by V. Rev. Fr. Michael Baroudy
I want to discuss in this article the place of prayer in the life of man. From the very dawn of history, man has felt the need and the necessity to pray, to lift up his heart to a Power that he knows is present everywhere, a Power that he feels he cannot do without. Jesus our Lord not only taught his disciples how to pray, but he also urged them to pray constantly, fervently. He spent whole nights in communion with God, prayed before wrestling with any problem. Even hundreds and thousands of years before the coming of Christ, and since, people have always felt the need to a kind, Divine Providence whom men found to be a “present help in time of need.”
Without in the least trying to be personal, I take it for granted that most of you pray, if not all of you, for to shirk the privilege of talking to God would be like doing without food or water or without taking a breath. We only learn how to pray by praying. And as we cultivate the good and necessary habit of praying constantly, daily, we feel closer to God. We uncover our hearts before Him, and He reveals Himself to us, and so God becomes our trusted friend, Comforter and Advisor.
The Book of Psalms contains one hundred and fifty Psalms or prayers, voiced under all kinds of circumstances. From these prayers we gather wisdom as we observe how these men reacted under trials and in time of triumph, how they sought and found God, and what their conclusions were after the difficulties had passed.
In the one hundred and forty-second Psalm, we have a prayer voiced by David when he was faced with great difficulty. King Saul, the reigning monarch, was hot on his heels to destroy his life for no other reason than that of jealousy. Thousands of soldiers were sent by the King to look for David and bring him back dead or alive. David, with some of his friends, hid themselves in a rocky cave for fear of the enemies. So his rocky cave became David’s place of refuge.
When you read the one hundred forty-second Psalm containing the prayer of David and keep in mind David’s difficulty, then you are in a better position to understand its great importance. In studying this prayer and committing it to memory, I became better acquainted with David’s predicament. I have tried to enter into his feelings by putting myself in his place, imagining that were I to be a fugitive from some ruler who wanted my life and was forced to live in a cave, what manner of prayer would I pray?
The first two verses of this prayer contain David’s heartfelt appeal to God, earnestly and fervently praying for Divine help. “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, with my voice, unto the Lord did I make my supplication.” David here petitioned God to look into his case, for a King was on his trail, a tyrant from whose decision there could be no appeal. But David knew that, essentially, God alone was the only monarch, the supreme ruler of all men and to whose will all people and their rulers must bow their necks. David was also conscious of the fact that his cause was righteous and that God would be on his side. And this intensified his sense of need to the One and only who would come to his rescue and so we hear him further praying, “I poured out my complaint before Him; I showed before Him my trouble.”
No one who has ever lived was immuned from trouble. It seems that trouble is part and parcel of man’s life, a necessity in order to keep us in check, a life’s stabilizer and seasoner. Trouble either makes or breaks a person, depending on his attitude toward it. Over-sensitivity and self-pity are some of the ways by which some people view their troubles and therefore, they break mentally. They go under without putting up a fight. Others view their troubles with the eye of faith, and so with fortitude, valor and determination, they seek and find God’s assistance. Linked with God they become invincible. So they cried unto the Lord and poured out their complaint before Him and waited for the results. In other words, they committed their ways to the Almighty.
Man’s extremity has always been God’s opportunity in the sense that were we to have smooth sailing, were life to be a bed of roses, we would become complacent, satisfied, feeling no sense of need to anyone, not even God. But how the whole matter changes when life confronts us with some difficulty of a major proportion, especially when we know that no man living could give us the assistance we need. When, as David discovered, that human agencies had failed him, what did he do, “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no one that would know me, refuge failed me, no man cared for my soul.”
But if human agencies fail one in time of actual need, when no one would care, when one finds that all his resources are inadequate to conquer the difficulty, should one give up and say, “What is the use! David supplies the answer as he further prays, “I called unto thee, O Lord, I said, thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. Attend unto my cry, for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors, for they are stronger than I.”
A prayer that breathes such sublime insight, based on the solid knowledge of recognizing God as one’s refuge, portion and deliverer, deserves our undivided attention. Probably most of our prayers are ineffectual and go unanswered because we don’t actually look upon God as a refuge, that is, a place of rest and security, a hiding place. Neither do we consider Him as our portion, one who possesses us, and without whom life is so incomplete and inadequate, a deliverer who is able to pluck us out of any difficulty by infusing us with a power that makes man equal to any condition in life.
It is beyond my comprehension why people don’t take time out to pray, when they take time out to do everything else. Can you explain to me why people would sit for three solid hours at a ball game and won’t come to a worship service which lasts exactly one hour? Would you not consider that as lack of vision, of faith, lack of something vital? Not that there is any harm in seeing a baseball game, but the harm comes from a warped vision in believing that a baseball game is more important than a worship service. Worship, which is another name for prayer, will supply man with that which answers his deepest needs — peace, poise and power, all of which are missing from the lives of most individuals. Do you find peace pervading the lives of individuals or do you find trouble? There cannot be any peace or a semblance of it, and the chances are there will not be, unless people get down to feeling the necessity of seeking Divine guidance in these troublesome times. When we discard God from our memories, we lose not only our place, but also our poise —that stabilizing, balancing something which makes us calm, collected and kind. Neither would we have any power to live victoriously because when you or I take our liberty from God, He leaves us to our own devices.
In one of his great declarations on prayer, Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” In this wonderful promise, Jesus was talking about united prayer. The pronouns “ye” and “you” are plural. He had promised that where two or three of His disciples were gathered in His name, He would be with them. His resurrection and ascension made Him ever-available to those who live in Him.
The Church was intended to be a spiritual power center, using prayer to bring things to pass. And there is a church wherever two or three true Christians are met to pray in His name.
Fewer of us would “ask amiss” when we pray, and more of us would have a profound belief in prayer, if we understood the conditions. How simple they are, and how easy it is to believe that when we live close to Christ and keep His words in our hearts, our prayers will be answered. To really pray together means to be united in heart and mind with one another and with Him. We cannot do that by “tuning in” casually. We must live in Him.
Prayer is one of the most powerful forces in the universe today, but it is subject to universal law and to God’s law of Prayer; and the power of prayer must be brought into combination and cooperation with other laws and powers. We must do our part; we must work as though everything depended on God.
If we have problems concerning some specific areas of prayer, let us not pass up the large realms in which there are no problems; we can lift prayers of thanksgiving to God; we can come in a sense of communion with God; we can bring Him our adoration; we can receive spiritual blessings, which are much more important than some of the material questions that perplex us. As we use these avenues of prayer our faith will deepen and expand, and we will be able to place our hand in the hands of God and go forward into other areas which now seem to hold problems for us. God is waiting for us to come to Him and it is sheer tragedy to delay.
“... Almighty God, thou maker of the land and sea, the hills and valleys, the trees and flowers, help us to find thee in thy world, as well as in thy Word, and to hear thee speaking in all about us. Make our thoughts as pure as thy crystal springs: make our hearts as radiant as thy sunshine: cultivate our lives till they be as fruitful as thy orchards. Help us through summer days of pleasure and new scenes never to forget thee, the giver of all good and the Savior of our souls. Take us safely along the journey of life to a new understanding of thy redeeming love, a new fellowship with thy Son, a new dedication to thy service,, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen...”
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America