A friend relates the story that when as a young, protestant teenager, she approached her pastor to ask about a prayer life, she was met with little or no answer. She had an instinct that there was more to prayer than she knew – but she was living in a tradition that knew little about prayer.
It is a lack that is born of a truncated notion of salvation. Salvation itself, in her early tradition (the same as I grew up in) was confined to the mental assent to Christ as Savior. Once an individual had said, “Yes,” to God, the rest of life was spent in helping others say, “Yes,” as well. The weakness of this presentation of salvation is that our relationship with God is severely reduced. Missing is the sense of communion that is our true life with God.
The purpose of prayer is nothing other than communion of God and man. Salvation itself is the restoration of this communion. The Christian life is to be a continual growth in communion with God. Thus our life of prayer is not an occasional intercession thrown out at the universe on behalf of some matter about which we have concern – but is rather a continual relationship in which we give ourselves to God and receive God again to ourselves.
Though such a relationship is clearly taught by Scripture and by Christian tradition – it is frequently not known or taught in some Christian circles. It is an absence that empties the Christian life of its true content. Substituting Bible Study for communion with God is not a proper solution. All too often, the Christian life is offered an American form of spiritual “busyness” rather than the traditions of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and penance. These are the traditional practices that have been given to us for the formation of our life in Christ. The study of Scripture is a good thing if its result is its application in our lives. Anything less would be a distraction. The same could be said about other forms of spiritual reading. From the Desert Fathers comes this short reminder on the life of prayer:
Abba Agathon said, “I consider no other labor as difficult as prayer. When we are ready to pray, our spiritual enemies interfere. They understand it is only by making it difficult for us to pray that they can harm us. Other things will meet with success if we keep at it, but laboring at prayer is a war that will continue until we die.”