To the Orthodox Christian, prayer is everything. It keeps our souls properly oriented toward God and His purpose for our life; it helps us to grow and thrive in His grace. But as we go through our day-to-day lives, we easily get sidetracked and busy ourselves with all the other things we must do: work, pay the bills, get the kids ready for school, tend the garden, etc. Amidst the chaos of our lives, we forget to pray. But how can we maintain a solid prayer life in such a busy, noisy world?
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Why do we pray?
Before we get into the meat of this post, allow us to address the why behind prayer. When we know why we do something, that often helps us stay the course and aim to reach whatever goal we set for ourselves. The same holds true with prayer.
Firstly, we pray because Our Lord asks us to. In Luke 11, He tells us how much more our heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. Moreover, in Luke 18, Our Lord tells us that we should always pray and not lose heart. So the most important reason we pray, then, is out of love for our God. For if we love Him, we will obey His commandments.
A few other reasons why we pray:
- To seek forgiveness for our sins
- To give thanks for blessings from God
- For our spiritual growth and progress toward theosis
- And many other circumstantial reasons…
Our life must become one of constant prayer, one in which we continually pursue communion with God. This is our main task, to draw nearer to Him. Saint Isaac of Syria says that it is impossible to draw near to God by any means other than unceasing prayer.
Tips for maintaining a solid prayer life
1. Set a regular time for prayer
While this might sound obvious, carving out the time to pray is important. If it helps, set a daily appointment in your phone. At our jobs, we always set appointments for our clients and for business meetings. We make sure we make it on-time for Tommy’s baseball practice and Susie’s piano recital. We should strive all the more to keep our “appointments” with God. He is more important than all of those things combined.
This means you will have to make conscious changes to your schedule to make time for your prayer life. At a minimum, set aside time every morning and every evening before bed. Pick a time you know you can keep. Strict discipline is important, otherwise “life will get in the way” and your prayer life will fall apart. We recommend speaking with your spiritual father; he can help you figure out how long you should pray and which prayers might be most helpful to you.
At first you will find it a struggle to maintain even the simplest prayer schedule, because demonic forces will try to keep you from regular prayer. But by the grace of God, there will come a time when you can’t wait for prayer to begin. Expect a struggle in the beginning to maintain a strict schedule. Think of all the other things in your life that you do routinely like getting to work or school on time, or brushing your teeth. Surely you can also make prayer a fixed routine!
2. Have a private place set aside
Another tip that may seem obvious is finding a quiet place to pray where no one can disturb you. We often call this place the icon corner or prayer corner. Every time you pray your prayer rule, you should go to this place. This will help establish the routine, as well as calm your body, mind, and soul.
We wrote a post explaining how to set up an icon corner in your home, so be sure to read that if you need help creating that sacred space.
3. Don’t try to wing it
In Orthodoxy, we sometimes call your prayer life a prayer rule, and for good reason. We need structure in our prayer life, as it is a discipline we will often not feel like doing. Because your prayer life is a path toward communion with God, you need to have a specific set of guidelines you follow in the morning and evening. Trying to wing it will lead to you making shortcuts and not absorbing the meaning of the words you’re saying.
Instead, use prayer books. So many Orthodox prayer books are available, with prayers that have been used for hundreds of years. Prayer does not have to be a creative activity. You must be sincere. Keep your awareness in your heart and concentrate on the words of the prayer. Once you establish a rule with your priest, always keep it. No exceptions.
4. Focus on what you’re saying
Our fourth tip to help you in your prayer life is to sincerely focus on what you are saying in each prayer. Learn to concentrate your attention. When your mind wanders, be gentle with yourself and go back and recite again what you said while your mind was elsewhere. Bring yourself to concentrate on the words of the prayer. Bring the meaning of the words down into your heart. Do not rush through the prayers like you are in a hurry to get them over with. Let them slowly drop into the depths of your heart with humility and awe of God.
Read More: How To Pray The Psalter At Home
Because of the fast pace of our lives, many of us might find it difficult to slow down in prayer. But if we are to maintain a prayer life that truly bring us into communion with God, we need to train our minds to slow down, so we can open our heart to God’s presence. Over time, and with help from your priest, you will eventually find the right pace for yourself.
Beware of the tendency to rush, especially with prayers you may repeat several times (i.e. the Jesus Prayer). Prayer ropes can help you pace yourself through your prayer and keep count of the number of repetitions you have said.
5. Go to other Orthodox services
Another important way to ensure that you can sustain your prayer life at home is to attend other services in the Church. Praying together with fellow Christians, receiving the Sacraments, and actively participating in the Life of the Church is essential if we hope to have a vibrant spiritual life. During the holy services, we have the unique opportunity to experience the Kingdom of Heaven while still on earth. That experience is invaluable in our journey toward theosis and communion with God.
6. Practice silence
One final tip for maintaining a strong prayer life is to practice silence. This means actively taking time during your day, especially at the end of your prayers, to simply engage in complete silence. In our modern lives, silence is a somewhat unwelcome, uncomfortable phenomenon. Television, radio, media, 24-hour news channels, cell-phones, pagers, wireless internet; all of these modern contrivances ensure that we never have to face silence. However, silence helps us build a disciplined mind. Not only that, but it also gives us time to hear God speak to us in the ordinary day-to-day activities of our lives.
Turn off the background music. Opt for reading a book instead of watching television. And include silence as a part of your prayer rule. Learn to appreciate this time with our Lord and actively listen to Him.
A prayer rule example
A prayer rule is the outline of your daily prayer routine. In your prayer rule, you should first specify the place and time of prayer. Then you should outline the sequence of your prayers and the specific prayers you will say. We highly recommend speaking with your spiritual father to help make your prayer rule. Below is an example:
Morning and Evening Prayer
- Place: Icon corner
- Time: 6:30 am and 11:00 pm, 20 minutes each time
- Begin by lighting a candle, and making three prostrations and then stand quietly to collect yourself in your heart
- Trisagion Prayers
- One of six Morning or Evening Psalms
- Intercessions for the living and the dead
- Psalm 51 and confession of our sinfulness
- Doxology and the morning or evening prayer
- Personal dialogue with God
- Jesus prayer – repeat 100 times
- Reflect quietly on the tasks of the day and prepare yourself for the difficulties you might face asking God to help you
- Dismissal prayer
- Stop mid morning, noon and mid-afternoon to say a simple prayer.
- Repeat the Jesus Prayer in your mind whenever you can throughout the day.
- Offer a prayer before and after each meal thanking God and asking for His blessing.
In summary, a daily rule of prayer is essential for the health of our souls. Prayer helps to keep us oriented toward the Kingdom of Heaven and helps us draw closer to God. To help sustain your prayer life in such a chaotic environment, we recommended a few tips. Remember to set a time for prayer each morning and evening and to have a sacred space dedicated solely to prayer. Use structured prayers from Orthodox prayer books instead of trying to wing it. Moreover, focus on the words you are saying and take the time to really mean what you say. Try to participate in as many other Orthodox church services as you schedule allows. And lastly, practice silence and learn to appreciate the quiet moments when you can be alone with God.
Prayer is the bedrock of our spiritual life. It is the living water, by means of which the soul quenches its thirst. Do you have any other tips for Orthodox Christians struggling to maintain a strong prayer life? Please share them with us in the comments below!
Read More: Turning Prayer Into Action