While prayer is in the popular mind sometimes reduced to presenting to God a “honey-do” list of wants and needs that we hope the Lord will complete ASAP, the beginning of this series we have seen how prayer is much more our establishing and growing in our relationship to God than asking things from God. We stand in His presence, and even when there are no words involved, we are conversing with our Creator.
“The day when God is absent, when he is silent – that is the beginning of prayer. Not when we have a lot to say, but when we say to God ‘I can’t live without you, why are you so cruel, so silent?’ … If we listen to what our hearts know of love and longing and are never afraid of despair, we find that victory is always there the other side of it.
And there is that time when there is a longing in the heart for God himself, not for his gifts, but for God himself. … There is longing for home, but a home that has no geography, home where there is love, depth and life.” (Anthony Bloom, BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp xvii-xviii)
Standing in God’s presence and conversing with God both move us from just wanting what He might give us to wanting most of all a relationship with Him. No longer do we value the gifts more than the Giver of the gifts. The relationship with Him is what we desire and really need. As St. John writes in his Gospel:
“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (17:3)
We are transformed in prayer from knowing about God to knowing God. Our inner life and self is formed by prayer so that we come to realize and fulfill our relationship to our Lord, God and Creator. Though His gifts in this world are a joy and a blessing, we also are seeking that which is eternal and not just temporal. The relationship with God continues beyond death (Romans 8:38-39 and Romans 14:8).
“Especially important is pure prayer – prayer which is unceasing and uninterrupted. Such prayer is a safe fortress, a sheltered harbor, a protector of virtues, a destroyer of passions. It brings vigor to the soul, purifies the intellect, gives rest to those who suffer, consoles those who mourn. Prayer is converse with God, contemplation of the invisible, the angelic mode of life, a stimulus towards the divine, the assurance of things longed for, ‘making real the things for which we hope’ (Heb. 11:1).” (St Theodoros the Great, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 11051-61)
Prayer indeed lifts us to heaven because it places us in God’s presence. Prayer is powerful indeed because through prayer we enter into the divine life which the incarnate Christ has offered to us (2 Peter 1:4).
“You may judge how great the power of prayer is even in a sinful person, when it is offered wholeheartedly, by the following example from holy tradition. When at the request of a desperate mother who had been deprived by death of her only son, a harlot whom she chanced to meet, still unclean from her last sin, and who was touched by the mother’s deep sorrow, cried to the LORD: ‘Not for the sake of a wretched sinner like me, but for the sake of the tears of a mother sorrowing for her son and firmly trusting in thy loving kindness and thine almighty power, Christ God, raise up her son, O LORD!’ And the LORD raised him up. (From the life of St. Theodore of Edessa.) “ (St. Seraphim of Sarov, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 3820-25)
It is not we who have the power of prayer but rather the Holy Spirit in us. And that power is, at least obviously from the above story, not the result of our personal holiness. True and pure prayer can come even from a sinner who humbly seeks the mercy of God. A heart truly moved by compassion is one which is close to the heart of God.