Going deeper into prayer
What would life look like if we were able to finally enter deeper and deeper into prayer? St Augustine said, “If you pray well, you will live well”. By living well, he means you will undoubtedly experience grace from heaven as well as the secret joy of the Holy Spirit, able to sustain you in all the sorrows of your life.
Implicit also from this quote, is that there exists two ways to pray: there is a proper “well” way to pray. And there is a way to not “pray well” and as a consequence, have no real prayer at all.
Here are 8 rules of prayer that will help you “pray well” and gradually master the mechanics of prayer…
1. Use the prayer book
The prayer book (in the case of Coptic readers, this is the agpia) is a very useful tool for two main reasons. Firstly, without it most of us would not pray at all. And secondly, it allows us to pray more effectively and powerfully.
This is because the words contained in it were written by saintly men who left in them the feelings of their heart at the time at which they composed the prayers. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, these holy men were able to store so to speak their holy feelings into words.
If the prayer book is then prayed with attention and feeling, we will acquire the same feelings that they had and so draw the Holy Spirit much more rapidly to us. It is the same thing if we sing songs. When we heartily sing the words of a song, we enter into the feelings and frame of mind of the composer and acquire their state.
2. Be reverent
This is key. When someone is confident before others and uses positive and effective body language, they much more win over the confidence and favour of others. In the same way, the amount of grace you receive from God in prayer is directly proportional to the amount of reverence you show.
Reverence absolutely entails to name a few things:
- The raising up of hands
- having a good straight body posture without leaning on one side as much as you can hold
- the slight tilting of the heard upwards
- the deliberate, moderate paced and conscious signing of the cross
- the closing of one’s eye in striving for intimacy with the spiritual words being uttered (this may be less appropriate if you pray before an icon)
3. Make prostrations
This follows in line with the previous point. Prostrations are highly important as they greatly foster a contrite heart within the soul, a spirit of repentance and feelings of sinfulness before Christ. They do this if they are done with reverence and at a moderate pace. In general, they boost the quality of prayer.
Typically it is ideal to do one prostration just before you begin prayer and one after you end prayer. You should also do at least a few throughout your prayer. When you do them, you must absolutely not worry or have any feelings of rejoicing over the amount you’ve done lest the devil puffs up. Rather focus all your attention on their quality.
The amount of grace you receive from God in prayer is directly proportional to the amount of reverence you show.
4. Limit your prayer time-wise
It is necessary to limit prayer this way and not quantity wise. That is, praying for x amount of mins, rather than x amount of prayers. For this I use my watch’s timer feature. Why do it this way?
Well it stems from our awful habit of speedily saying prayers, which greatly damages the quality of the prayer. By praying for x mins, we force ourselves to have a sufficient time window to diligently struggle to achieve high quality prayer mixed with feelings and attention.
Consequently, many saints teach that it is far better to repeat a few prayers with quality attention, than to pray many prayers inattentively. It is better to pray even one psalm for 5, 10, 15 mins or however long you need, than three psalms inattentively.
Discussion: What factor of prayer do you find really helps you to improve the quality of your praying?