Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pray Without Ceasing

Fr Chris Metropulos, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church and radio host for "Come Receive the Light," offers the following thoughts in his weekly newsletter:

When a little boy was asked “What is Prayer?” he answered, “It’s when I try to talk God into doing something!” Kids say the cutest things. But I wonder how many of us, if we were completely honest about how we really think, wouldn’t say the same thing?

Prayer is probably the most misunderstood Christian discipline of the entire faith. I think the reason for this is that at the heart of a Christian understanding of prayer is the most difficult part of being an authentic Christian – a release of our own will to God’s will. The freedom to pray “not my will but Thine be done” presupposes both an intimate and trusting relationship with God.

All religions teach prayer as a spiritual discipline, but only the Christian faith understands prayer as an expression of both worship and intimacy. Because of the Christian understanding of Who God is as Persons in Communion, prayer takes on the dimension of an intimate relationship with God RATHER than an attempt to get God to do something for the petitioner. In the end, Christian faith calls me to first focus on God rather than on myself, and it is this conversion from a self-centered lifestyle that actually liberates me to become the person God created me to be.

So the very purpose of Christian prayer is to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in reshaping my thoughts, actions, and choices to create the character of Jesus Christ in me.

No wonder St. Paul said that Christians should “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) A lifestyle of prayer is the greatest tool God has given us to affect His work in transfiguring our lives. Here are three insights into Prayer that should move us to a consistent prayer life:

First, Prayer Creates Intimacy. You won’t get to know God without praying. Knowing God in a personal and intimate way requires me to speak to Him and let Him speak to me. Prayer isn’t a laundry list of your requests directed to the Divine. It is the natural communication of a child to the Father. So, talking and listening to God (praying) should become as natural and matter of fact to your life as breathing. But some may argue that memorizing written prayers as we Orthodox have isn’t very intimate. Shouldn’t we just say what is in our hearts? Well, of course we should, but many times we don’t know what to say, and using the wisdom of the Church learned over 20 centuries of living in the grace of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful way to teach us how to pray.

Second, Prayer Combats Forgetfulness. One of the quickest ways for my life to slide into sloppy living is when I allow my thoughts to wander from God. When I practice a daily rule of prayer, I am constantly and consistently confronted by God and His presence in my life. God never really is distant from me. He only seems to be absent when I’ve forgotten that He is as close as my knees are to the floor. Prayer keeps me aware of God and that directs my life. And a consistent prayer rule, a habit of prayer, even when I don’t “feel” like praying, fights against me slipping into the error that prayer is about me sending God my divine “to do” list. This disciple helps me further the work of the Spirit in teaching my soul to be God-focused.

Thirdly, Prayer Controls Pride. When I learn to pray, I learn to focus on my dependence on God and His mercy. God is not in heaven just waiting for you to mess up so He can punish you, as the Evil One constantly alleges in his attempts to impugn the character of our loving Father. The danger to my soul lies in my own foolish notion of self-sufficiency, not God’s wrath. It’s when I believe I can do this living thing all by myself that I get myself into trouble. No, prayer is my constant reminder that I need God every moment of every day. And my private prayer life, added to a consistent life of worship and prayer in the life of the Church through liturgy and participation in the Divine Mysteries, will shape my choices, actions, and thoughts into an authentic Christian life. A man who has a consistent prayer life has enlisted the greatest power to control the damaging effects of self-centered pride in the universe.

The first step in beginning a life of prayer starts when a man truly learns to love God. As Christ asked the blind man, “What do you want,” we are asked today what it is we truly desire. If we really do want God and an intimate relationship with Him, we can have it. It is as close as our knees are to the floor!