Why Should You Pray?
March 25, 2010 Length: 10:25
In this episode, Jason talks about what prayer is, and why we should pray to God.
Can you think of something of which you want more? Perhaps you want more money, a nice car, better grades, or more vacation time—most of us would like more of something. But have you ever thought you would like to pray more? Lorenzo Scupoli tells us we should value prayer more than any of these other things when he says, “A single raising of your mind to God, and a single humble genuflexion to His glory and in His honor has infinitely more value than all the treasures of the world.”
WHY SHOULD WE PRAY?
This might seem like an overstatement: how can prayer be infinitely more valuable than all the treasures of the world? To put the question another way: what good is prayer? St. John Climacus powerfully answers this question with a list that, while rather long, also wonderfully lists many of the blessings we receive from engaging in prayer:
Prayer by reason of its nature is the converse and union of man with God, and by reason of its action upholds the world and brings about reconciliation with God; it is the mother and also the daughter of tears, the propitiation for sins, a bridge over temptations, a wall against afflictions, a crushing of conflicts, work of angels, food of all the spiritual beings, future gladness, boundless activity, the spring of virtues, the source of graces, invisible progress, food of the soul, the enlightening of the mind, an axe for despair, a demonstration of hope, the annulling of sorrow, the wealth of monks, the treasure of solitaries, the reduction of anger, the mirror of progress, the realization of the future, a sign of glory.
St. Theophan the Recluse summarizes the role of prayer in our lives like this, “Prayer is the test of everything; prayer is also the source of everything; prayer is the driving force of everything; prayer is also the director of everything. If prayer is right, everything is right. For prayer will not allow anything to go wrong.”
WHAT IS PRAYER?
In order to understand how prayer can accomplish these great things, it is necessary to understand what prayer is. St. John Climacus gives us the key in the first part of his list: prayer “is the converse and union of man with God.” St. Dimitri of Rostov makes it clear that the union with God which is the goal of prayer is a union of love: “To kindle in his heart such a divine love, to unite with God in an inseparable union of love, it is necessary for a man to pray often, raising the mind to Him.”
This point is essential—we can only be united in love with God when we pray. St. Theophan emphasizes this when he says, “What then is prayer? Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God in praise and thanksgiving to HIm and in supplication for the good things that we need, both spiritual and physical. The essence of prayer is therefore the spiritual lifting of the heart to God. The mind in the heart stands consciously before the face of God, filled with due reverence, and begins to pour itself before Him. This is spiritual prayer, and all prayer should be of this nature.”
Notice a key word Ss. Dimitri and Theophan use: raising the mind to God. When praying we remove our attention from all the distractions in this world—as we sing during the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy, we “lay aside all earthly cares” (see Unit 5)—and give our minds completely to God. St. John of Damascus therefore describes prayer as “an ascent of the mind to God,” and another Syrian Church Father says “prayer is a ladder leading up to God.” St. Maximus the Confessor brings this back to union with God, “The grace of prayer joins the mind to God, and joining to God withdraws it from every thought. Then the mind, associating only with Him, becomes God-like.”
We need to remember that raising the mind isn’t an abstract psychological idea; instead, the saints emphasize that prayer involves an inexpressibly personal relationship with God. For example, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk reminds us that we are the children of God, and in prayer “Father and children speak to one another with tenderness.” We can better understand the importance of this relationship for prayer when we realize that, not only do we pray to God, but we also can only pray because of God; as Elder Amphilochios Makris says, “Prayer is a gift from God.”
This is made clear in Romans 8:26, where the Holy Apostle Paul tells us, “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” This means, according to Ambrosiaster, “Paul says that the Spirit intercedes for us not with human words but according to His own nature. For when what comes from God speaks with God, it is obvious that He will speak in the same way as the One from Whom He comes speaks. For the Spirit given to us overflows our prayers in order to make up for our inadequacy and lack of foresight by His actions and to ask God for the things which will be of benefit to us.”
Ultimately, St. Gregory of Sinai says, “Prayer is God, making active all in all, for single is the action of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all-doing through Jesus Christ.”
GOD EXPECTS US TO PRAY
When we realize that prayer is a thoroughly Godly activity—it is not only directed to God, but is done with Him—then it should be no surprise that God expects us to pray. Christ makes this expectation clear on numerous occasions: “when you pray” (Matthew 6:5, 6; Luke 11:2); “you should pray” (Matthew 6:9); “watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 21:36); and “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). The Holy Apostle Paul similarly exhorts us to pray: “devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2); “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18); and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). St. Jude further encourages us to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).
This kind of prayer is not an activity only for a special class of Christians—St. Gregory Palamas points out that everyone should joyfully pray to God: “Let no one think, my brother-Christians, that it is the duty only of priests and monks to pray without ceasing, and not of laymen. No, no; it is the duty of all of us Christians to remain always in prayer…So, my Christian brethren, I too implore you, together also with St. Chrysostom, for the sake of saving your souls, do not neglect the practice of this prayer.”
While we are expected to pray, and it therefore can be described as a duty, we should never understand or experience prayer as a crushing burden. Instead, Elder Joseph the Hesychast says we can experience prayer as an incredible blessing: “Oh, what great happiness and bliss, what exaltation it is to address oneself to the Eternal Father. Always, without fail, value this joy which has been accorded to you by God’s infinite grace and do not forget it during your prayers; God, the angels and God’s holy men listen to you.”
CARRY IT INTO DAILY LIFE
There is only one way to carry prayer into your daily life—pray! Here are some prayers from the Jordanville Prayer Book that directly apply to specific situations we encounter every day.
O Most-good Lord! Send down upon us the face of Thy Holy Spirit, Who granteth gifts and strengtheneth the powers of our souls, so that by attending to the teaching given us, we may grow to the glory of Thee, our Creator, to the comfort of our parents, and to the service of the Church and our native land.
After Completing Lessons
We thank Thee, O Creator, that Thou hast vouchsafed us Thy grace to attend instruction. Bless our leaders, parents, and instructors, who are leading us to an awareness of good, and grant us power and strength to continue in this study.
The eyes of all look to Thee with hope, and Thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest Thy hand and fillest every living thing with Thy favour.
We thank Thee, O Christ our God, that Thou hast satisfied us with Thine earthly gifts; deprive us not of Thy heavenly kingdom, but as Thou camest among Thy disciples, O Saviour, and gavest them peace, come to us and save us.
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