(By Nakkolackal V. L. Eapen)
[We publish a thought-provoking and spiritually inspiring article on Prayer written by one of our lay contributors. This is very insightful and would touch the minds of every Christian reader. We also urge the writer to contribute such beautiful works of his mind and wisdom to enlighten our orthodox brethren. We thank Mr. Eapen for sending his work for publication- Editor]
God is omnipresent. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Often we lose sight of that reality – the reality of His living and life-giving presence with us unfailingly ALWAYS. We then tend to feel insecure, anxious, lonely, miserable, because we are on our own, like a rudderless ship without its compass. Prayer is what makes us ALIVE to the reality of His abiding presence with us. We begin to be aware of His comforting presence regardless of day and night; of prosperity and adversity. We tend to realize that our Forgiving Healing God neither slumbers nor sleeps. His hands remain stretched out to bless us when we steadfastly seek Him in prayer. Futile self-reliance gradually yields way to absolute dependence on God and ensuing blessings. Apart from Him, we can accomplish nothing.
Our Lord commands us: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Mk. 14:38) “Watch and pray” is an exhortation to be CONSTANTLY prayerful; NOT at our convenience ALONE, but as often as we can. Prayer is BOTH ‘a means to an end’ and ‘an end in itself ‘. It is a MEANS to keeping Satan at bay, and protecting ourselves from temptations. It is equally a MEANS to reaping heavenly blessings. It is also an END in itself – i.e. magnifying God for His might and majesty. In prayer we reiterate and reaffirm God’s supremacy and sovereignty.
Prayer has two integral parts – (i) Praising and (ii) Thanksgiving. We praise Him for Who He really is. We thank Him for ALL His benefits listed in Psalm 103:3-5. They complement each other. One without the other is partial or incomplete prayer, and therefore, ineffective. ‘Praising’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ have to be in LIMITLESS PROFUSION. As compared to ‘Praising’ and ‘Thanksgiving’, ‘petitioning for favors’ is of negligible importance. ‘Praising’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ would suffice for plenteous favors to be granted without petitioning.
Further elaboration is justified on this point. Habitually, we need to ‘Praise and Thank’ (i) God the Father for His loving us so much as to send His only begotten Son to our rescue despite our despicable sinfulness and ingratitude; for the gift of the Holy Spirit; and for giving His angels charge of us to guard us in all our ways; (ii) God the Son for washing us clean with His precious blood; for healing us with His stripes; and for His tearful incessant intercession with God the Father whenever we stray from the path of righteousness; and (iii) God the Holy Spirit for His indwelling us and sanctifying us; for enabling us to pray the way we ought to pray; for empowering us to bear fruits of the Spirit; and for renewing us from day to day.
‘Praising’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ are the indispensable components of effective prayer. GLORYING IN GOD through ‘Praise’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ is the primary purpose of prayer.
‘Praising’ has its pivotal role in potent prayer. God delights in the faithful who habitually praise His holy name and dominion unceasingly. As a matter of fact, God ‘inhabits’ the praises of His people. Again, the praises of His devout devotees constitute the ‘throne’ on which He sits, reigns and rules. Psalm 22:3 (KJV) reads: “But Thou art holy, Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” The same verse is seen translated in the Revised Standard Version as follows: “Yet Thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” The praises of the faithful are always acceptable in His sight.
The Psalmist has no hesitation in declaring unequivocally what his cherished mode of prayer is in Psalm 69:30-31. “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.” The above format of prayer is worthy of blind emulation and constant MEDITATIVE repetition by ALL believers, regardless of denominational differences in the faith professed and practiced. “The name of God,” in the verse is to be correctly understood as Jesus, the name of God the Son, that is ABOVE every other name. So also, the capitalized word, “LORD”, is to be properly deemed as representing God the Father.
The precious name, ‘Jesus’, has inherent immeasurable power. At the utterance of that holy name, Satan trembles and flees. Whatever that is asked for in that wondrous name IN FAITH is sure to be granted at His appointed time. The Son of God Himself attests to it in Jn. 14:13, 15:16 & 16:23. In corroboration thereof is Apostle Peter’s telling testimony in Acts 3:16. “And His name, by faith in His name, has made this man (i.e. the man lame from birth) strong whom you see and know.” Capping it all, in Phil. 2:9-11, is Apostle Paul’s brilliant exposition of the power and majesty attributed to the name, Jesus, that is exalted above the heavens and the angelic hosts.
Our habitually praising the name Jesus, pleases God the Father much more than our sacrificing an ox or a bull to please Him. Praising God the Son’s name is the same as honoring God the Father Who sent the Son as a Sacrificial Lamb for our redemption and eternal life. For quite a while I have been saying, with profound awe and reverence, REPEATEDLY the following prayer, adapted from the Psalmist’s model of above mention. “Heavenly Father, I am thankful for the wisdom graciously granted to me to praise Your Holy Son’s name, Jesus, that is above every other name, with a song unceasingly. [NOTE: I address Satan to remind him that he will NEVER succeed in stealing the song of praise from my life.] That precious name is my refuge and fortress, and the evil one shall not triumph over me. I magnify You Father for the Holy Spirit Who enables me to extol the Son’s name, now and always. Hear me, O Father, in Jesus’ name.
Amen.” I feel having been richly blessed by this prayer. Sometimes I use its translation in Malayalam. The DESIRE and the OPPORTUNITY to pray, whenever and wherever I can, are the only blessings I yearn for from the Heavenly Father through His Blessed Son. Those two blessings will empower me to be obedient and faithful to my Lord and my Savior.
When believers take refuge in the mighty name ‘Jesus’, they find themselves in a safe haven, far beyond the reach of Satan and his demon spirits. They rest in the Lord at peace with themselves and with their fellow-beings, and thus, become the ‘Salt of the Earth’.
In Psalm 19:14 King David defines his ‘prayer’, with crystal clarity, as consisting of ‘the words of his mouth’ and ‘the meditation of his heart thereon’. As a person after God’s own heart, David supplicates that both the components of his prayer be “acceptable” in God’s sight. The words of his mouth are NOT of his OWN arbitrary choice. The Holy Spirit leads him, and guides him to use the choicest or the most appropriate words. Unless the meaning of those words is contemplatively meditated upon in his heart, ‘the words of his mouth’, by themselves, will not be acceptable prayer in God’s sight. This principle is of unique relevance to us, since we often RUSH THROUGH RECITATION OF PRAYERS IN GREAT HASTE, as if it were A RACE AGAINST TIME, without ever contemplating their meaning in our hearts. Our prayers are then like rainless clouds, and they are unacceptable in God’s sight. The fact of the matter is that FAST PRAYERS do not even reach the Throne of Grace to be deemed acceptable or unacceptable in God’s sight. A typical example is the prayer, ‘Anugrahangal Niranjirikkunnavane’ (O Thou who art full of mercy… Ed.), said IN A DESPERATE HURRY in 24 to 29 seconds during Dhoopa Prarthana (Office for the Departed- Ed.), conducted in a ritualistic manner after the conclusion of Holy Qurbana (Liturgy). It is important to bear in mind that ‘CHOLUTHU’ or mechanical recitation of prayers does not please God the Father, but provokes Him and irritates Him. Recitation has to be orderly, slow, steady and graceful in order to be meditative and meaningfully reverential.
God the Father is Holy, first and last. There is none among us that does good; no, not one. What makes us stand in His holy presence is the shed blood of the Lamb of God. We come into His holy presence with singing, praising and thanksgiving, NOT ON OUR OWN MERIT, but only in and through the Son’s precious name. That is why we are admonished in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In serene stillness, the awareness of our being in His holy presence dawns on us, and it enables us to invoke the Holy Spirit to help us pray, as we should, properly.
Prayer is a one-to-ONE intimate conversation with God the Father, in the name of God the Son, monitored by God the Holy Spirit. Barriers to prayer are many and varied – e.g. unconfessed sin, unforgiveness and vindictiveness, grieving God the Holy Spirit and the likes. Elimination of these barriers is possible only by divine grace through the Sacrament of Holy Confession and Communion.
The ultimate goal is to be as perfect as the Heavenly Father, for which we need to seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and emulate the examples shown by the Lord, His Apostles and His saints. “No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
‘Pouring out one’s heart before God is prayer.’ That is the Davidic view expressed in Psalm 62:8. “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Though conceptually sublime, it is quite a NARROW view of prayer, applicable ONLY to a select few believers of high spiritual caliber. David himself was such a believer. Acts 13:22 testifies to it. “I have found in David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart who will do all My will.” Modern believers do not generally fit into that category. Their faith in God being skin-deep, they cannot be expected to POUR OUT THEIR HEART before God in prayer.
All the same, there could be a FEW believers here and there, but NOT everywhere, who may pour out their heart before God the Father IN PRAYER through God the Son. They are able to do that, because they have the GRACE to see in God the Son, a ‘FRIEND Who sticks closer than a brother’. Blessed indeed are they, as otherwise, it will be impossible for them to cultivate such intense intimacy with God the Son.
‘Pouring out the heart before God’ is seen AT ITS VERY BEST in Hannah’s self-effacing passionate prayer, at the door-post of the Temple of the LORD, briefly narrated in 1 Sam. 1:10-16. Her poignant words in reply to Eli the priest are fascinating: “I am a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been POURING OUT MY SOUL BEFORE THE LORD. Do not regard your maidservant as a base woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Blessed be her memory forever and ever.
What singles out Hannah’s touching prayer as ‘out of the ordinary’ is NOT her eloquence, but her burning conviction that in God is the answer to her medically incurable barrenness. Her trust in God has NO bounds. She is, therefore, not ashamed to weep bitterly before the LORD, Who graciously grants her plea in good time. The intensity of her faith is such that she pours out her heart before God with effortless ease.
If it were possible to have personal ties of friendship with a State Governor, lukewarm believers wouldn’t mind queuing up to wait for days and nights at a stretch before the Governor’s mansion, with determination of purpose, to make their dream come true. It is the believers’ scale of priorities that determines their personal preferences.
Unless drawn by God the Father, no believer can ever turn to God the Son, in spiritual hunger and thirst, for being eternally blessed.
The disposition to bless others in prayer is a God-given spiritual gift. Believers cannot have this gift unless they persistently CLAIM it in prayer, and RECEIVE it in faith. As James, our Lord’s brother, puts it: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Blessing others habitually in prayer is crucial to a victorious abundant life in Christ Jesus. Just as one who waters will oneself be watered, one who blesses others in prayer will oneself be blessed. Psalm 109:17 bears out this truth very clearly. “He loved to curse; let curses come on him! He did not like blessing; may it be far from him!”
When we invoke God’s blessings on others in Jesus’ name, our prayer is called ‘vicarious prayer’. Vicarious prayer may be said in privacy at home or elsewhere. The effectiveness of vicarious prayer depends on two factors – (i) Visualization and (ii) Empathizing. Visualization means seeing with the heart’s eyes the face(s) of those we are praying for, and the heavenly outpouring of desired blessings on them. On the other hand, empathizing is identifying ourselves with those being prayed for and with their plight. Vicarious prayer on behalf of the children and the youth of our Church is to empower them to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for their lives. Likewise, vicarious prayer is also to be said for ALL parents in our Church, and especially for those in distress, and in need of comfort, healing or employment.
Anticipating the present age we live in, Jesus affirms: “And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.” (Mt. 24:12) Further, He forebodingly points to the present generation as follows: “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8) St. Paul elaborates on it by adding that men will be “lovers of self, lovers of money,” … … and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” while holding the form of religion, but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:2-5) In such a LOVELESS AND FAITHLESS AGE, prayer can ONLY be about oneself, one’s spouse and children and the nearest of one’s kith and kin. But a Church of ‘ONE ACCORD’ cannot evolve from such self-centered prayers. ‘One accord’ is the offshoot of BIFOCAL prayer that invokes blessings not only ON SELF, but also ON ALL OTHERS in the Church collectively.
I CONCLUDE with the sincere prayer, may the Compassionate Lord’s consolations cheer our souls when the cares of our hearts are many.