Prayer is one of the three pillars of Lent, others being fasting and almsgiving. About prayer Jesus says: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7).
Jesus considers prayer time as a sacred privilege God confers on us, though sinful, to be in audience with himself. The invitation to proper prayer is extended to people of faith in God. Pagans do not have faith in God, so they recite certain phrases over and over again, with no understanding of what the words mean. Our intention must be upright.
Whereas some people have difficulty in finding time for prayer, as if prayer were a burden to be borne or a tedious duty to fulfill, Jesus considers it to be a joy and power to which there is no limit. “A day without prayer is a day without blessing, and a life without prayer is a life without power.” says Edwin Harvey, an Episcopolian. We may pray as, individuals, a family, in prayer groups, or bible studies.
God cares about the heart
Anyone can say a prayer; but not everyone who does so is praying. “There is a mighty lot of difference between saying prayers and praying,” says John G. Lake, American missionary. When we pray, we ought to believe that God is real and has given us a sacred audience and is hearing us. He knows our needs. He is not as concerned with our words as he is with the attitude of our heart. It does not matter how long or short we pray.
Whenever we get into a habit with prayer as vain repetition, we ought to know that God is interested in our heart. Yet, we can use repetition to grow in our faith.
People of faith often repeat what they believe. In Psalm 136, David continually repeated the same phrase, “His love (or mercy) endures forever.” We too may repeat the promises of God until they are impressed on our soul.
Prayer is believed to be the central avenue God uses to transform us. It gets its intensity by the depth and strength of our spiritual desire.
The “Our Father” prayer, for example, recalls the New Covenant by which we became adopted children of God in his only Son, Jesus Christ. Because he purchased for us all the graces of salvation with his most precious blood, Jesus promised that His Father would grant us whatsoever we should ask in his name (see John 14:13-14).
“God is a Father who never ignores his children when they call to him in times of suffering, loneliness and despair,” says Pope Francis. Our prayers, hence, must reflect reference, either directly or indirectly, to our salvation or the salvation of others.
Silence is all
Observing silence before God, greatly enhances the quality of our prayer.
“People of prayer are people of silence… We cannot find God in noise or agitation.... In silence he listens to us; in silence he speaks to our souls. In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to his voice,” emphasises St Mother Theresa.
Augustine sets down this principle for all prayer, “To use much speaking in prayer is to employ a superfluity of words in asking a necessary thing; but to prolong prayer is to have the heart throbbing with continued pious emotion towards him to whom we pray. For in most cases prayer consists more in groaning than in speaking, in tears rather than in words.”
“The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself asks on our behalf with inexpressible sighing,” articulates St Paul in Romans 8:26.
• In Psalm 136, David continually repeated the same phrase, “His love (or mercy) endures forever.” We too may repeat the promises of God until they are impressed on our soul.