The Habit of Prayer

Though created in the image of God – man has fallen far. The image is not demolished, but we have not fulfilled the likeness and we frequently distort the image beyond recognition. Part of the true human life described in Genesis, are the “walks in the Garden” with God. Man and God converse – they share communion with one another. We see the restoration of this in the life of Christ whose constant life of prayer is frequently referenced in the Scripture.

Man makes a return to the Garden when he turns to God in prayer. The essence of all prayer is communion with God. Prayer, even intercessory prayer, is always about communion with God. We do not pray in order to change God’s mind. We do not pray in order to get things. We do not pray in order to make things happen. We pray in order to be in communion with God, Who alone does what He wills, gives what He wills, and governs the universe without advice from anxious men.

As we pray, and the more truly we pray, we unite ourselves to God, and His actions. His will and His gifts become things for which we can give thanks.

I have often read about the “habit of prayer.” The one problem with this description is that it can be seen as an activity that we ought to do often, when prayer is, in fact, a state of being in which we should dwell constantly. We are not ever truly ourselves when we are not in prayer.

As communion with God, prayer is itself life-giving. How could we want a life-giving activity to be less than constant? If we are engaging in activities that are not life-giving, then we are exercising communion with death. There is no neutral ground.

This does not mean that we may not go about our daily chores and responsibilities. But learning to go about them in a state of communion with God is to learn what it is to live our lives as truly human. We were not created for death, but for life and communion with God.

There are many ways we maintain such a communion: use of the Jesus Prayer; the use of frequent or constant thanksgiving; the use of small verses of Scripture offered up to God throughout our activities. There is nothing we do, apart from sin, that cannot be done better in communion with God. If it is an activity that we cannot ask God’s blessing for, then it is an activity that we should avoid. As St. Paul said, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Most important to me as I think on this topic is the true nature of prayer and communion with God. Prayer will not be a habit so long as it seems a laborious activity that we carry out because we “ought to.” This is the thought of a slave and not a son. Until we come to know God as our Father we will not be able to pray in such a way that it can become our true life. This is a gift of grace, a kindness from God. If you pray like a slave, then ask for the gift to pray like a son. God is a good God and wishes to free us from slavery and adopt us as His children.

Though the desert fathers said, “Prayer is a struggle to a man’s dying breath,” it is also true that prayer should increasingly be a source of life for us, so that even if we struggle, it is as if a man who has difficulty breathing still struggles to breathe. He doesn’t just give up on breathing because it’s too much trouble. He will breathe until he can breathe no more. We must pray until we can pray no more.

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23 Responses to “The Habit of Prayer”

  1. Fr Stephen & “The Habit of Prayer” « Journeying Home Says:

    […] but all of it was so good and I couldn’t decide what part to post here. So… go read it HERE. […]

  2. Signifier Says:

    “We pray in order to be in communion with God, Who alone does what He wills, gives what He wills, and governs the universe without advice from anxious men.” How excellent! I struggle with this all the time. Having scriptures memorized has helped me often. When I cannot calm my mind enough to form a coherant prayer, I can turn to the Word. Reciting the Word in my mind brings peace.

  3. Jason Says:

    “We see the restoration of this in the life of Christ whose constant life of prayer is frequently referenced in the Scripture. Man makes a return to the Garden when he turns to God in prayer.”

    How profound. Thank you for cracking that open to me. Mysteriously, Jesus did pray in the garden often (described as his “custom”), and so yes, to go into prayer is to enter into the garden and return to the communion shared before the fall.

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    Over time, if one is able to attend, say, a Saturday vigil regularly, you hear all of these insights in the hymnography of the Church. Nowhere does there exist a more complete commentary of Scripture, doctrine and the Christian life than in the texts of Orthodox services. No where does there exist so much text!

  5. E.D. Jones Says:

    Reading your post reminds me of “The Practice of the Presence of God”, by Brother Lawrence. He discovered how to continually be in communion with God. Thank you for your image of walking in a garden with God, my Father – what a peaceful image to visualize. And thank you for the following:
    “If it is an activity that we cannot ask God’s blessing for, then it is an activity that we should avoid.”

  6. Fr. Stephen on The Habit of Prayer « Lent & Beyond Says:

    […] Go read the whole thing! […]

  7. Fr. James Early Says:

    “Prayer, even intercessory prayer, is always about communion with God. We do not pray in order to change God’s mind. We do not pray in order to get things. We do not pray in order to make things happen. We pray in order to be in communion with God, Who alone does what He wills, gives what He wills, and governs the universe without advice from anxious men.

    As we pray, and the more truly we pray, we unite ourselves to God, and His actions. His will and His gifts become things for which we can give thanks.”

    A more concise and powerful explanation of the purpose off prayer I have never seen! Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

  8. Robert Says:

    Fr Stephen,

    You said: “Over time, if one is able to attend, say, a Saturday vigil regularly, you hear all of these insights in the hymnography of the Church. Nowhere does there exist a more complete commentary of Scripture, doctrine and the Christian life than in the texts of Orthodox services. No where does there exist so much text!”

    A wholehearted “amen” to this! I cannot explain in words how rich, how meaningful, how insightful, how touching I have found the hymnography to be. Glory be to God!

  9. Prayer as Communion with God « On Living Says:

    […] I came across a wonderful post by Father Stephen who reminded me that prayer is about communion with God. Often Christians talk about relationship […]

  10. café de soirée Says:

    The True Nature of Prayer…

    I hope that one day some of the wisdom Fr. Stephen posts on his blog will be turned into a book. To have a book on my shelf that says things like this would be great:

    I have often read about the ‘habit of prayer.’ The one problem with this des…

  11. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e26v4 Says:

    […] prayer a good habit … is not right. Is breathing a good […]

  12. Disciplines « Glass::Brian->blog; Says:

    […] I was reading about The Habit of Prayer on my favorite blog, Glory to God for All Things. While I don’t think this post contained […]

  13. chaqar Says:

    Fr. Stephen,
    I really appreciate what you said about the difference between prayer of the slave and prayer of the son. I can attest to this well. My relationship with my earthly parents is much like this. My mom was always loving with me, even when she had to punish me, while my dad could be a hard man to be around: getting angry over basically nothing, yelling, making me feel small, like a screw up, etc. Not a competely bad person, but certainly difficult to be around. Now, as a young adult, while I do love both of my parents, I talk to my mom almost daily while, at best, I talk to my dad once a week. The point is, when you have the loving, parent-child relationship, it naturally makes you more inclined to want to spend time with them. However, if we do not see God as our loving Father, it is not that He is not loving, but that we have a wrong perception of Him. I know this, because I can see how my relationship has colored how I see God, and therefore I treat God more like my dad than my mom, when it comes to both boldness and frequency. So I just want to encourage your readers to definitely take the time to read Scripture, and let the Truth soak in. To let Christ tell us who God is instead of the bad seeds in our lives. After all, as the Gospel reading for today says, “No one knows the Father except the Son, and the one who the Son chooses to reveal Him.” God bless!

  14. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Thurdsday Highlights Says:

    […] prayer a good habit … is not right. Is breathing a good […]

  15. Juliana Says:

    Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for this post. It really reminded me of something Mother Cassiana from the Holy Virigin Monastey in CO said once at a womens retreat I attended. She said, “It is silly to think of your prayer life as something separate from the other parts of your life. You certainly wouldn’t go around talking about your breathing life.”t was a funny but profound thought that touched me deeply, like your post.

  16. “And For Thy Whole World” « Glory to God for All Things Says:

    […] Glory to God for All Things Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith « The Habit of Prayer […]

  17. brittany marie Says:

    “Man makes a return to the Garden when he turns to God in prayer. The essence of all prayer is communion with God.”

    That is worded wonderfully! I love this because I just re-examined the beginning of Genesis and those verses about “walking with God” and “calling on the Lord” really stuck out to me. However, the whole idea of prayer being communion is still so new to me…I have spent so many years learning that prayer was bringing a list of desires and necessities before the Lord, that I feel like I have lost so much time.

    But this post is encouraging and informative, so thank you.

  18. fatherstephen Says:

    I still bring lists of needs, etc., indeed I feel it’s my daily duty as a priest to pray for each member of my parish. But the whole of it is an act of communion with God (Who alone knows our needs and necessities).

  19. Sophocles Says:

    Father bless,

    Hi Father.

    I recently completed “Orthodox Spirituality” by Father Dimitru Staniloae and was immensely joyed in the reading of it.

    I post on the books I read and I did so with this one.

    As I was wrting this post I remembered that you had a post here with the title “The Habit of Prayer” and even though I did not read this initially(I had surgery on Sunday and am in quite a bit of pain and let many things go for a bit) I knew from reading here what the intent of your post would be.

    When I remembered that you had this article posted here, I decided to incorporate your intent in my writning on the book by Father Dimitru(I also read the post–thank you as always dear Father for the time you take on this blog).

    Anyway, the link is:

    http://molonlabe70.blogspot.com/2008/07/books-ive-reador-am-reading-thirteen.html

    In Christ,

    Sophocles

  20. Michael Bauman Says:

    A thought just occured to me. As we pray, seeking communion with God, one of the first things likely to happen is that we will be made more aware of all the separates us from God, our sins. The use of the Jesus Prayer particularly can be quite relevatory. Is it not a good idea as part of any habit of prayer to have a confessor near by?

  21. fatherstephen Says:

    Certainly to be prepared to make confession regularly, yes.

  22. Intercession « Glory to God for All Things Says:

    […] have stated elsewhere that the purpose of all prayer is communion with God. If this is true, then what is being asked of […]

  23. Prayer « blackbeans Says:

    […] 29, 2009 by blackbean We’ve been preaching on abiding and prayer. I like this quote from Fr Stephen Freeman: Man makes a return to the Garden when he turns to God in prayer. The essence of all prayer is […]

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