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#96 The Key to Prayer

Summary:

It's one thing to talk about why Church services and prayer are important, and another to do them.  How do we start?  The key is something simple, and something very easy to overlook: silence. 

Questions:

1) How does silence help with prayer? How can we use silence to better our prayer life?

2) Why is silence important? What is the difference between praying with silence and praying without silence?

Links:

Bible Gateway, 1 Kings 19

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

Ancient Faith Radio, "Steve the Builder," Fear of Silence

Script:

Hey everybody this is Steve, and there's one key to prayer that most of us overlook. We've spent the last few weeks talking about why attending Church services matters, and why praying on our own matters. And we've seen that we can't have one without the other. Yet it's one thing to understand why these things are important, and another to do them. And I think that's because most of us never really learn how to attend Church services or how to pray.

Do you ever feel like you’re standing aimlessly in the pews, trying (and failing) to concentrate on the service? Do you ever find yourself standing at your prayer corner at home, mouthing prayers that never even come close to touching your heart? I'll be honest. I have. So it’s no surprise when we start wishing we could sleep in on Sunday mornings and start skipping the services altogether so that, over time, Church becomes a place we only go for Christmas and Easter, and maybe the occasional wedding or baptism.

It's no surprise when it becomes easier and easier to skip our prayers so that our prayer books become nothing but decorations, gathering dust on our shelves. And our prayer ropes become nothing but ornaments, things we wear, rather than use. For years, I found that I didn't want to attend Church services because I never really got anything out of them. And I didn't want to pray because...I couldn't really. And I know I'm not the only one.

It's the basic challenge of trying to be the bee, of trying to be a Christian. We know it's important to connect with God, but we don't know how. We know that God is everywhere present and filling all things but, somehow, we don't know how to find Him. So, what do we do? We can find the answer in the life of the Prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings, chapter 19, we read that Elijah was going through a difficult time.

He felt isolated, alone, surrounded by enemies. That's when God revealed Himself to Elijah in an unexpected way: "Then He said, 'Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice."

We frequently think of religious experiences as dramatic and overwhelming. We have stereotypes of God speaking to us from the Heavens with a booming voice as lightning bolts rain down. Yet, for the most part, God doesn't violently grab us by the scruff of our necks and announce His presence. He doesn't parade around with a marching band during Church services, forcing our attention. He comes to us, not as a great wind or a violent earthquake or a terrible fire.

He comes to us as a still, small voice. And, of course, you can't hear a whisper in the middle of a stadium full of cheering people. You can't hear a whisper in the middle of Time Square on New Year's Eve. To hear a whisper, you need silence. Even a little bit of noise and distraction can be enough to drown out a whisper.

In the same way the commotion of our lives, both external and internal, can be enough to drown out the voice of God. Whether it's the pressures of work or school or family, the deadlines and appointments and endless to-do lists, it feels like there's always something that needs our attention. So our minds are constantly looking ahead to what's next or stuck remembering what's already passed, cluttered with ideas and memories.

And our hearts are full of worries and anxieties, overflowing with turmoil when they should be at peace. In the midst of all this chaos, all this clutter, all this noise, is it any wonder that we can't hear the still, small voice of God? We may be physically present in a Church service, but our minds and hearts are elsewhere, distracted and distant.

 It's like trying to talk to somewhere when all your attention is actually on something else, like your phone. We may be saying a prayer to God with our lips but that's where it stays, because our minds and hearts are too full, focused on anything and everything but Him. Just like it's impossible to squeeze into a crowded subway car that's full of people, it's impossible to pray when our minds and hearts are crammed full of other thoughts and feelings, too full of noise.

We can't expect to simply walk into a Church service and immediately be able to concentrate and pray with the rest of the community. And we can't expect to simply open a prayer book and immediately be able to immerse ourselves in deep and genuine prayer. People need to get out of the subway car before we can get on.

And our minds and hearts need to be still before we can reach out to God, and truly hear Him. So before you walk into a Church service, before you say your prayers, take a few minutes to first be silent. Turn off the TV and music, close your eyes. Give your mind a chance to settle down rather than be overwhelmed by distracting thoughts.

 And give your heart a chance to calm down rather than be overwhelmed by distracting feelings. Create a bit of stillness and silence within you, a place that's free of the noise that normally dominates our lives. A place where you can begin to hear the voice of God, and encounter Him. It won't be easy, and it won't be immediate. Yet over time, with the guidance of a spiritual Father, as you pray a little every day, as you attend the Church services regularly, you'll see that you approach both private and communal prayer with less distraction.

Start today! Sit in silence for five minutes before you start to pray, five minutes of preparation so that you can do more than simply read or speak words in a dry, formal way. The experience of prayer is so much more alive when your mind and heart aren't stuffed with distractions or scattered everywhere. And the only way to do that is by giving prayer a place to take root in you, a quiet and peaceful place safeguarded by silence.

So let's be the bee, and make time every day to be silent and still. 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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