“The brethren asked Abba Agathon: “Amongst all of our different activities, father, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort?” He answered: “Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than praying to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies the demons try to prevent him; for they know that nothing obstructs them so much as prayer to God. In everything else that a man undertakes, if he perseveres, he will attain rest. But in order to pray a man must struggle to his last breath.”
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
The modern day Christian hears a sermon about prayer at least once a week. A sermon about its beauty, and magnificence, but why is it that so often we do not feel what the speaker feels, how often do we benefit from these sermons, and how do we draw meaning from prayer in a way that we may see, hear and draw near to God. The following contains five points are answers to common attitudes, questions and misconceptions about prayer.
A common attitude stopping us from drawing near to God through prayer is that prayer is dry and boring, and that there is no way that this is the best way to speak to God, and often people give up on the heavenly activity all together. But that is because they don’t see deep below the surface, where boredom and all other unpleasant emotions are all cunning works of evil. For every time a believer stands to pray, the forces of evil arise with them, doing all in their power to distract and retract the believer from drawing nearer to God. For prayer is the devil’s greatest obstacle, and there is nothing more powerful than when a believer falls into a deep and passionate prayer, and as St Basil’s liturgy says, “Lift up your hearts to the Lord” giving it to Him to keep in His majestic treasure box which He holds closer to His heart than the praises of the angels.
Therefore, “The Kingdom of Heaven Suffers Much Violence” as the angels of God and the demons of the devil contest for the attention of the person in prayer. However, more often than not the struggle to pray happens within us, between body and spirit. This battle amid body and spirit brings upon the need for a “change of mind/attitude”, also known as a “metanoia”. In the orthodox monastic orders monks and nuns have committed the rest of their lives to achieving this metanoia, to fight the good fight, to running the good race and to triumph over the forces of evil, in order to lift up their hearts to the Lord. They tire their bodies and minds in order to exhort their spirits from a celibate order to an angelic rank. With prostrations, fasts and tireless repentance they aim to leave behind a life of vanity, and lead a life of vigil prayer, to enrich their overall spirit so that it may reign in majesty.
Another common misconception is that; “I don’t need to pray at church or with other people, I am better off going at it alone.” Communal prayer is arguably one of the most beneficial spiritual activities that a believer can undergo, it is vital for the growth of the spirit, both yours and that of others. As the body of Christ, how can legs move Page 4 forward leaving the torso behind, likewise how can a believer progress spiritually leaving their brothers or sisters behind. If we look at the Lord’s prayer (which we are told to recite every time we come to pray), and the orthodox expression of faith in the Nicean creed, it says; “Our Father…”, “…Give Us this day…”,“We believe in One God…”, “…We believe in One Lord..”, etc, we see there is a clear use of plurals, as our Lord Jesus Christ and our Nicean fathers intended, that we, as one body of Christ, in prayer and unity, as one body and one spirit, may “Let our light so shine before men” in order to illuminate the Truth of God upon the world as He intended, which He will accept as a sacrifice of prayer and praise to His Holy name.
We are told as children, that God speaks to us through the bible, but what is its relation to prayer? Offcourse there are the obvious answers to that question, but perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this relation is the fact that, not only can the bible answer our prayers, but that it provides inspiration for prayer. The power of God, through His holy words, may fill the heart of a believer and overflow to the mouth, such that the words that come out of their mouth are no longer controlled by the body, but by the spirit, whereby a true and precious prayer is offered up to God.
Various other complains that they have no inspiration for prayer, but what more inspiration do you need than to look outside a window and admire God’s creation. Inspiration to prayer is very often found in nature, as the creation of nature leads us to God and God sends us back to his creation, enabling us to look at nature with purity, as if we were there in paradise in the beginning, when all was created. For by loving the creation, it will help us to better love the creator. I was driving home today and on my way back I saw a sign that said, “Nature is God at work, If you love Nature, You Love God.” How true and beautiful this fact is. If you can’t, having an open heart, draw inspiration from that, then you’re just not human.