“The aim of prayer is so that we should acquire from it love of God, for in prayer are to be found all sorts of reasons for loving God.” (THE WISDOM OF ST ISAAC OF NINEVEH, p 22)
We are to love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength, this is the first commandment in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and is also the heart of Torah. Therefore it is a worthy request in prayer to petition God and seek His help to teach us how to love Him. It is in asking God to help turn our hearts to Him in love that we come to realize love is not an emotional response to God but rather is something we must choose or will to happen. This is agape love which is not infatuation nor romantic but is steadfast and abiding, a love which we bring with us into every situation and which is not altered by time or place. It is neither fickle or fleeting as an emotion but is steadfast. It is not a reaction to things, but a chose way of acting toward God or others. Love is a commandment (John 13:34) from Christ we are to obey! It is in Christ commanding us to love that we again realize love is not merely an emotional reaction but rather something we must willfully choose.
This love of God which we seek is the corollary to standing in God’s presence. They are intertwined experiences. They help us to understand that prayer does not reduce God to a genie, maid, magician or change Him into Santa Claus. As retired Archbishop Lazar critically points out:
“This is how inane and degenerate the concept of prayer has become. If there is no economic or material benefit to it, why bother to pray? We pray for material things, we pray that we will not have to suffer and endure anything in this life, even though Christ directly promised us that His true followers would have to endure much. For many, prayer life has turned into a form of egotism, a self-satisfaction, a self-endorsement, a plea for instant gratification. … We do not have to pray in order to inform God, to let Him know something He does not know. We pray in order to draw ourselves closer to God, because we really cannot know someone that we do not talk to…” (Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, FREEDOM TO BELIEVE, pp 93-94)
Thus there is a right and wrong way to pray as well as appropriate and inappropriate things for which to ask in prayer. Prayer is not mostly about asking God for things or miracles or meeting our needs.
Prayer lifts us up to God, puts us in a relationship to the Holy Trinity. In as much as God created us to be relational beings and not alienated, autonomous singularities, prayer helps us to become true human beings created in God’s image and likeness, created to live in loving relationships. Prayer restores our awareness of our relationship to and dependence on our Creator as it goes against the effects of the ancestral sin. Prayer leads to true communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We become in the words of St. Peter, “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Communion with God is thus what we are seeking foremost from prayer, but then in that context prayer can be fulfilled in many ways.
“The work of prayer is one and the same for all, but there are many kinds of prayer and many different prayers. Some converse with God as with a friend and master, interceding with praise and petition, not for themselves but for others. Some strive for greater (spiritual) riches and glory and for confidence in prayer. Others ask for complete deliverance from their adversary. Some beg to receive some kind of rank; others for complete forgiveness of debts. Some ask to be released from prison; others for remission from offences.” (St. John Climacus (d. 649AD), Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 2982-86)
Prayer is a supremely sublime activity of ultimate meaning.
“Do not be foolish in the requests you make to God, otherwise you will insult God through your ignorance. Act wisely in prayer, so that you may become worthy of glorious things. Ask for things that are honourable from him who will not hold back, so that you may receive honour from him as a result of the wise choice your free will had made. Solomon asked for wisdom – and along with it he also received the earthly kingdom, for he knew how to ask wisely of the heavenly King, that is, for things that are important.” (St. Isaac of Nineveh (7th C), Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 3572-77)
The things we ask of God also reflect our understanding of Him as Creator, Lord and Master of our lives and the entire universe.