This is the 7th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is prayer? (II).
“Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together.” (St. John Climacus – d. 649AD- quoted in THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 48)
In the Orthodox Tradition, prayer obviously is not merely an activity in which Christians occasionally engage. Prayer, as St. John Climacus says is “a union of man with God” (theosis) whose “effect is to hold the world together.”
Think about that.
Think about what it means for your prayer life. If we conceive of prayer as presenting a wish list to God, or a shopping list, or a set of demands, then we will never enter into that prayer which is a union between God and humanity. If we treat God like our personal servant, valet, Genie or Santa Claus whose job it is to answer our prayers (meaning “accede to our demands”), then we never approach union with God. The reality is God is Lord, and we are supposed to be His servants, not He ours. We do pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” not “My will be done on earth and in heaven.”
As noted in the previous blogs, prayer as a way of life, as the life to which we Christians are invited, is more than just an activity that we occasionally consciously engage in. If our life is oriented toward our Savior, then all we do becomes prayer, and our lives become part of the transfiguration which creation so eagerly awaits.
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-24)
“The Kingdom of heaven is within each of us. To pray is, quite simply, to enter into this inner Kingdom of our heart, and there to stand before God, conscious of His indwelling presence; to ‘pray without ceasing’ is to do this constantly. Although the full glory of this Kingdom is revealed to but few in this present age, we can all discover at any rate some part of its riches. The door is before us and the key in in our hands.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware in ABBA: THE TRADITION OF ORTHODOXY IN THE WEST, p 32-33)
Prayer forms us, informs us, reforms us and transforms us for it is uniting ourselves – heart, mind, soul, body and strength – to the Holy Trinity. We cooperate with God. Prayer is synergy in which we become doers of God’s will: “on earth as it is in heaven.”
“Prayer is a struggle for men, both in church and in solitude, even though prayer is a ladder that lifts man up from the dust and an animal existence to God. But He who, in the flesh, stood with other men at the bottom of the ladder of life, and in spirit at its top, went joyfully to prayer in the synagogue, and spent whole nights in solitude at prayer.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovic – d. 1956AD HOMILIES Vol 1, p 86)
Prayer is also work, It is not a passive enterprise but one which requires our energy, will, desire, and strength. Prayer is not God alone, or Jesus alone. It is the Holy Spirit praying in us, with us, and for us.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:26-28)
We are God’s fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:9) who are to work out our salvation with God (Philippians 2:9).
Next: What is Prayer? (IV)