life in that it brings us into personal communion with Him in whose image we were created and toward which we are growing.  Prayer is a protective measure, a weapon against temptation and sin.  Jesus’ instructions to His disciples are ever pertinent: ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ (Matt 26:41)  The experience of the Fathers is equally instructive.  ‘If a man tries to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance he will become more entangled in them instead of driving them away.’ (St. Mark the Ascetic)” [my apologies but I lost the source for this quote]

Prayer is that which enables us to continue in the daily struggles of life to be a Christian and live a life which is oriented toward God.

“…Christian prayer is the movement of the heart towards God, towards a God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  Prayer is not simply the movement of the heart, but is the response of the heart to God’s love manifest in Jesus Christ.”  (Andrew Louth, DISCERNING THE MYSTERY, p 3)

Next:  What is prayer?  (III)