What Is the Nature of Prayer?

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about prayer these days, trying to get a handle on what the nature of prayer is and the role it plays in our relationship with God.

Along the way, I’ve run into the following quotes, and I thought I’d share them since they’ve helped me some.

This one is from a church father called Theophan the Recluse:

What then is prayer? Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God in praise and thanksgiving to Him and in supplication for the good things that we need, both spiritual and physical.

The essence of prayer is therefore the spiritual lifting of the heart towards God. The mind in the heart stands consciously before the face of God, filled with due reverence, and begins to pour itself out before Him.

This is spiritual prayer, and all prayer should be of this nature.

In another place Theophan puts it this way:

The principal thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.

Finally, St. Mark the Ascetic says:

Prayer is called a virtue, but in reality it is the mother of the virtues: for it gives birth to them through union with Christ.

There are a couple of things in these quotes that stand out to me.

First, in them prayer is more than just talking to God. It is standing in the presence of God. Prayer is entering into close personal intimacy with the Almighty. Words are important, but they are often secondary. The most important thing is the heart in the presence of God.

Second, the point of prayer is union with God, or what we might otherwise call “communion.” The goal is oneness with our Lord. “That they may be one even as We are one.” As we pray, God changes and transforms us to be more like Jesus.

It’s not that I get my act together and feel holy and so I start to pray and talk with God. Rather, it’s just the opposite. I come as I am, feeling far from holy, start praying and being with God, and as I do so, God makes me more holy and loving and pure. Prayer literally changes me.

Finally, the closer we get to union with Christ, the fewer gaps there are in our times with God. Eventually, all the life becomes one ceaseless, continuous prayer. Literally, we pray without ceasing, as the Apostle Paul puts it.

That’s a bit of what I’ve picked up so far at least. I know it may be hard to pick up all of that from the quotes above. I’m sure something is left out from the larger context. All the same, it’s been really helpful for me.

I’ll likely share more from this as time goes by. And, naturally, if you have any good quotes or insights on prayer, I’d love to hear them.


3 responses to “What Is the Nature of Prayer?

  • Dalton

    I like this–especially the notion of prayer as changing you. I think of prayer as opening my heart to God and offering, honestly, what is within it. In that action–even if I am asking for things rather than peace!–I always find my heart drawn closer to God.

    • Lauren

      Dalton, that does seem to be the gist of these church fathers. If we stand with our hearts open before God, offering ourselves to Him, that is the essence of prayer. And that kind of prayer over time changes us to be more like God.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comments.

  • God Is Not Your Bitch

    […] pray to worship and to supplicate God. Prayer is a means of communicating with the divine and standing in His presence. And while we do pray for answers to our questions, prayer is not an appeal to change God’s […]

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