The brethren also asked [Abba Agathon], ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’
I have so frequently found this to be true in my own life. In my earlier Protestant years, it wasn’t too difficult to get together a bunch of people for a fun, recreational activity with church-folk. But call upon the people to show up for a prayer meeting, and you’ll likely get very few people to come (especially us men for whatever reason).
WHY BOTHER WITH PRAYER?
I think our lack of prayer comes from multiple sources. Many of us honestly wonder how much good it really does. If God is all-wise and all-knowing, and He has some kind of master plan, then what’s the point of praying? He’s going to give us whatever we get, right?
Then there are many of us who look upon prayer as paying God a few compliments before asking Him for some things we want. It seems a bit shallow if we were to be honest, which makes us wonder why we’re doing it. We also get busy and distracted. Quite frankly, being called to a prayer meeting sounds like a chore to avoid rather than something to get excited about.
Prayer, though grossly mis-understood by myself and many others, is not complementing God before we petition him for things we hope to receive. It is also not attempting to change his mind about something that we know we really, really want, but we’re uncertain how He feels about it.
Rather, prayer is communion with God. It is entering into our loving Daddy’s presence and communing in a deep, inexplicable way. When we move beyond the simple petitioning of God for our wants, we find that this deeper mode of prayer literally unites us, body and spirit, to the divine Spirit. Sometimes this form of prayer is done in complete silence. We give up our desire to “control” the prayer time and submit our will to His. We don’t have to be experts in this, God readily meets us where we are. He is persistently reaching out toward us; but it is up to us to grasp his outstretched hand.
I would encourage myself and you, my gracious reader, to be purposeful about praying. It is usually the only way that I can “find time” to pray. Simple things can bring us into a deeper prayer life: turning off the radio in the car and speaking and listening to God, waking up 10 minutes earlier and shutting ourselves into a prayer closet for a few minutes, retiring to bed a few minutes early and praying before lying down, and keeping God on our minds as we go through the day performing our routine tasks – learning to turn those things into prayer time.
I’m no expert in prayer, stumbling upon this free Orthodox prayer book played an important part in slowly transforming my prayer time and my life. There are spiritual masters who have preceded us and left us beautiful prayers, many of which can teach us to pray. Most importantly, remember that prayer is communion with God. It is about building a relationship. Because our purpose in life is theosis, union with God, the enemy will fight us in achieving anything that accomplishes a closer, loving relationship with God.
Don’t be afraid to ask God to teach you to pray. Also, don’t be afraid to turn to those who have developed a deep prayer life. The Inscape newsletters, originally written by Fr George Maloney and recently edited and republished by Fr John Zboyovski, have also been helpful to me.
May you be strengthened as you fight the enemy and find your spirit refreshed as you dive into the loving presence of your Father in prayer.