Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Importance of Prayer

Last month I wrote about The Importance of Bible Study from within the Orthodox Christian point of view. But the study of the Holy Scriptures, while being central to our Christian life, is not to be to the exclusion of other Christian disciplines. In fact the Church teaches that reading the Holy Scriptures should be experienced within the context of prayer.

Prayer is a very broad term that refers to a wide range of religious communication. As a matter of fact, prayer is nothing more than communication with another being, Divine or human. We can, and should, pray directly to God, while we can, and should, pray also to the Saints and our departed ancestors. PRAYER IS NOT WORSHIP, although it can be that too when it is directed toward God.

From the Orthodox Christian point of view, we exist as a community of believers sharing our lives together as we grow closer to Jesus Christ. Prayer plays a vital role in this process of communal spiritual growth. Here are three examples of prayer.

Intercessory Prayer – This is praying for each other to God for health and salvation and other human needs. In times of trouble, we are often called upon to “pray for one another,” (James 5.16) as an expression of love for our fellow human beings. As Orthodox Christians, this most normally takes the form of “Prayer Lists” where we ask God to bless our family and friends BY NAME. With intercessory prayer, it is not necessary to itemize the list of needs for our family since, “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8.26) The simple of act of asking God to bless our friends and family is sufficient.

Supplication Prayer – This is praying to the Theotokos and the Saints, or even our departed family members, to offer their intercessory prayer to God for our friends and family. This prayer is most commonly expressed in services like the Paraklesis to the Theotokos (or other Saints) when we ask her to pray to God for our salvation. We could also consider this the same as calling a friend and asking them to pray for someone. The Saints are our friends and family too and should be included in those we ask to include us in their prayers. This does not replace prayer directly to God; it merely increases those who are praying to Him for our needs.

Thanksgiving Prayer – We grow up being reminded to always say ‘thank you’ when we receive something. We receive blessings every day from God and we should thank Him. In the Divine Liturgy we even thank Him for “blessings seen and unseen,” since our pride can, and does, so often blind us to the blessings God has given to us. We should include this type of prayer EVERY DAY in our daily devotions.

There are other types of prayer: confession, adoration, and mediation on God for example. Notice I did not include anything about prayer for OUR needs or OURselves. It isn’t that we should not also take our needs to God; WE SHOULD. But when it comes to our needs, the most important prayer is, “Lord, have mercy.” The need for God’s mercy in our life is never-ending.

As we enter the Holy season of Great Lent this month, I invite you to take time every day to include these types of prayer into your life. Feel free to send me your prayer list and I will include your family and friends in my daily prayers for Great Lent. In return, check with your local Church for their prayer list. MOST Churches publish a list of names in the community of people in need of prayers. Please include these names in your personal prayers to God. In this way, YOU are praying for their needs, and THEY are praying for your needs, and together WE are all praying for one another.

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