How to Develop a Prayer Rule: Your Most Difficult Time

“… the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12

As I shared last week, most of us are most alert and attentive in the morning or the evening. Which ever is your best time of the day should be the anchor and base of your prayer rule. Early birds may even consider waking up a few extra minutes to pray a favorite Psalm. Night owls can sacrifice some TV time for scripture reading. Which ever category you fall under, make good use of it in prayer.

Matins (Morning Prayers) with (left to right) Fr. Maximos (Patriarchate of Alexandria), Metropolitan Joseph and Bishop Thomas (Antiochian Archdiocese of North America)

But, what about that opposite time of the day when your attention span is the size of a gnat? I love and do well in the mornings. But after dinner, I’m not worth two cents. During the residency program at the Antiochian House of Studies, our Matins and Vespers Prayers were about the same length in time. I have not been good at keeping such a balance at home.

St. John Chrysostom taught that those who sincerely seek Christ will push themselves to be in His presence.* The Church has many saints who are known for superhuman fasting and all night prayer vigils. What may be best for us is to find something brief that we can put our minds and hearts toward consistently. There are plenty of Psalms that are used in morning prayers. Pick one or two and be on your way. There are many verses of scripture that are read at bedtime. Again, read what you can embrace for the moment before your head hits the pillow.

Approaching Storm Port Isobel Island

Small but consistent efforts pay off great dividends. Among the Desert Fathers, Abba John the Dwarf obeyed his spiritual father and watered a stick for 3 years. The stick became a tree bearing the edible fruit of obedience.** Another monk confessed to his superior that his prayers may have been wasted with ulterior thoughts. The elder told him it is better to plant a poor crop than none at all.

Along with alertness and attention, keeping a prayer rule should consist of effort. Even a small, sincere effort can produce spiritual good and bring us to God’s presence. As taught by the late Fr. Thomas Hopko, pray as you can. When God sees this, He will bless you.

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*See Orthodox Study Bible note on Matthew 11:12

** Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pgs. 85, 86

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