True Prayer

True Prayer

A reflection of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom’s “Living Prayer” by St Athanasius’ Book Fellowship

Who are you praying to?

Do you pray to God, or do you pray for your will to be done through God? While we’d all love to say that we pray to God and for His will to be done, there is a more accurate answer. Your life and the person you are becoming reflects your prayer life more truly. You are an image of the one whom you worship.

We know that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. If we are worshipping God in false humility then we know that He is far from us. If we are proud then we make God the object of our own will. We make Him the means to an end, and not the end that we should be striving for. There is a fine line between heaven and hell and that line is drawn in the hearts of each of us.

How then, do we discover this purifying judgement?

When we stand in the presence of God, He reveals Himself to us personally. Jesus teaches us in the final days, the hearts of man will be opened when He says:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” (Matt. 25:31-33).

An early Church Father once contemplated on this parable regarding church worship. The church is adorned on feast days. The congregation comes dressed in their finest apparel, but only God can distinguish the sheep from the goats. Our hearts are exposed before God. The goats are those subject to pride – that is, the god of their own will. The sheep are the ones that come to God in the confidence of humility. We could be doing all the right things – going to church, praying the Agbia, reading the Bible – yet infinitely far from God.

To worship God in truth is to recognise that my only security is in You, the Creator of heaven and earth. My confidence is in the One who cannot be shaken.

When thousands came to see Jesus in the Flesh, He took notice of one woman. Not because of any grand entrances, but through the greatness of her faith. The woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years touched His garments and believed she would be healed. At this touch, He says, “somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”

There is power in prayer, every time we come before the throne of grace. The woman’s response is the same response we should have toward prayer, for in her response lies the humility of prayers heard.

“Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately”(Matt 8:47).

The revelation of true prayer

There can sometimes be an overemphasis of our true human states – “I am dirt.” This was never meant to demoralise. It is truth, and it is a truth that switches our sense of security from our imperfect self to the perfect Creator of the universe.

If we stand in front of anything great, what reaction do you expect? If we compare ourselves to the size of the earth, to the size of the galaxy, to the size of universe, the realisation that follows is how small we really are in comparison. The earth becomes likes a drop in the ocean. There is no comparison. The reality of our lives is that despite how small we are compared to our Creator, it is His love that makes us aware of His presence and our shortcomings at the same time.

In prayer, we don’t start with our sinfulness, we start with who God is, followed by our weaknesses. If you are standing in a dark room and you stumble, the first thing you do is turn on the light to prevent yourself from falling again. When the lights are on, you see that damage you caused and how to avoid it. It is a common misconception that we should come to God when we are good, when we have overcome sin. God is the light of our lives. Through Him, we overcome our sins. Our sins are not revealed on their own. God is first revealed, followed by our sins so that we are supported and guided toward life with Him. When God’s glory was revealed to Isaiah, his first reaction was, “I am a man of unclean lips.” This isn’t even necessarily the result of a sin he committed, it was simply the realisation of the Almighty.

Practically speaking, there are three measures to the efficacy of true prayer;
  1. A sense of security and reliance on God
  2. Recognition of my sins
  3. The way I perceive and deal with my neighbours

The true question we need to be asking ourselves to achieve these, is when I fall, how do I react?
If you have thoughts of disappointments – “I don’t do this anymore, I’m better than that. I can’t believe I’ve fallen again.” This is reliance on self. The biggest danger is the nagging voice that says you can make yourself better independent of God. “You’re better than that.” When those self-reliant thoughts are exhausted, turn to God.

The old Adam hides, blames others and ‘clothes’ himself in an attempt to cover up his insecurities. God is like a parachute that we hope we don’t need to use. We don’t want to pull the parachute to keep us alive. God is a nice add on to how you want to appear, an image that will not last. We need to shift Him from our last resort to our One and only hope that we run to at all times.

Another question we ask is, do I pray more fervently in church than I do when I am alone?

We may appear good before others but what about God? I want to be recognised for doing good before God. While there is nothing wrong with praying among others, make sure that after every day, it is in the hidden place that you complete your search for the Almighty.

Let us stop asking “How are you” but imitate the monks who say to one another, “How is your prayer life?” For there is no life that is separated from prayer.

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