By Subdeacon Wasim Shehata
In our last article, “How should we pray? In part 1, we took a closer look at prayer, pain as a form of prayer, and our prayer content. Now we will examine prayer from different views.
How should we pray? Prayer as a sport
Many people feel that prayer makes no sense or that God does not listen to their prayers. Both ideas are wrong, and thereby it is important to understand what goes wrong in this reasoning. Most people put their phones away, pray quickly and then pick up their phone again. In such situations, it is understandable that someone will not benefit from prayers. This is because the person’s thoughts are still fully in the (material) world. Someone must prepare himself spiritually before prayer, and this can be done by retracting our thoughts back from the world and focus more on God.
What is the benevolence of this? Just as a sports match requires a warming up to perform optimally, so does the spiritual life as well. Someone must come into a (more) spiritual state of mind before prayer to be able to stand truly before God. When we prepare ourselves spiritually before prayer, we will, after a while, start to notice that we can focus better on our words during prayers, and that we truly stand behind our words and that they are not mere words. We will start to feel like we are rightfully standing before the Throne of God.
How can we come into a more spiritual state of mind? Despite everybody being different, several general things can help us prepare for prayer. We can listen to the Divine Liturgy, hymns, read from the Holy Bible or a spiritual book. Such a “warming-up” should not be too long, nor too short. One can listen to hymns for around 15 minutes or read for 15 minutes until he feels that his thoughts are less in the material world. Thereby, we will not think about life’s affairs during prayers, which many people undergo. After being done with our prayers, we should not immediately return to the world.
We should remain silent for a few minutes in order to contemplate matters. After these minutes, we should actively return to the world. Our thoughts should not drag us back into the world, but we should be the ones who willingly return to the world.
How should we pray? Misunderstandings
Many people believe that their prayers may be heard, but nothing is done with them. This is also incorrect. Christ Himself teaches us that “whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24) and that “when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
John the Evangelist teaches us “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), and confirms this saying “and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:15). James the Apostle adds, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” (James 5:13) and “but let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).
Paul the Apostle adds, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7), which corresponds to the words of Jeremiah the prophet where God tells us: “call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).
However, James the Apostle mentions something important to us, namely that “you lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3). In other words, God always listens to our prayers; however, we are the ones who do not ask for the appropriate things.
Many pray for problems that they face in life, which is something great, but they tell God how to fix the problem and imply being wiser than God. We should never force our own solutions on God, but rather tell Him about the problem. James means when he says that some ask wrong, namely that some pray to tell God what to do. Christ taught us that we would receive what we ask for, but this must be seen in a spiritual context. The ultimate goal is to achieve salvation, and thereby everything that we will ask regarding our salvation; we will receive from God.
For example, when we sign up for a certain college, we should not pray something like “God let me be accepted for this college.” Still, we should pray more suggestively, such as “God, I think this college is good for me, but I do not know what is best for me. Therefore, not my will, but Your will be done, let me know what is best for me”. Evagrius van Pontus (399 AD) confirmed this by saying that” do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not correspond to the will of God.
But pray as you are taught and say, “Your will be done” (Luke 22: 42). Always plead with Him this way – that His will be done. Because He longs for what is good and profitable for you, while you do not always ask for this.”
Why is it hard to stick to a fixed prayer structure?
Paul teaches us twice, explicitly, why we experience hindrances in having a fixed structure in our spiritual life. He explains by saying, “for the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another” (Galatians 5:17) and explain it more fully in Romans 7:14-23. The idea is that we have both a human and a spiritual part and that these contradict each other.
This can best be seen as a scale; both sides cannot be heavy; if one side is heavy, the other would automatically be less heavy. When we have not been spiritually active for a while, our human side becomes heavier regardless of the reason. If we want to live more spiritually, our human side will resist; we will feel drained only during spiritual activities and not concentrate on our activities. We can see this as withdrawal symptoms of living a less earthly life, and at the same time living a more spiritual life.
We must push ourselves as hard as possible during this transition period, even if we have no energy, are exhausted, are not able to stand on our feet, are hungry and more. This is just a period in which we “detox” from earthly life. As Pope Cyril VI said, “there are no good or bad days, but there are days with prayer and days without prayer,” and he added that “if you happen to fall into temptation, do not let the guilt of sin be an obstacle to prayer. If you cease praying till you repent, you will never repent, for prayer is the door to genuine repentance.”
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2020-12-08 from Kudelstaart. Netherland.
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