From the Book or From the Heart?

From the Book or From the Heart?

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Listen Now We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.

ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19-20

Prayer: Abiding in God’s Love—Part Fourteen

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  I Timothy 4:4-5

Good morning Prayer Team!

There are many teachings and opinions on prayer.  There are many prayer books in existence, as well as prayers that can be taken from Liturgical services and offered outside of them.  As we discussed previously, the book of Psalms reads as a book of prayers.  Unfortunately, outside of the Lord’s Prayer and maybe a few additional prayers, most people only knew a few prayers from memory.  When asked to offer a prayer, most will go to one of their two or three known prayers.  And if the occasion of prayer is not covered by their two or three known prayers, such as when a person is sick or dying, then they will feel unsure of what to pray. 

On the other hand, there are many people outside of the Orthodox world who don’t use formal prayers from a prayer book.  They choose words of prayer for each occasion, allowing the Spirit to move them.  Some of these unrehearsed prayers may come out “unpolished”, without necessarily the depth that a prayer in a prayer book is going to have. 

And so there is a debate—to pray from the book or from the heart.

Hard to believe that there is an argument about this, but there are people who argue strongly on both sides.  There are some who think that the “Spirit-inspired” words of prayer written in the Bible and by the saints are the only words we should be uttering, either because we lack the holiness of the saints to utter our own prayers, or because we lack the ability to construct beautiful prayers with our own words.  Of course, on the other side of the argument, people will say that prayers that are offered strictly from books is that we may end up essentially “reading” them rather than praying them or they may become so rote, that we are reciting, rather than praying them.  What, then, would be wrong about opening our hearts and just letting the words pour out from them? 

There is a concept called a “prayer rule” or “rule of prayer.”  This is a set of prayers given to someone by a Spiritual Father in confession, with the idea that these prayers will be offered by a person at certain intervals of the day.  I asked my Spiritual Father one time for a “rule of prayer” and he said “PRAY!”  He offered guidelines for how to pray, how often, even certain prayers to consider offering.  The problem, with a “rule” of prayer, especially if it is very rigorous, is that people will either hurry to get the prayers done, or get discouraged that they can’t keep their rule and maybe stop praying altogether.  I encourage people to do the same thing—make time each day to pray.  We will discuss more of the nuts and bolts of prayer in ensuing reflections.

One thing that is very important to note is that God doesn’t grade prayers.  He doesn’t listen to a prayer and say “Ok, that one was a ‘C’, try to do better next time.”  We also should grade each other’s prayers.  A friend once asked if she could offer a prayer for me.  The prayer was wonderful.  She later told me she was really nervous that she wasn’t going to say something wrong in the prayer. 

As we have already discussed, prayer is speaking with the Lord.  He doesn’t grade prayers.  He knows our thoughts.  He’s not going to check our grammar or anything. 

As to the issue of whether we should pray from a book or from the heart, I think the answer is both.  There are many prayers written in the Bible, in the Psalms, and in books that speak to just about every occasion we can imagine.  One of the benefits of praying words already written down is that we don’t have to think of what to say.  I often pray prayers from books that I have memorized to get my mind in the mood to pray.  I focus on the words and don’t have to worry about thinking too much.  As my mind relaxes, I then can open my heart, along with my mind and create words of prayer for a particular situation. 

Often when I’m with someone in the sacrament of confession, after offering the Prayer of Absolution (written in the priest’s prayer book), I will add a few words of prayer for their family, or job, or for God to help them with the things that we’ve discussed. 

Whatever you do, whether you pray exclusive from a book or from your heart is not what matters.  It’s not about being fancy or using many words or difficult words.  What matters is that you pray! 

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord.  My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in Thy salvation.  There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides Thee; there is no rock like our God.  Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.  The bows of the mighty are broken but the feeble gird on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.  The barren has born seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.  The Lord kills and brings to life; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.  The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low, He also exalts.  He raises up the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.  For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them He has set the world.  He will guard the feet of His faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail.  The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them He will thunder in heaven.  The Lord will judge the end of the earth; He will give strength to His king, and exalt the power of His anointed.”  (Prayer of Hannah, I Samuel 2: 1-10)

God does not grade prayers, so relax and enjoy prayer, from a book, or from the heart, or a combination of the two. Pray today!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”