Conditions of the acceptable prayer and exercises in prayer
Not each prayer is acceptable because not each prayer is a PRAYER.
The prayer of the proud Pharisee was not acceptable like the prayer of the contrite tax collector, who returned to his house forgiven (Lk18:14). The same with the prayer of those whose hands are full of blood. The Lord said about them, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear” (Is 1:15 ). And also the prayer of the hypocrites (Mt 6), and those who for a pretence make long prayers (Mt 23:14).
You might pray a prayer and one of the twenty four elders would proceed and take it in his golden censor and present it to God, a sweet aroma of incense... (Rev 5:8). While another person would pray all day long and the angels would wonder at him, as none of his prayers ascended!
What are then the conditions of the acceptable prayer?!
There are many conditions: We mention here that it has to be in the spirit. In it, one’s spirit talks to God’s Spirit, and his heart becomes linked to God’s heart. This is the prayer that is from the spirit and the heart. It is the one that opens the gates of heaven and enters into the presence of the Lord, talks to Him with intimacy, enjoys Him and takes from Him whatever the spirit wants... This is the prayer that satisfies the spirit, as the Psalmist said:
“ I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness” (Ps 63:4,5).
This is the prayer that is from the heart, in it one feels that he met with God. In it we either ascend to Him or He descends to us. But the main thing is that we meet . Or it is the Holy Spirit that elevates our hearts and thoughts to God. The saints say about this prayer that it is the coming of heaven upon the soul, or that the soul becomes heaven. And here, the prayer is distinguished by spiritual warmth.
The prayer that is with love and passion is a warm prayer.
The prayer that is with the spirit is warm by its nature. It is inflamed by the fiery spirit. Therefore, it was said about the prayers of saints Maximos and Domadios that it proceeded from their mouths like flames of fire. And so were the fingers of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite, whenever he raised his hands in prayer...
The spiritual prayer is also one of understanding and concentration.
Concentration keeps the thoughts from straying. Understanding also is another factor that enables the mind to concentrate and so does passion. As for the one who prays with no heart, no understanding and no passion, his thoughts will definitely stray in various matters because his heart is not free yet from worldly concerns. He is still attached to them, even during prayer. His prayer would not be pure because it is yet in close contact to the things of the world.
Therefore, when St. John of Assiot was asked, “What is the pure prayer?” He answered, “It is death to the world”, because when the heart dies to worldly matters, it would not ponder on such things during prayer, so his prayer becomes pure without straying.
The spiritual prayer is also one of reverence before God.
We have spoken before about prayer with love, for love does not hinder reverence at all, as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. Our love for God could not make us forget His solemnity, dignity and veneration. So our talk to Him is mingled with reverence and respect, and thereby we attain the manner of speaking with God. Our reverence is not the fear of slaves but the respect of children to their father and what a Father! He is not a Father on earth but He is our Father who is in Heaven. The One before whom stands the angels in reverence, “...each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet...” (Is 6:2). Therefore Mar Isaac said:
“When you stand up to pray, be like one standing before flames of fire.”
Abraham, the father of fathers and prophets, also said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord” (Gen 18:27). Therefore if you stand before God say to Him: Who am I Lord, to stand before You... You, before whom stand the angels, the archangels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim and all the countless gathering of the heavenly powers. How could I place myself among these luminous hosts?!
Your reverence before God is the reverence of the spirit and also the reverence of the body.
As for the reverence of the body, it includes standing, kneeling and prostration; it would not surrender to standing in a lazy way, or to the devil who tries, during prayer time, to make your body feel tired, sick, exhausted or in need of sleep...!
There are those who, if they stand to pray, they feel tired, while they stand with friends for hours without feeling tired! Therefore, beware of this illusionary tiredness which is of the combats of the devil. Saint Bassilious the Great said:
“Do not use sickness as an excuse for not praying because prayer is a means of recovery from sickness.”
And as it was said by Mar Isaac, “If you start the pure prayer, be prepared for what will come on you”, which means be prepared for the wars of the devil as he tries to hinder you from prayer.
Reverence of the body is essential because the body shares in the feelings of the spirit and expresses them. So reverence of the spirit is expressed by reverence of the body. Slackness and carelessness of the spirit show also in the movements of the body such as having the senses busy with something else during prayer either the sight, the hearing... etc.!
As for the reverence of the spirit, one must pray with a contrite heart.
Remember that God is near those who have a contrite heart... Do not forget that you are from dust and you are talking to your Creator who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:16). Do not also forget your sins by which you grieved God’s Holy Spirit, betrayed His love and met His loving kindness with ingratitude. Therefore stand in contrition before Him as the Prophet Daniel prayed and said, “O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face,... because we have sinned against You... we have rebelled against You” (Dan 9:7-9).
Say to Him: I don’t deserve anything. But in spite of my many sins and ingratitude, Your longsuffering encourages me and Your big heart comforts me. You are the kind God who does not wish for the death of the wicked but that he should turn from his ways and live (Ezek 18:23,32). The greatness of Your mercies are revealed in me who has fallen.
Let your prayer be with faith...
Believe that God hears you and loves you and will answer you in whatever He finds good for you. The Lord said, “And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mt 21:22). And if you don’t have this faith, ask for it in your prayer, as it was said to the Lord by the father of the boy who had a mute spirit, “ Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24), or as the Apostle said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Lk 17:5) . Remember this beautiful promise, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23).
Be confident that faith gives strength to prayer. Prayer also strengthens faith... But if you ask for something, do not be in a hurry to get it. Wait for the Lord. Believe that He will answer your request, no matter how it seems to you that He is slow in responding. Listen to David the Prophet, when he says, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait I say on the Lord!” (Ps 27:14).
Let your prayer be also with depth and understanding.
The more your prayer is with understanding, where you mean each word you say, the deeper the prayer. The Psalmist cries out in the psalm: “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps 130:1), and “With my whole heart I have sought You” (Ps 119:10). Pray then from the depth of your heart, the depth of your faith and the depth of your needs... The depth of prayer gives it warmth...
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