As a servant, I was walking with my Sunday school kids to our classroom where we have the meeting and as we were settling in I asked who wanted to lead prayer so we could start on time. Not a single hand was raised. I always wondered why until I took a look at my own past experience with prayer in Sunday school and sadly realized that when I was in their shoes, we would just speed read the Agpeya (Prayer Book of Hours) without really comprehending what we were saying. I had a love hate relationship with prayer because I was never taught the basics and was never able to truly master it. But prayer goes beyond just the Agpeya and deeper than just words. So let’s go back to basics together.
As we get older, we also need to grow spiritually. Our prayer in Kindergarten is not the same as our prayer now. In what ways? To start, us talking to the Lord is a sincere relationship rather than a way to benefit. A genuine relationship is what we need to be seeking and there is not a certain path we need to take to achieve this, but rather keep in mind these few points. Growing up, we were slowly introduced to the Agpeya where we recited the psalms, Gospel and litanies. This by no means is the only way we can pray. But beware that prayer is not a repetition of an empty ritual. I personally see it as a starting point for our mind and heart to blossom and achieve a deeper understanding of how we should be feeling and the yearning of the genuine relationship with the Lord. Prayer is not a recitation of things we memorized but rather this can be seen as a starting point to go off of.
The Lord is also not seeking complexity but rather simplicity. We don’t need to be as poetic as you might think. In the beginning of each hour in the Agpeya, we always pray Psalm 50 and recite, “The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit. A broken and humbled heart God shall not despise.” The answer is given to you, God will never turn away a humbled heart that is genuine in prayer. It’s not about quantity or quality of prayer but rather the state of our heart. Repentance is key and tears are even more powerful than words. His Holiness Pope Shenouda dedicated a whole book regarding a question he received about tears in spiritual life. His Holiness defined tears in prayer as “the result of love, feeling and the depth of prayer that originates from the heart, with feelings of longing and compassion towards God, or depth in requesting.” And this is what I meant, that prayer is deeper than just words.
Does praying in the car on the way to class count? Of course. You can pray effectively anytime and anywhere as much as the heart desires. But this has to be in conjunction with your prayer in your prayer place that you set in your room for the one on one relationship with the Lord. All throughout the Old Testament, people were building altars because those altars were a standing testimony of the connection between God and man. Father Lazarus St. Anthony emphasized the importance of the prayer place in connection with a genuine heart that the Lord desires. Setting a prayer place is setting a place in your home for the Lord and this helps with setting a place in your heart for the Lord.
Lastly, beware that prayer is non-negotiable. And on your to-do list, prayer shouldn’t be the last task or the task that you might not get to because you have so much to do. But rather hold prayer on a higher level and see it as a necessity like brushing your teeth or eating. You cannot live without prayer because prayer is one of the ways we can have that personal genuine relationship with the Lord. The Lord is loving and compassionate. Giving Him your heart is the key to an effective relationship growing deeper with prayer.