I’ve begun the new year reading a book on prayer (The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way; the Russian Spiritual Classic on Prayer, Hope Publishing House,1993). In the first chapter there are the following remarks (p.7):
Many people reason quite the wrong way round about prayer, thinking that good actions and all sorts of preliminary measures render us capable of prayer. But quite the reverse is the case, it is prayer which bears fruit in good works and all the virtues. Those who reason so, take, incorrectly, the fruits and the results of prayer for the means of attaining it, and this is to depreciate the power of prayer.
And it is quite contrary to Holy Scripture, for the Apostle Paul says, “I exhort therefore that first of all supplications be made” (I Tim 2.1). The first thing laid down in the Apostle’s words about prayer is that the work of prayer comes before everything else: “I exhort there that first of all . . . .” Christians are bound to perform many good works, but before all else what they ought to do is to pray, for without prayer no other good work whatsoever can be accomplished. Without prayer they cannot find the way to the Lord, they cannot understand the truth, they cannot crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts, their hearts cannot be enlightened with the light of Christ, they cannot be savingly united to God.”
Chapter 1 closes with the pilgrim learning to pray utilizing what is called the Jesus’ prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. (A slightly longer version is this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.)
As you and your family move into the new year, I encourage you to begin with prayer, in seeking the Lord. A devotional written by the Diocese of Saginaw encourages our catholic sisters and brothers and us in the role of prayer: “The home of a Christian is a holy place – a place with Christian symbols, and a place where prayers are said. The Church encourages the practice of lay people praying blessings – blessing food, children, their home. The bishops of the United States have published a book of ‘Catholic House Blessing,’ noting that if the Sunday assembly is to be a praying community, prayer has to happen in the ‘little churches’ – households and families.” (Jan 2, 2011)
Last Sunday we employed John Wesley’s Covenant Service for our morning worship. Within the service are many useful prayers; prayers that we can rightly reflect on for insight into following Jesus, and useful within our prayer life. Here is the covenant prayer:
O most holy God, we humbly beg You, accept the poor prodigals prostrating themselves at Your door. All of us were once, or are even now, far from You because of our sins. We are all by nature worthy of death, and we made ourselves a thousand times worse by our wicked practices. But out of Your infinite grace You have promised mercy to us in Christ, if we will only turn to You with all our heart. Therefore, since we have heard the call of the gospel, we now come, throw down our weapons, and submit ourselves to Your mercy.
And because You require, as the condition of our peace with You, that we should put away our idols, we here and now from the bottom of our hearts renounce them all. We firmly covenant with You not to allow ourselves to continue in any known sin. We will, instead, conscientiously use all the means that we know You have prescribed, for the death and utter destruction of everything that corrupts us. We humbly affirm before Your glorious Majesty that it is the firm resolution of our hearts to forsake all that is dear unto us in this world, rather than to turn from You to the ways of sin. We will guard ourselves against all temptations, whether from prosperity or poverty, pleasure or pain, so that they may never draw our hearts away from You.
And since You have, out of Your boundless mercy, offered graciously, to be our God through Christ, we call heaven and earth to record this day, that we do here solemnly acknowledge You as the Lord our God.
And now, speaking not only as one in this sacred assembly, but speaking for myself alone, I do take You, O Eternal God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be my God. Be my portion. I do give up myself, body and soul, to be Your servant, promising and vowing to serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life.
O blessed Jesus, I come to You hungry, wretched, miserable, blind, and naked, unworthy to wash the feet of the servants of my Lord, much less to be solemnly married to the King of Glory. But since such is Your unparalleled love, I do here with all my power accept You and take You for my Head and Husband, to love, honor, and obey You before all others, and this to death. I renounce my own worthiness and do here acknowledge You as the Lord my righteousness. I renounce my own wisdom and do here take You for my only Guide. I renounce my own will and take Your will for my law.
And since Your word has told me that I must suffer with You if I am to reign with You, I do here covenant with You to accept my lot, as it falls, with You and by Your grace to risk everything for You. It is my purpose that neither life nor death shall part You and me.
Now, Almighty God, Searcher of Hearts, You know that I make this covenant with You this day, without any known deception or reservation. I humbly beg You that if You see any flaw or falsehood in my resolve, reveal it to me and help me to put it right.