One of the reasons you struggle with prayer is that you have no one to guide you out of their authentic experience of prayer. What you have are plenty of people who write, preach, and talk about prayer – and now even make movies about it. But what’s missing is someone you know who prays who can teach you to pray. And if you find someone, they often mislead you about prayer. Prayer has been made out to be something divorced from how it’s presented in scripture and modeled in the lives of saintly men and women throughout history. No wonder you’re struggling. And, to make matters worse, there is church. “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” Jesus said. But, what you experience in church has little to do with prayer. Song and Sermon. Prayer is given a nod. However, it’s not the primary means of worship.
You probably can’t do much about church. But, you can do something about your own prayer life. You can learn from Jesus, the brilliant Master of prayer.
In today’s post, I want to continue to explore Jesus’ exchange with his disciples over the request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Today’s observation…
Prayer is best learned from a person who communes with God in prayer.
The disciples must have seen Jesus pray on many occasions. Or, at least they saw him go off by himself to pray. They must have known of his ability and commitment to fellowship with the Father in prayer. He left the crowds for times of solitude. He awoke early to be with His Father. On occasion, He’d spend all night in prayer. So, who better to ask about prayer?
Fr. Seraphim Aldea, an Orthodox monk of Irish decent, who himself has devoted his life to prayer, teaches us this:
Prayer is something one can learn only directly from someone who already knows prayer. As a child you learn by imitation. You learn by copying someone who prays. First, find that someone who has prayer. Then, you need to learn by joining in his or her life and imitating their gestures of prayer. In time, these outward and empty gestures will be filled with content and you’ll start praying with your own prayer. A teacher, and obedience to that teacher, are indispensable for one who wants to truly pray.
Learning from a Praying Person
Do you have a person in your life who can teach you to pray out of their own communion with God in prayer? This sounds impossible, doesn’t it. “Excuse me, Mac, can I hang out with you for a couple days so I can see how you pray? Then, would you teach me how to do what you do?” Let’s be honest. That’s probably not going to happen. But, you can try.
And if you do, don’t settle for someone who regurgitates what he or she has read in a book or learned at a seminar. Get close to a person who prays and learn. If you don’t have someone like that in your life (they are rare), then learn from Jesus.
Learning from Praying Writers
Another resource from whom to learn prayer, are the lives of prayer athletes of the past – men and women who lived in prayer. Prayer of the Heart by George Maloney introduces you to many of these prayer masters. The Art of Prayer , Igumen Chariton, compiles some writings of ancient Greek and Russian prayer masters. The Lives of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward, takes you to the fourth century to discover men who devoted their lives to struggling with God in solitude and prayer. These writings are not for the faint of heart. But, I want to recommend substantial writings by those who actually pray and then write out of their decades-long experience of prayer. These books have also helped shape my prayer life when I could find no one else to guide me.
From whom are you learning to pray? If there is no one “qualified” then begin by praying for someone. You could also become that person by learning from practitioners of prayer. At least, begin by learning from Jesus. More on that in my next post.
How will you begin to learn prayer from a person? Share below.