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#95 Why Prayer Matters

Summary:

If we attend Church services, do we need to pray on our own? If we pray on our own, do we need to attend the services? Prayer matters, and goes hand in hand with the services. Without the Liturgy, prayer is just talking to ourselves. And without prayer, Liturgy is just empty ritual.

Questions:

1) How can we make prayer a habit to do often?

2) When are moments we should pray?

3) How can we be in communion with others through prayer?

 

Links:

Bible Gateway, 1 Thessalonians

Orthodox Way of Life, Why We Need to Pray by Saint Gregory of Nyssa

Orthodox Way of Life, The Way of Prayer, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Orthodox Prayer

Script:

Hey everybody this is Steve and prayer is more than something we do. Last week we talked about why Church services matter, why it's so important for us to open our hearts to be shaped by these beautiful services, and why we need to open our lives to be transformed by the Divine Liturgy. Over the years, I've realized that a big thing that keeps people from attending Church services is the idea that personal prayer is somehow enough. That a one-on-one relationship with Christ is somehow equal to or maybe even better than a relationship with Christ in the context of community.

On the other hand, it’s easy to think that if we attend all the services of the Church, that we have already offered all our prayers. That as long as we stand in the midst of other Christians once or maybe twice a week, we have no real need for consistent personal prayers. Unfortunately, both these ideas misunderstand what prayer is, and mistakenly divide our life inside and outside the Church walls. So, let's do what we do best and look at prayer with the eyes of a bee.

We often think of prayer as words, things we say, whether they're the words of a prayer book, the words of a Jesus Prayer, or the words we come up with. Yet, as Elder Aimilianos reminds us in an incredible book called "The Church at Prayer," words aren't the only thing, or even the most important thing, involved in prayer. "Prayer can be said with the lips. It can be said aloud. It can be uttered within the mouth, or in the throat.  It can also be said from the heart...What matters is that a cry should come forth from the depths which, like a loud roar, like an earthquake, will shake the heavens..."

This cry that the Elder talks about, that comes from the heart, is one without words, one beyond words, that comes from the very core of our being. Because prayer is about more than talking at God, more than mere communication. Prayer is about earnestly offering ourselves to God, about seeking communion with our Lord and Savior. Prayer is about even the deepest, most hidden parts of ourselves being brought forth into the light of Christ.

Now, prayer isn't easy. It can be really hard to get ourselves out of bed in the morning to say a few prayers before we start our days. And when we do manage to pray, it can feel dry or empty, or it can feel like God isn't listening or offering an answer. Elder Aimilianos suggests that's because God is protecting us. Imagine suddenly receiving an incredible amount of money without having to do any work for it; it would be really easy to take it for granted, right? In the same way, the Elder suggests that, if God comes to us too quickly or too easily, we'll take Him for granted, and we won't be ready to truly treasure that relationship.

So, as Elder Aimilianos says, God initially gives us space for three reasons: to express our unique and personal longing of Him; to become aware of our helplessness and need of Him; and to learn to seek Him. This seeking of God is strengthened by the time we set aside for private prayer, reliably, every day. We talked a little bit about the importance of having a prayer rule in episode 73, Six Ways to Deepen Your Love for Christ.

Yet here's where we look back to last week's episode, to strike an important balance. Because our private prayer is incomplete without our common prayer. Elder Aimilianos put this in very blunt terms: "If there is no worship and no Holy Communion, there can be no prayer.  Any prayer uttered apart from them is false. If, on the other hand, there is worship divorced from intense, spiritual prayer--internal, powerful prayer which cries out--you can be certain that our worship and our Holy Communion is in vain..."

Our transformation in the Liturgy, as Christ's Body, is what allows us to offer our true selves to God in our personal prayers. Without the communion that comes through Liturgy, our personal prayer is false; we pretend to talk to God or grow close to Him when we're not truly united to Him. And the reverse, simply attending services without cultivating personal prayer, is in vain.

Because we'll never be able to fully participate in the Liturgy, we'll never able to truly offer ourselves to God or receive Him, if we spend most of our time ignoring Him. Without the Liturgy, prayer is just talking to ourselves. And without prayer, the Liturgy is just empty ritual. So just like this week's episode goes with last week's episode, our personal prayer needs to go hand in hand with our participation in the Church services.

We can't confine God only to Sunday mornings, or only to our parishes or lock God in our prayer corners at home. God is alive, He's real, and He's active in our whole lives. When we return to prayer day after day, when we live out our commitment to God, even when it's hard, especially when it's hard and we don't feel like it, we act on our love for God. We develop our relationship with God by turning to Him, not simply because we want something from God or we’re afraid of Him or we feel obligated to stand in the pews, but because we love Him and want to be with Him.

And over time, as prayer takes deeper and deeper root in our hearts, as our relationship with God develops, our communion with God won't simply be a part of our lives, it'll be what constitutes our lives. As we continue to reach out to Him, to grow closer to Him, to grow in love and kindness and mercy, we'll see the seeds of prayer blossom into something much greater. So prayer will not simply be something we do every so often, not simply a part of our lives.

Instead, prayer will constitute our lives, as the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and prays in us.  As our lives become an ongoing and unceasing prayer to the Lord. As everything we do and say gives praise and glory to God. So let's be the bee, and live lives of constant prayer. Be the Bee, and Live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe, and share. I'll see you all next week. Thanks to our supporters on Patreon who helped make this episode possible.  To support the creation of more Orthodox Christian content, please visit patreon.com/y2am.

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