In these days, He went out to the mountain to pray; and all night He continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles.
This week we are reflecting on ways to kick-start our faith in this new year. Many people have discovered the joy of prayer. While many others struggle to pray consistently, while still others do not understand how or why we pray. Prayer does not work like a vending machine, where we put in an order and God fills it. This understanding of prayer is why many people do not pray. Prayer is simply being in the presence of God, abiding with God, and allowing God to abide with us. Prayer can be offered with words, and prayer can also be offered with no words. On many occasions, I have sat in a chair beside the altar, gazing at the sacred space where we offer the sacred Liturgy. I have been overcome with a feeling of God’s presence, and in these moments, no words are necessary. Just being in the presence of God brings both comfort and joy. Other times, prayer becomes like a conversation with God. I’ve said things like “Lord, I struggle to understand why (such and such thing) is happening in our world or to me.” Prayer involves many elements, such as thanking God, asking for forgiveness of sins that have happened since the last prayer, praying for others, and praying for ourselves.
There are many ways to pray. Some people utilize a prayer book—there are several Orthodox books that have numerous prayers to fit every occasion, every need, every concern. Some people pray from the heart, whatever is coming to their minds at a given moment. Some people use a repetitive prayer, like the Jesus Prayer (Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.) They offer few words but offer them repetitively. Some people follow a “rule of prayer”, where they offer specific prayers at specific intervals of the day. Any and all of these are good.
Many people have a hard time coming up with words to pray. Here are two ideas on this. First, there is a phrase that I came up for our Sunday school students to use, which words for adults as well. I call it 5-5-5-1. In prayer, thank God for five things, prayer for five people, pray for five things you need today, and ask God for one opportunity to serve someone else. There are many things for which we can thank God—our life, our family, our friends, our talents, our homes, etc. Begin prayer by thanking God. Many people go right to asking God for things and never remember to thank Him for the things they already have. There are many people we can pray for. We can pray for people by name—for instance, our family, our friends, our co-workers. We can pray for them by name. If we run out of names to pray for, we can offer prayers for groups of people, like first-responders, those who serve in the military, doctors, teachers, etc. As for the five things we need today, focus specifically on that word today. I’m not retiring today, so I’m not going to pray for that. Our son is not going to college today, so I’m not going to pray for that. I pray for things like safety (because I drive every day), efficiency (to manage my many tasks), wisdom (to make good decisions), patience (because this is a perpetual problem for me) and stamina (strength to make it through the day). These are the things I need on any given day. Finally, I ask God to give me an opportunity to serve someone today, which might be someone I know, someone I don’t know, or an unexpected opportunity that God will provide.
The second idea when you are struggling with the words to use in prayer, is to pray in the context in which you find yourself. So, as I’m writing this reflection, I have paused to pray. I’m alone in my office, just me and computer. Here are the things in the context where I find myself. I thank God that I am alive, I thank Him for a talent I have for writing, I thank Him for the technology that allows me to communicate messages to people far away. I pray for those reading this message, I pray for my co-workers in the offices on the other side of my wall. I pray for the priests who struggle to write. I pray for wisdom in this writing, and efficiency to write without distraction. I pray that this writing will somehow serve others. This is an example of praying in context. Take the context where you are, and build a prayer from that.
We see in today’s verses that Jesus went out to the mountain to pray. He was about to make a big decision, which of His disciples were going to comprise the twelve Apostles. Before this decision, He prayed, and not only a simply quick prayer, He continued in prayer all night. Then He made His decision and executed it.
We make many decisions each day. Some we make without thinking, some we make in anger, some we make poorly, some we struggle to make, and of course, some we make well. Imagine if we went to God in prayer before each decision. Imagine how that could change not only our decisions but our demeanor in making them. Imagine how pausing for a few minutes to pray and reflect could help us avoid making hasty decisions.
I confess that prayer is a challenge for me. What I know about prayer is that it is important to pray, and to pray often. We shouldn’t go all day without prayer and only pray at night. We shouldn’t only pray first thing in the morning and then not pray the rest of the day. We should pray in short spurts throughout the day, bringing God into our decisions, thanking Him constantly, and asking Him to help us find ways to serve others. If you are not in the habit of praying, don’t dismay. The great thing about prayer is that you can start praying at any time. Any day is a good day to pray.
Lord, thank You for the gift of another day. Help me to remember that every day is a gift, a blessing from You. Lord, be with each person who is reading this message today, the ones I know and the many that I do not know. Be with each person in his or her respective struggles. May we all find a way to glorify You today. Put into our paths at least one person we can serve. Help us to find joy in prayer and to turn to You in prayer often and with spiritual fulfillment. Amen.