1 Timothy 2:1-2
(1 Tim 2:1-2 NKJV) Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
St. Paul is now moving into some more specific instructions for our reader, St. Timothy. Not only in what he is to be doing and involved with, but what he is in turn to teach others. This is one of the qualities of the instructions of a spiritual father like St. Paul. He is in the process of discipling by word and action. In turn, as St. Timothy picks up on these things in his life, he is able to disciple others as well.
Note first that St. Paul instructs him, and therefore us as well, to pray. He list four specific categories here: supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving. "Supplications" are those things we have on our own hearts, of which we ask Gods intervention in our life. "Prayers" are more specifically the communion with God through worship and praise. "Intercessions" are our prayers for the needs of others and that Gods mercy would be upon them. "Thanksgiving" revolves around our attitude towards God for whatever the results and answers may be to our prayers. These are given for all men, indicating that this is not just a time to think of ones self, but the whole of mankind of which we are all participators in.
St. John Chrysostom warns us about our "supplications" for ourselves. This is perhaps the hardest one for us to deal with because it involves our own will and desires, and can easily turn into a "shopping list". St. John says in his 6th homily on 1 Timothy:
For this reason God has given us a definite form of prayer, that we might ask for nothing human, nothing worldly. And you that are faithful know what you ought to pray for, how the whole Prayer is common.
Left to our own, our prayers can easily turn into spending 90% of our prayer time concerning our own problems. This in turn results in a prayer life that is regulated by how many problems we are having so that our prayer life increases when things go bad and becomes minimal when things are going good. One way to tell if you are spending too much time on yourself is if this happens in your prayer life, or whether it remains fairly constant despite the problems or lack of problems we are having.
This is why St. John tells us the "common" prayers are given to us, so that our prayer life will become balanced and we will spend more time focusing on God and the needs of others than we do on ourselves. Just open up most Orthodox prayer books, and go through a normal prayer rule. See how much is to praise God? See how much deal with others? Dont forget, that a giving of yourself to another is a form of worship to God. You will find elements of all four areas usually covered, but the predominate focus will be worship of God rather than our needs. A set rule of prayer helps us to keep our prayers focused in that manner and not allow them to become simply dive-through windows of Gods grace for our problems.
Second, you will note that St. Paul gives specific instruction on whom to make intercessions for. Of all people, he ask us to pray for those in authority over us first and foremost, from "king" or in our case the president, on down to mom and dad. Notice the "hesychistic" reason behind this: in order that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life. St. Paul knew the potential for political problems and unrest to distract the Christian from his inner prayer life. Most recently for the Serbian people, Im sure they have found it difficult to stay at prayer when bombs are falling around them. Social problems can invade our focus on God. Since as St. Paul tells us elsewhere, God has placed these authorities over us, we should follow and obey them as long as they do not conflict with the demands of our faith in God. Thus we pray for the well being of the whole social order that allows us to lead a life of godliness and reverence in prayer and communion with God.
This also tells us something about distractions to prayer in general. It was for the above reason that the monks would separate themselves from the world and its distractions from God. It is a heavy task for those of us living in the world to not allow distractions to keep us from communion with God. There is so much from the radio, TV, video games, computer/internet involvement, hobbies, political causes, which can lead us away from prayer and God. None of these are necessarily bad in and of themselves. Yet, as one progresses in their spiritual life, there comes a point when there is a greater inner desire to commune with God than these other things. When these other things are foisted upon us, thought they be good of themselves, are seen as a distraction and negative in relation to the joy of communion with God. Thus, for us stuck in the world, we are constantly learning how to simply be in, but not of the world.
This is where the Jesus prayer comes into play (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner). It is a prayer by which we can turn our hearts towards God even in the midst of distractions. Once we have this prayer moving in our hearts, making a constant prayer of praise and repentance in our spirit, we will not want to leave that place of communion with God. When we are required to by circumstances, we will still be focused on God even if our mind is thinking of other things, and we will quickly return to God mentally once we are done. Sin and its temptation even has less power against us once this weapon of prayer is established in our hearts.
Therein is the whole purpose and reason for our prayer. We pray to communion with God, to further our union with Him. We do that by not thinking we can handle things on our own (supplication) but turn to Him, by offering praise and worship to Him (prayers), by treating others needs as more important than our own (intercessions) and giving thanks to God for all and in all things (thanksgiving).
But the most important thing to do is to pray, not just read and talk about it. If we only do the later, we will be like the servant who hid his talent in the ground. The more one prays, the more value in prayer and greater need one will find to pray. Pray then, in such a way that it is unto all men and to bring us to repentance to God.
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