One of the most recommended books to me after I returned to Christ is The Way Of The Pilgrim, written by an anonymous Russian peasant in the 19th century. It focuses almost entirely on prayer, particularly the Jesus Prayer.
The importance of prayer
The Apostle’s directive indicates that the act of prayer comes first; it comes before everything else. The Christian is expected to perform many good works, but the act of prayer is fundamental because without prayer it is not possible to do good. Without frequent prayer it is not possible to find one’s way to God, to understand truth, and to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only fidelity to prayer will lead a person to enlightenment and union with Christ.
When it comes to persecution, almost everything can be taken away from you. You can lose your job, your home, your family, your church, and even your Bible, but they can never take away your prayer. No matter what dungeon they throw you in, or what form of torture they subject you to, you will always have the ability to pray. This tells me that it should be the most important component of my faith.
His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is not fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol.
Along the same vein, I aim to start every day by reading the Bible for at least fifteen minutes. I let the words of the Bible remain in my mind as I face temptations and difficulties throughout the day. Another option when acute temptation arrives is to recite the Jesus Prayer.
What unexpected happenings one encounters on the path of life! And always God in his divine providence is in charge of our destiny and our actions, as it is written: ‘It is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you’ (Phil. 2:13)
It’s easy to get hung up on knowing whether or not you’re serving God’s will. He doesn’t exactly give us a daily itinerary to follow, so we must make decisions on our own. However, as long as you follow His commandments, turn away from sin, and commit to prayer, you will be steered by grace into a life that does follow His will. I focus on the day-to-day struggles and let God work out the rest.
Ask God for faith
The first condition necessary for salvation is true faith. Holy Scripture says, “Now it is impossible to please God without faith” (Heb. 11:6). He who has no faith will be judged. But it is clear from Holy Scripture that man of himself cannot give birth to faith even as small as the mustard seed; faith does not originate in us but is the gift of God; and as a spiritual gift it is given by the Holy Spirit.
What must one do then? How does man reconcile his need of faith with the impossibility of acquiring it by himself? Again Holy Scripture points to the means and also gives us examples: “Ask and you will receive.” The Apostles could not of themselves bring their faith to perfection, and so they prayed to Jesus Christ, “Lord, increase our faith.” This is an example of obtaining faith, and from this we can see that faith is attained through prayer.
For some men, like Saint Paul, the gift of faith was given unexpectantly and without asking. For others, it must be persistently asked for over a long period. I suspect that for most people, the more humility you have, the sooner you will be given faith.
Pray even when it is difficult
Mark the Hermit says, “To make an effort to pray is in our power, but to pray purely is a gift of grace.” And so offer to God what is in your power. Begin by bringing to God a sacrifice of constancy in prayer, and God’s almighty power will swallow your weakness; your dry and distracted but frequent prayer will become a habit and second nature; your prayer will be made pure, fervent, and powerful.”
I don’t think I’ve ever prayed without worldly distractions entering my mind. I do my best to block them but they inevitably return. I see this as an annoyance that results from having grown up in a technological world with a multitude of entertainment options. Many times I have to hunker down and barrel through my prayer routine.
It’s not wrong to desire a reward from God
It is true that to wish a reward is not the most perfect intention for doing good, but it is not against God’s will, for He Himself promises us a reward if we keep the commandments and attain perfection.
Many atheists claim that the Christian intention is impure, since we are not acting for morality’s sake but to receive a reward, but where do they think morality comes from? As a Christian, I act in love to please and honor my Creator, and if he deems me worthy of a reward, He may give it. The atheist claims they act on pure intentions, but it’s clear they are even more eager for rewards, not from God but from the world. Even an atheist who often donates to charity does it to “feel good” and signal to others that they are charitable, not solely because—as they believe—they are a “good” person, since all good comes from God.
God may use anyone to speak the truth to you
The Fathers say that if with faith and the right attitude you ask even a Saracen, you can gain valuable insights; but without faith and the right intention, even if you ask a prophet for direction, you will not be satisfied.
It’s not always the case that I can learn only from a Christian. God uses all people to deliver the Logos. I’m a prime example—even when I was a fornicator, God did allow me to see and deliver some truth. While I don’t seek out the guidance of non-Christians, I do use discernment to evaluate if what they have to say has value or not.
Overall, I enjoyed this book for its commentary on prayer. For large sections it described “prayer of the heart,” of which I am not spiritually advanced enough to understand. Nonetheless, if you are trying to strengthen your prayer rule, this book will help.