Prayer is central to the life of the Christian. I always knew it was important, but struggled with it most of my life. I honestly wondered: how much good is this? After all, isn’t God all-knowing and outside of time? In the grand scheme of the universe, what good are the prayers of one little Christian?
Wouldn’t I be better off serving the poor or reading the Bible or some such thing? Wouldn’t that be a more efficient use of my time?
A COMMON THEME
- During the Divine Liturgy, there are a few sections called Litanies. These are prayers in which we Orthodox pray for nearly everyone.
- Many of the greatest saints in our Church fled to the wilderness to deepen their prayer life.
- Jesus instructed us on how to pray (the Our Father prayer) and He used parables such as the widow and the unjust judge to show that if ceaseless petitions made to an evil ruler are effective, how much more so prayers to a loving Father.
- And St Paul instructs us several times in his epistles to pray without ceasing.
Apparently, there is more to prayer than can be objectively measured with any devices we possess.
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PRAYER
I believe prayer does two things, and I am loosely basing this off of a teaching I recently heard from Fr Thomas Hopko.
All of the prayers of the Liturgy ask God to do what He already wants to do. They are mainly prayers for unity, forgiveness, and the salvation of ourselves and the world. In other words, the prayers are in accordance with His will. Our personal prayers should follow that model. If we are uncertain of the will of God, then we should pray the prayers of the Church to learn His will.
But why do we ask God to do what He already wants to do?
Because it changes us. It teaches us the will of our loving Father, who is “the Lover of mankind,” and causes us to be more like Him. In doing so, we don’t simply become good, as if Moralism was our aim. Rather, we enter into communion and oneness with the Divine Himself, which is called theosis and is the ultimate aim of Christianity.
Secondly, prayer plays a significant yet mysterious part in the role of divine providence. As we enter into communion with God and pray the things that He desires, those things come to pass. God is outside of time, so I don’t believe we pray and He says, “Hey, that’s a good idea. I’ll go ahead and do that.” Rather all of the prayers of every person from the beginning of time to the end of time, as we know it, is already accounted for in God’s divine providence. That is no reason to slack off, but rather to persist in prayer with our whole beings because our prayers are making a difference!
In Orthodoxy, I am learning the importance of living a life of prayer. I am seeing that it is about conforming myself to God’s will, communing with His Spirit, and even somehow effecting His eternal plan. Scripture is full of parables, stories, and teachings on prayer. They give us no systematic or formulaic understanding of prayer, but rather they stress its unknowable value.
Do you struggle with feeling your prayers are of any consequence? What questions do you have about prayer?
9 thoughts on “The Importance of Prayer”
I’ve been going through a rough patch and your article reminded me I’m not actually helping myself by ignoring prayer. There are too many, “sorry, I have to come back later God” sorts of prayers, where later too often means very late night or next morning. This happens to everyone, but your article reminded me that this situation has gone on too long for my own good. Thinking about what you’ve written caused me to miss those days of welcome interruptions for prayer, not the other way round. Back to the basics, and if necessary, a good afternoon/evening/night spent truly immersed in prayer, along with a Vigil services. There are, fortunately, several places near me to participate, if the weather cooperates to stay above zero. In truth, one need never leave home for this. Gethsemane can be visited every night, just as a predawn alarm sounding can bring about a welcome new conversation with God. Truly I don’t know if my prayers are of consequence to anyone but me, yet I follow my mother’s example, more often attributed to voting in Chicago. That would be “early and often” for the unfamiliar with politics in the Windy City. Also, anyone placed on my list has to die to be removed from that list, whether they were added for some childhood booboo or a life threatening crisis. In all, it’s time to reopen my own schedule to the regular practices that are so beneficial, even when we can’t see the benefits from where we ourselves are standing.
Perhaps we were never meant to know the impact that our prayers have, at least not in this age. You are right in that our prayers impact ourselves, often times more so than we realize. I hope and pray, Lillibet, that you continue to meet our Lord in Gethsemane and everywhere else as well. And, if you think about it, pray for me a sinner as well.
You’ve been on that list a long time now, so don’t worry. You’ll have to stay on it until you die, because no one ever gets off my list either. Thanks again for your great work here.
Does God always hear my prayer? Sometimes I think because I’m not praying in a certain way he wont hear me.. Like if I’m not sincere enough or ‘in my heart’ I question whether he hears me even when I speak out loud sometimes. He hears and understand all thing right?
Hi Peter, I apologize for taking a couple of days to respond. I’ve been traveling.
God certainly hears us and understands us in all things and at all times. It is we who have a hard time understanding and knowing God. To some extent, He dwells within each of us and is closer to us than we are to ourselves. But we all carry a lot of emotional and spiritual ‘baggage’ that needs to be worked through.
If you would like, you can read a bit more that I’ve posted on the topic of feeling distant from God here: https://www.orthodoxroad.com/that-restless-emptiness/
Hey thanks! That’s helped.
Hi Jeremiah, I’ve had trouble with the thought of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit nearly ever since I was baptised 2 years ago. Once I said something which I thought I directed at the Holy Spirit.. After a year I realised I didn’t blaspheme. But now I think because I called the Catholic Church fake in a text message to a friend once that was the final straw. The Catholic Church was a big part of my journey leading to baptism.
I am confused… I’m alone a lot I’m like a christian hanging on to hope I’m still a christian. I sometimes think oh the Holy Spirit is with me because I notice in my life change miraculously.. Then I look back and remember I felt much closer to God before I said that thing.
Any prayers would be great.
Peter, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a serious sin, though it is frequently misunderstood.
Calling the Roman Catholic Church “fake in a text message” is not something I would consider as the unpardonable sin that Jesus mentions.
We all go through many seasons of our lives in which we sometimes feel closer to God than other times. Sometimes this is because God is beckoning us to press in further, more frequently though, it is due to sin that has not been confessed or for which we are not repenting (repent means to turn away from).
My recommendation to you is to receive pastoral guidance; I’m a layman and a blogger, not a pastor. I can only offer limited help. Consider contacting the priest of the Orthodox congregation which you are attending, and get together with him or someone he recommends for spiritual guidance. If you’re not attending a parish, then look into the one that is closest to you and contact them about meeting.
May God be with you and please pray for me as well.
Thank you Jeremiah for your reply, It’s been a long time since i come to a conclusion on this been so hard, il keep going though and speak to priests.
Your blogs amazing.
Keep up the good fight, win the race!
God bless x