Praying (IV)

This is the 16th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (III).

In this blog we will consider three quotes from the book, Orthodox Prayer Life  by Matthew the Poor.  All three quotes might be considered practical aspects of praying.

“If you insist on not praying until you are freed from distractions, you will never pray; for distracting thoughts decline and disappear when we persist in prayer itself.  He who seeks perfection before action and labor will achieve nothing.”   (St. Isaac the Syrian in  Orthodox Prayer Life, p 194)

Again, when we consider that our life itself should be an offered prayer to God, there is no time in which prayer to God is inappropriate.

And as St. Isaac noted above if we wait until there are no distractions or no reasons not to pray, we will never pray.  A similar notion is if we pray only when we “feel like it”, we may find ourselves never praying at all.  Prayer is not a feeling.  And prayer is part of the spiritual warfare we engage in, which means sometimes we have to do battle with our situation or circumstances or even with ourselves in order to get ourselves to pray.

“God does not demand of man not to have thoughts at all passing through his mind while praying.  Rather he demands that man pays no attention to them or relish them.  And you, brother, do not aspire not to have your thought distracted at all, but transform it from an evil to a righteous thought.  So if your mind is occupied with divine matters, this is a higher degree of prayer, but the mind cannot always be occupied with contemplating God except by frequent prayers.”   (St. Isaac the Syrian in  Orthodox Prayer Life, pp 194-195)

There are many demands on most of us during the day, and these thoughts and concerns don’t leave us just because we are praying, but we can learn to put all of these extraneous thoughts, even ones that actually are important, into perspective so that we can pray – and offer them up in prayer too.  We can transform our worries into prayer, we can transform our thoughts and plans into thanksgiving to God and to petition to Him to bless and guide us.

All the daily things that crowd into our minds, and the quote above from St. Isaac, brought to my mind another quote, this one from  J.R.R. Tolkien in his book, The Fellowship of the Ring.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We have to decide what to do with the time that is given us to pray!  We do not get to determine all of the events that may impinge upon our lives, but we do decide what we will do with the time given to us.

“However, a man may forget the goal of the spiritual life he lives in God.  He can lose sight of the purpose of prayer.  This is a serious sign that his prayer is in danger of being confined to a narrow scope, namely, the concerns of the self.  Prayer is thus destined to shrink and cease to progress or grow.   This is so even though the motives remain sound.”  (Matthew the Poor,  Orthodox Prayer Life, p 265)

Remember, praying puts us in the presence of God and makes God present in our lives and in a special way in the world.  Prayer is not selfish and self-centered, nor is it about self-love.  Prayer is about getting beyond the limits of self and entering into God’s love.  It is emptying the self in order to allow God to enter into our lives.

“Purify me from all taint of flesh and spirit. Teach me to pray aright. Bless this day which you give unto me, your unworthy servant. By the power of your blessing enable me at all times to speak and act to your glory with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love, gentleness, peace, courage and wisdom: aware always of your presence.”   (Archimandrite Sophronios, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church)

Next: Praying (V)

Loving as God Loves

“He who loves God will certainly love his neighbor as well. Such a person cannot hoard money, but distributes it in a way befitting God, being generous to everyone in need. He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.

St. Nicholas

God, who is by nature good and dispassionate, loves all men equally as His handiwork. But He glorifies the virtuous man because in his will he is united to God. At the same time, in His goodness He is merciful to the sinner and by chastising him in this life brings him back to the path of virtue. Similarly, a man of good and dispassionate judgment also loves all men equally. He love the virtuous man because of his nature and the probity of his intention; and he loves the sinner, too, because of his nature and because in his compassion he pities him for foolishly stumbling in darkness. The state of love may be recognized in the giving of money, and still more in the giving of spiritual counsel and in looking after people in their physical needs.” (St. Maximos the Confessor – d. 662AD, The Philokalia: Volume 2, pg. 55)