Growing Deeper in Prayer

By Nikol Baldacchino

The importance of prayer

Prayer is the breathing of the soul. It is our spiritual umbilical cord channeling God's nourishment and oxygen to us. This is how St. John Chrysostom, a Church Father of the 5th century describes prayer:

"A fish taken out of water cannot live. In a very short time, it dies. Neither can the soul of man exist without prayer: It gradually will grow indifferent, it will die. Let us be convinced that not to pray and to lose the life of the soul - that is, the Grace of God - is one and the same thing".

And St. Teresa of Avila had this to say about prayer and the consequences of indifference toward it: "Souls that have no habit of prayer are like a lame and paralytic body, which, though it has hands and feet, cannot use them. Therefore: to abandon prayer seems to me the same thing as to lose the straight road; for as prayer is the gate through which all the graces of God come to us, when this is closed, I don't know how we can have any".

If prayer is this essential to the Christian life, then it is of the utmost importance in the lives of all who service in leadership. Jesus promised that if we are united with Him we will bear fruit. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Many centuries before, God warned us that "not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty" (Zechariah 46).

The reason why many times we accomplish so little is that we do not walk with God. The power of our ministry comes from our spirituality, which, in turn, grows out of personal intimacy with Christ. Prayer is the very lifeblood of our service to others. Thus, in nothing should be the leader ahead of his followers more than in the practice of prayer.

How can we continue to grow in prayer, so that we will grow in the likeness of Jesus (holiness) and in our service to others (mission)? The Holy Scriptures themselves portray a way for growth: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18). Personally, the admonitions I this verse have helped me to grow in prayer.

Prayer in the Spirit

How does prayer in the Spirit take place? Roman 8:26,27 explains to us "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will".

The Holy Spirit tells us what we ought to pray for and how to pray and how to enter into a deeper and meaningful relationship with the Three Persons of the Trinity. Our own reason and intuition limit our prayers. With the Holy Spirit's help they become inspired by Heaven. Moreover, we are His temples. He dwells in us and thus we can pray in His power and His energy.

Through the Charismatic Renewal, God is restoring to us, members of His Body, the gift of tongues. Essentially, this is a gift of prayer. Our prayer life has been blessed by it. Let us use it more and more and thus give space to the Holy Spirit. Through this gift, He can pray more and more through us and with us.

Continual prayer

This was what characterized the practice of the first Christians. "They al joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:14). Jesus commanded to pray always. He himself was constantly in prayer. Paul told the Thessalonians to "pray continually" (1 Thess. 5:17).

Prayer is not a part-time job for any Christian. There are not two classes of Christian, the full-time contemplatives and the part-timers. Yet we have to ask the question, "Is continual prayer possible?" And the answer is: "Yes and No!" It is of course impossible to carry a continual conversation with God at all times. But you can continually live in His Holy Presence; to be "pregnant" with Him. To live in His presence is not a duty but a birthright. For people who are growing in prayer and holiness this is as natural as breathing the air.

The medieval monk Brother Laurence talked about his experience of continual prayer in the classic book, The practice of the presence of God. "The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer;" He states, " and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several people are at the same calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees."

Continual prayer is not just an ideal that cannot be reached, but it is possible. We all can experience a perpetual inner dialogue with God.

Varied prayer

If we pray continually, the various situations we encounter ask for a variety of prayers. Think of the different circumstances we have to face in our daily lives, in our leadership positions, in our service to other - prayer to resist temptation, prayer for wisdom, prayer for spiritual power, spiritual warfare, thanksgiving and praise, prayer for protection, growth, conviction, interceding for difficult situations, etc.

Persistent Prayer

The encouragement of persistent prayer was a frequent theme in Jesus' teaching on prayer. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). In Gethsemane Jesus challenged his disciples to "watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptations" (Mark 14:38).

Are we praying with persistence for our families, the Church, groups, ministries and services? Are there difficult people, challenging situations or causes, which we ought to be persistently praying for? Let us grow in our perseverance. The Lord answers persistent prayer.

Intercessory prayer

"The saints" which are the believers of Jesus are to have a large place in our prayers. Several times Paul encourages the churches to "pray also for me". Paul knew the advantages of prayer. Intercessory prayer brings grace to our lives; it produces protection; it results in growth. Prayer for our groups and communities opens the door for more signs and wonders. It begets unity where there is division; it brings life where there is apathy, lukewarm attitude and indifference.

Finally, if we want to continue to grow in prayer, by praying in the Spirit by continual prayer- "on all occasions"; by varied prayers - "all kinds of prayers and request" and in intercessory - "for all the saints", let us be challenged, motivated and never lose heart.

"When I go to prayer", confessed an eminent Christian, "I find my heart so indisposed to go to God, and when it is with Him, so reluctant to stay". It is just at this point that we have to discipline ourselves. "When you feel most indisposed to pray, do not yield to it, " he counseled, "but strive and endeavor to pray, even when you think that you cannot pray." There is no way to learn and grow in prayer, except by praying!

Questions for reflection

(this article was taken from the ICCRS Leadership Formation Supplement May June 1999 with permission)