By Father Peter Farrington
“Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.” Fr. Peter Farrington | Guide Me In The Right Path [P2].
Most of us desire to be guided by God. We do not want to wander aimlessly through life, or make wrong choices. In Guide Me In The Right Path [P1], we discussed that we must be willing to commit our lives to God, to doing his will, and to seeking and following the right path [P2]. Today we will continue our discussion.
But this nourishment must be worked out in our lives if we are to grow into union with God and hear his voice, guiding us and encouraging us. This working out is accomplished in prayer. The one who is guided by God is the one who prays, because it is in prayer that we enter into God’s presence, and it is only in God’s presence that we hear his voice. The life of prayer requires two things of us. In the first place we must develop a regular practice of prayer.
This is not because we have to please a distant and remote God by religious actions, but because prayer is union with God, and it is to be transfigured by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
We pray from the Agpeya, the collection of prayers developed in our Coptic Orthodox community. It may not be possible for us to pray very much from the prayers given for each of the Hours. But it is necessary for us to establish a habit of prayer. The Psalmist David says,
Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.
This must be the minimum if we want to receive guidance from God, because if we will not even step into God’s presence for these few times in the day then we are perhaps not as serious about seeking guidance as we would like to think. We may perhaps begin by praying the Introductory Prayers and Psalm from the Morning and Evening Hour. But it is better to pray, habitually, as much as possible in the Morning and Evening. These prayers teach us the proper attitude of one who is seeking to be guided by God. Not least in the Lord’s Prayer which says,
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
If it is possible then is good to memorise the Morning and Evening prayers, or as much of them as possible. This allows us to establish our habit of entering into the presence of God. But more than this, we need to seek to be in a spirit of prayer as much as possible in each day. Our Lord Jesus tells the parable about the persistent widow,
He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.
The persistent widow, like the parable of the neighbour with a hungry visitor, teaches us that prayer is not to be an occasional practice but an unceasing behaviour and mode of being. St Paul makes this very explicit when he says,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do we want to know God’s will for us? St Paul teaches us here. This is where we must put in the effort, the ascesis. To become those who have learned to rejoice, pray and give thanks always, as indeed the Agpeya teaches us when it says,
We give you thanks on every occasion, in every occasion, and for every occasion.
This takes time, even a life time. But we can and must begin now. Here is how we may make a start. Firstly, we should begin to examine our thoughts and attitudes and not live life in a daze. We should become more critical of ourselves, in a positive and constructive manner. When we discover a sinful thought or attitude we must resist it and repent immediately, asking for forgiveness and grace to overcome the weakness. When we find ourselves facing temptation, we must call out for God’s help and strength.
If we become more aware of our own internal activity then we will discover countless opportunities to turn to God in prayer.
But we should also give thanks to God, for all of the gifts which he gives to us each day. When we wake up in the morning we should be sure to thank God for the new day, and for all the blessings we enjoy. And through the day we should thank God for all the blessings we experience from his hands and through the lives of those we meet. And in the evening we should gather together our thanks for what we have received from God, even the strength to endure difficult trials of many kinds.
When we make an effort to thank God we are also finding ourselves in prayer, and in praying we discover ourselves in the healing presence of God. We do not need to feel thankful, though that will surely come if we persevere. But we do need to give thanks.
And we should seek to pray at all times. In our Orthodox Tradition we practice the Jesus Prayer, that short prayer which says – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. It has a variety of forms. But what is necessary is that we begin to make it a habit to call very often on the name of Jesus, and in doing so we discover ourselves in his divine presence. We may begin in the morning and evening by adding this prayer 10 or 20 times. Prayed with attention and care, it is not magic, but is always a prayer.
And in our daily activities, driving the car, walking the dog, shopping, doing all sorts of things, we should choose to pray this prayer as much as we can. In doing so we will create a habit that will often bring these words to our mind. This is not quite the same as prayer. But when the words of the prayer rise up in our minds we are given an opportunity to turn our heart and attention to them and make them a prayer, stepping into the presence of God.
When we take up this practice, together with frequent repentance and giving thanks, we will discover, as St Paul instructs us, that we are praying without ceasing, or certainly we are praying more frequently than before, and with the possibility of always increasing our communion with God.
Why have I written all this without really speaking about the guidance of God? It is because if we wish to be guided by God then we must draw close to him. And if we wish to grow close to him, to experience union with God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, then we must become spiritual men and women, filled with the grace of God in the Eucharist in which Christ promises to give himself to us, and in the life of Prayer, through which we begin to dwell in God’s presence in the inner place of the heart.
When we are seeking the guidance of God, it seems to me that the first thing we must do is stop seeking an immediate answer, however pressing the circumstances. We must begin with seeking to draw closer to God. It is only in an increasing union with God that we will hear his will, and receive the grace we need to be obedient. So we must begin with seeking grace and committing ourselves to prayer as union with God, not a way of pleasing God.
If we have some issue that is much on our minds, then the first thing to do is to establish a life of prayer, in the morning and evening, throughout the day, focused on the presence of God, not an immediate solution to our problem.
God certainly continues to guide us, as we better understand the word and will of God more easily. To be continued…
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2020-02-10 from Liverpool, England
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