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The Spiritual Means, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

1- Prayer: What is it? And how should it be?

 

Prayer

What is it? How does it lead to God?

Not each prayer is considered a spiritual means that would lead you to God... I remember here what was said about Elijah that, he prayed earnestly (Jas 5:17). His was a genuine prayer that was able to close heaven then again to open it. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (Jas 5:16).

What is prayer then? How could it be defined?

Prayer is a bridge that links man to God. It has been compared to Jacobs ladder which was set up on the earth, and its top reached heaven (Gen 28:12). Prayer is not just words, but a relationship... It is your relationship with God, with your heart and with your thoughts...

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St-Takla.org         Image: The Praying Hands, painting by Albret Durar صورة: اليدين المصليتين - الفنان ألبرت دورار

St-Takla.org Image: The Praying Hands, painting by Albret Durar

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: اليدين المصليتين - الفنان ألبرت دورار

Prayer is a feeling that you are in the Divine presence.

Without this feeling, prayer would not be a prayer... It is the feeling of a heart that is directed to God, feeling that God is with him or that he is standing before God. As said by Elijah the Prophet, As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand (1 Kings 18:15).. Before God, one forgets everything and nothing remains in his mind except God alone. Everything diminishes and God becomes everything, nothing else matters beside Him...

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Prayer is the work of the heart, whether expressed in words or not.

It is lifting up the heart to God because the heart talks to God through feelings and emotions more than the mouth does with words. The heart may be lifted up to God without words.

Therefore, the sigh of the heart is a prayer before God, as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. The hearts longing to God is a prayer. Feelings of love towards God are a prayer. So prayer is a relationship between God and man. And if this hearty relationship does not exist, words would be of no use.

If you love God, you will pray. And if you pray, your love for God will increase. So prayer is a statement of love that we express in words.

We see this love and this sentiment clearly in the Psalms of David when he says: O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You (Ps 63:1), and As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Ps 42:1-2). It is longing for God, thirsting for Him as a dry land thirsts for water...

Many pray and do not feel comfort because their prayer is void of love... It is just words!

God has rejected the prayers of those people and said about them, ...these people honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me (Is 29:13). And the Lord Jesus Christ repeated the same rebuke, concerning the

Jews, in the Gospels of St Matthew (15:8) and St Mark (7:6).

So then mix your prayer with love. Talk in your prayer to God with sentiment. Prayer is the longing of the soul and being in the presence of God. It is the longing of the limited to the Unlimited, the longing of the created to his Creator and the longing of the soul to its source and to its satisfaction...

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The acceptable prayer is the one that comes from a pure heart.

The Bible says, The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But the prayer of the upright is His delight (Prov 15:8) and (Prov 21:27). God has rejected the prayer of the evil men and said to them, When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from You; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood (Is 1:15). On the other hand, the Bible says, The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (Jas 5:16).

So what would the sinner, who is burdened by his sins, do?

St-Takla.org         Image: A man kneeling and praying, black and white clipart صورة: كليبارت أبيض وأسود، رجل يركع و يصلي

St-Takla.org Image: A man kneeling and praying, black and white clipart

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: كليبارت أبيض وأسود، رجل يركع و يصلي

Pray and say, Restore me, and I will return (Jer 31:18). So prayer is the gate of help through which the sinner enters to repentance. Mar Isaac said, Whoever said that there is another gate for repentance except prayer is being deceived by the devils... So then do not wait until you repent then pray!! Ask for repentance in your prayer, as the Lord said, Without Me You can do nothing (Jn 15:5).

Prayer is opening the heart to God, so He would enter and purify it.

It reminds us of the prayer of the tax collector who lifted up a contrite heart before God, asking for His mercy (Lk 18:13). And so he went back to his house justified. Therefore, you should pray to acquire purity of the heart, while you say to God in your prayer: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Ps 50)... Is not He the one who said, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you... I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes (Ezek 36:26-27).. Ask Him in your prayers to fulfil this promise.

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Prayer is consecrating the lips and the thoughts and it is the sanctifying of the soul. Furthermore, it is reconciliation with God...

It is natural for the one who has a dispute between him and God, not to talk to Him. He does not pray. He does not have the intimacy to talk with God. If he starts to pray, it means that he wants to reconciliate with God... And if he prayed, he will be humbled by his talk with God and ashamed to defile his thoughts which were with God not so long ago. He will then reach modesty of the thoughts, which is a healthy, spiritual sign.

And so by praying, bad thoughts are abolished, as one continues to pray and uses prayer to enter into a spiritual atmosphere, far from the forces of darkness.

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Prayer is the horror of the devils and the strongest weapon against them.

The devil fears the person who prays, for he will escape his grasp. He fears that through his prayer, this person may gain strength by which he could fight and defeat him. The devil would also envy him for having such a relationship with God, which he has been deprived of... Therefore, the devil fights prayer by all means. He tries to stop it by insinuating to the person that he is too busy and has no time, or he would make him feel tired and his body becomes heavy. If the person insisted on praying, the devil would try to distract his thoughts so that his mind would stray...

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As for you, man of God, be firm in your prayer, no matter what the combats. Concentrate on it with all your thoughts and all your feelings...

And as the Apostle said, Resist the devil and he will flee from you (Jas 4:7). Do not give way to his thoughts. Be aware that his effort to stop your prayer is an implied confession from him about the power of this prayer as a weapon against him. So do not throw away your weapon but fight with it. Continue praying no matter how much your thoughts may stray. The enemy is bound to give up when he sees your spiritual struggle and leave you. Besides, Gods grace will never leave you but will be with you.

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In your prayer, open your inmost soul to be filled by God.

Ask for God Himself, and not only for His blessings. Say to Him, as David said before, Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide Your face from me (Ps 27:8,9) . Be sure that your soul which feels what it lacks, will continue being empty until God Himself perfects it. It needs love stronger than all the world desires. It is thirsty and the water of the world will never quench its thirst (Jn 4:13).

 

Tell Him: O Lord, I cannot find anybody except You who understands me.

For with whom I feel safe, I open my heart to Him, tell Him all my secrets and explain my weakness, which He will hear and not despise. I pour my tears before Him and reveal my longing. With Him I dont feel alone but with a heart that holds me and power that supports me... Without You, O Lord, I feel empty and void of any real existence. You are Emmanuel, God with us... My soul longs for Your omnipotent soul, and longs for what is above the material; the world and all that is in it... Yes, inside me there is longing for the unlimited and nobody will satisfy it except You...

This is the prayer of love whose level is higher than that of request. In it you pray and might not ask for anything...

Your prayer could be thanksgiving for what God has given you. You thank Him for taking care of you, looking after you, for His protection, assistance and all His benevolence for you, your friends and all your dear ones... And your prayer could be praising God, like the prayer of the Seraphim

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; heaven and earth are full of Your glory (Is 6:3).

Your prayer could be just contemplation on Gods beautiful attributes as in the prayers of the Liturgy according to St Gregory and as in many Psalms and Agpia prayers. And it was said by St Basil the Great: Do not start your prayer by a request, lest it is thought that if it was not for the request, you would not have prayed.

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Consider your prayer as just a delight in Gods fellowship or as some fathers call it, A taste of the Kingdom.

Just being in the presence of God is an enjoyment, even if you do not open your mouth and utter one word, even if your mind does not hold any thought, like a child in the bosom of his father. He does not ask for anything except to remain as such...

I wonder what could we ask for in the Kingdom of Heaven?! Nothing, of course, because there we will lack nothing. We just enjoy what the Psalmist expressed when he said, Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8 ). Prayer is a taste of this kingdom. We taste here on earth what we will enjoy in Heaven...

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Therefore it was said about prayer that it is the food of angels.

It is food for their souls and nourishment that satisfies them. It is also the same for the souls of the saints, and on earth it was food for the monastic fathers and the anchorites... They fed on it, with the love of God and His fellowship and the enjoyment of their spirits with it. As David the Prophet said to the Lord, But it is good for me to draw near to God (Ps 73:28).

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Blessed is He, our good Lord, who granted us to pray. It is humility from Him to allow us to talk to Him.

And it is humility from Him to listen to us... Who are we, but dust and ashes, to get close to God and stand before Him and talk to Him...? We add ourselves to the ranks of angels, standing before His throne, praising and blessing His name, and become blessed for being in His presence. Truly, it is humility of the Creator to allow us, His creation, with such intimacy, to talk to Him and for Him to hear us.

Therefore, it is a great shame and a most serious sin to say: I have no time for prayer...!!

How dare the slave say he has no time to talk to his master?! It is so amazing that the created has no time to talk to his Creator!! You find time for many trivial matters... and you find time for conversation of no value. Why then do you consider lack of time as an excuse not to talk with God?!

David the Prophet was a king, a leader, and a judge for the people, with a big family, and in spite of all this he says to the Lord, Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgment (Ps 119:164), Evening and morning and at noon (Ps 55:17) and At midnight I will rise to give thanks (Ps 119:62).

The problem then is not in time but in the interest. If you have the interest to pray, you will no doubt find the time.

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You must also know that prayer is a blessing for you. In it, you take and you do not give.

Do you think you are giving God time when you pray?! Does God need you or your prayers?! But by praying you gain strength, support and blessing. You also take spiritual enjoyment, delight in your fellowship with God and solution for your problems...!

You must change your thoughts about prayer so that you realize you cannot survive without it, for it is the strength of prayer that you will depend on.

If you realize this, you will rely on prayer as an essential spiritual means in your life.

And so, would I be able, in this article, to talk to you about everything that relates to prayer?!

No, but after all that, I leave you to pray and also to remember me in your prayers...

 

2

Conditions of the acceptable prayer

3

Exercises in prayer


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