Pray As You Can, Not As You Think You Must
In our series of posts focusing on Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “55 Maxims for Christian Living,” we focus this week on Maxim #2: Pray as you can, not as you think you must. We all know we should pray, but do we know why? Today’s reflection, from Seminarian Jeremiah in his blog at orthodoxroad.com, gives us some inspiration to pray, as we can, not as we think we should.
The Importance of Prayer
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.