Taking a closer look at prayer
Prayer is a dialogue with God, and it can be done in several “forms.” For instance, one can attend the Divine Liturgy, pray the canonical hours’ prayers and have a personal dialogue with God. The more honest and open one is during his prayers, the more he will experience God’s comfort and support. Honesty is a crucial characteristic of a good prayer, and he who is completely honest with God in his prayers is the one who benefits the most from his prayers. Honesty towards God starts with being honest towards ourselves. What does true honesty with God mean in practical terms?
“now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14
If someone hurts us, and this hurt continues to be present in our hearts, then we should need to use this pain in prayer. One could be deeply hurt and pray euphoric-themed Psalms, but this person will not necessarily mean the words of the Psalms. If one does not mean the words of his prayer, then the prayer will be merely uttering words. This is caused by a discrepancy between how we truly feel and how we pretend to feel during prayer.
We should first examine ourselves and our hearts and look for what is truly going on in our hearts. Regardless of what may be in our hearts, we should nevertheless express it to God. For example, a colleague could be hurting us frequently.
Christ taught us that we must forgive in order to be forgiven, but what if we cannot forgive that person? In that case, we should look at ourselves and identify what is truly going on in our hearts, namely not being able to forgive someone, and we should discuss that with God. One can pray, for instance, saying: “Lord, my human nature, with its weakness, stands like a great emotional wall between how I should react to this situation. This emotional wall hinders me in living Your life-giving word. Help me to overcome myself and to live your life-giving word.
I know that I must forgive, and even love, [name of the person], but my human weakness stands in my way so strongly that I can only be angry at this person. Touch my heart with Your pure Hand and cleanse it from all ego, pride, arrogance, and most importantly heal me from my self-love.” Just as a patient does not benefit from a doctor’s visit if he is not completely honest, we will not benefit from our prayers if we are not completely honest with God. Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet, cried so much during her prayers that Eli the priest thought that she was drunk (1 Samuel 13:1).
Whatever feeling we have, we must speak out to God. In our personal prayers, we should ask ourselves, and discuss with God, questions such as: How do we feel? What makes us feel that way? Does the feeling bother us, and if so, how? We must stay close to ourselves and remain honest with ourselves and God. We must pronounce everything that is present in our hearts.
Pain as a form of prayer
Prayer is a dialogue with God, and it can be shaped in several “forms.” People often do not realize that pain (whether physical and/or emotional) is also a form of prayer. For example, Job explicitly stated that he wished to have never been born (Job 3). In reality, this is not a real wish for death but rather a cry for help. It is a phrase that is said during times of despair. As Pope Shenouda III said: “pain is one of the strongest teachers; it teaches more than 1,000 sermons together.”
In times of pain, we might say something, but we mean otherwise. Although not everyone expresses their pain to God, mental suffering in itself is a prayer in itself. We, too, like Job, speak words of frustration in times of (severe) pain while we are begging God for His help. These phrases often are said by ones who are extremely hurt. Combing back to Job; while he spoke about wanting to die, God listened to what his heart said, which was a cry for help, and God restored all that He took from him and gave him more than he ever had before his sickness.
The content of our prayer
We should not let our emotions determine when we pray, but rather let our emotions guide the content of our prayers. When we allow our emotions to determine when we pray, we will only pray when we feel like it. This is too changeable because feelings come and go, and there is no set structure in how we feel. In other words, we cannot guarantee that we will “feel like it” and that we will be able to pray. Only praying when we feel like it is the same as a patient taking his medication when he feels like it, which will lead to inconsistent prayers and prayer times.
Prayer is the means to feel connected with God, heard by God and to be cleansed from bad thoughts.
to be continued… Prayer as a sport, Misunderstandings and Why is it hard to stick to a fixed prayer structure?
By Subdeacon Wasim Shehata
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2020-12-01 from Kudelstaart. Netherland.
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