Lord, Teach Us To Pray
by Andrew Boutros
We talked about the meaning of prayer and how to pray, so now I’d like to focus on enjoying prayer. We mentioned before that prayer is heart to heart conversation between you & God which requires examining the condition of our hearts and setting intentions and then in all simplicity ask God to teach us how to pray.
Fr. Goettmann, an Orthodox priest, said in his book ‘The Spiritual wisdom and practices of early Christianity’: “We first ‘do’ exercise then we become exercise; we say prayers, but we must eventually become prayer. We go to liturgy but our whole being is called to become liturgical and daily life is meant to be a celebration.” This is the depth that Christ desires for us to experience. This is the life that Christ wants us to live. Christ doesn’t want us to be just performers as we are in so many aspects in our lives instead, He desires that we experience HIM in our day to day routine until He becomes the center of our lives. Christ’s aim is that we don’t just ‘do’ spiritual exercise or ‘pray’ few prayers or ‘go’ to liturgical services but that we become one with Him through all these means that He left us.
In John chapter 17, Christ was praying for His father for this unity to happen, He said“ I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us.”
The Church fathers in their wisdom have arranged so many prayers for us and left us with treasures to teach us how to take the first steps in our spiritual lives and how to go deeper with Christ. The first day in school is always tough, the first day at a new job is always weird, the first day in any new journey isn’t always comfortable but we take it anyway. So, the Church fathers teach us saying, “Sometime you must take the first uncertain steps if you wish at all to draw near to God. Don’t be anxious about your clumsy beginning; don’t yield to shyness and uncertainty, and the mocking laugher of enemies who try to persuade you that you are behaving ridiculously & that the whole thing is only a child of fantasy and meaningless.” Just pray for strength, get the guidance you need from your spiritual guide and father of confession and take that step. Don’t lend your ear to the devil trying to put you down.
Father Seraphim El Baramousy said “Those who take the first step toward a life with God, wearing the garment of repentance, must be diligent to hasten their repentance whenever they fall, and not give heed to the murmurings of the devil who wants to make them indulge in sin.” By the way no one is expecting you to go from 0 to 100 in a day or a week or a month in your prayer life because our church teaches us to do everything with moderation. Even when Christ was with his disciples for 3 years, they couldn’t attain the highest merits in their spiritual lives. We saw some of the disciples fall asleep multiple times in the garden of Gethsemane when Christ instructed them not to. I’m only mentioning this so you can have reasonable expectations and logical steps to consider when you are building your prayer life in accordance to the guidance you take from your father of confession.
Your father of confessions is a crucial tool in guiding along the path of spiritual growth through prayer. St. Nikon of Optina explains the role of the spiritual guide saying “The spiritual father only shows the way, like a signpost, but we have to traverse it ourselves. If the spiritual father shows the way and the disciple doesn’t move himself, then he won’t get anywhere and will rot near the signpost.” Build trust with your father of confession and spiritual guide so you can share with him/her what’s on your heart and he/she are able to navigate you wisely in your spiritual life so you can achieve unity with Christ.
Finally, “prayer by its nature is communion and union of man with God” as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov said and this is what you & I should be aiming for.