Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lord, Teach Me To Pray!

I remember for many years crying out to God for a meaningful prayer life. I would hear our pastor emphasize each week in his sermons the need for spending time alone with God. So, I tried. I would show up to my "appointment with God", as he liked to call it, with my Bible in hand and with my list of things to pray about. I never felt like I was quite getting it right.

I wasn't alone in this feeling. My Christian friends would often bring this topic up in conversation. They would ask, "How do you do your devotional time?" I could only say I was struggling with it too, and I told them that I would read the Bible and offer up some prayer requests during my devotionals. Others would say you should use a Bible study guide or a devotional book. As much as it was a struggle and mystery on how to do this, I would continue to show up, even if for only fifteen minutes. My prayers seem to fall flat, and the most oft repeated prayer for me was, "God, how do I pray? How do I have a fruitful time alone with You?"

My wife and I went to a reunion of some of our long-time Christian friends several years ago, and the guy who used to lead the group gathered us all in his living room for a short devotional. He asked how many of us are consistently spending time alone with God. I raised my hand, even though that time alone often seemed empty. But, surprisingly, no one else raised their hands! At that point, I was embarrassed to stand out as "Mr. Super-spiritual". As the conversation ensued, however, it was evident others had struggled and simply gave up trying to create a meaningful time alone with God.

And, several years later, along came Orthodoxy. Now, it's not a matter of what I should pray, but in finding enough time to pray! My prayer time now is radically fruitful; radically meaningful. Not to say it isn't a struggle to get myself out of bed, but once I am up, I know what needs to be done according to my prayer rule. The Lord answered my prayer by bringing me the time-tested and enriching prayers of the Orthodox Church. My prayer life has become something far more than it ever was as a Protestant, and something far more than I ever expected it could be!

I think everyone needs a system to make their prayer time meaningful. After trying many different ways, I find the Orthodox system to be the most engaging and life-changing. Instead of sitting on my couch, coffee in hand and my Bible open to an inspirational passage as I send up my wish-list of things I want to happen, I now enter the prayer arena in the Orthodox fashion. This means lighting a candle, fasting, awakening my spirit and focusing my mind through using the Jesus prayer, acclimating my senses to the Kingdom of God by using icons, Christian symbols and colors, opening my prayer book and engaging in prayers written by the humblest of Saints that change me as I pray through their penetrating insight into the condition of my soul.

Yes, it is a radical change from my Protestant days, and most Protestants would find the typical Orthodox prayer corner distasteful. Nonetheless, it is a system of spiritual saturation in all things Christian designed to change you from glory to glory and prepare you for His glorious Presence, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.