We Are Here to Pray
We are here to learn to pray. That is all. Just as an acorn needs rich soil to grow and thrive, the condition in which we may flourish is a state of constant prayer. Every breath should be a prayer. Every deed an act of adoration. We see this in the lives of the saints. We read about them reciting psalms through the night, making prostrations for hours at a time, or reciting the Jesus Prayer with every step. Then we look at our lives. We fall so short of it. What did the saints have that I do not? What do we need to pray more like the saints? We despair: “I do not have the time!” We feel the same way Philip did when Christ asked his disciples to feed the multitude.
“When [Jesus Christ] looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little’” (John 6:5-7).
Step back and look at the situation. It is ludicrous. Over 5,000 people had gathered around Jesus Christ. They are in the desert. There are no markets anywhere. By all earthly standards, it is a hopeless situation.
This is the same situation we find in our own life every day. We are busy. Every minute is packed with responsibilities and we are usually behind. You go to bed with the intent to get up and pray. The morning comes and you have slept in past your alarm. You cannot find your razor, your phone is full of texts needing immediate attention, you are late to work, and you tell yourself, you can pray tomorrow. If you are disciplined enough to bite the bullet and stand before an icon, your lips start moving but your head is pummeled by the thought of all the things to do.
You know the rest of the story. The day unfolds in the same manner. Always behind, always overwhelmed, always stuck in the race. If it is not busyness that steals our attention away from God, it is lethargy, indifference, or plain forgetfulness. Work, distractions, television, comfort, the world sucks in your soul like quicksand.
Philip answered for all of us, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little’” (John 6:5-7).
In other words, “My God, what you ask of me is too much!”
How important is prayer? St. Tikhon of Zadonsk wrote: “As a bird without wings, as a soldier without arms, so is a Christian without prayer.” The fathers say this about prayer. It is: “The greatest possible achievement of human beings on earth”; “The first and foremost duty in your life”; “A return of Adam to the beauty of his former spirituality.” It is a wonder that we do not make the pursuit of unceasing prayer the priority in our life. We Christians worry about where we should live, how we can pay the bills, what jobs we should pursue, which medications we will take. Does it all really matter, in light of the urgency that we learn to pray?
The crowd was hungry. They were exhausted and could not go on without nourishment. Our soul is exhausted, and desperately needs prayer. We are starved in the desert, stuck in the desert, and it all seems too much.
“Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ … Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. [Then] one of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish’” (John 6:5-7).
This is the moment. What St. Andrew says here is one of the most important declarations in the Gospels:
“[We do have] five barley loaves and two fish.”
Jesus Christ asked the disciples to leap over a chasm. Andrew responded, “I can’t jump far, but I’ll jump as best as I can.”
“I do not have much to give, but here is what I have.”
“Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets” (John 6:10-13).
What do you have that you can offer to God? It may not be much, but it is enough.
We have to start asking ourselves, what little more can I give?
Can you get up a little earlier to pray the Jesus Prayer?
Can you lock yourself in your closet for 5 minutes to find a little stillness?
Can you turn off the TV for ten minutes to read the bible?
Can you skip a meal to make prostrations?
We have as much time available to us as any saint did. We must merely choose to claim that time for God.
The crowd swarmed around the disciples with hungry bellies. It was all so overwhelming, an impossible situation. What Christ asked of them was staggering. Yet the story teaches us this, all we have to do is start with what we have. God will do the rest.
The Christian is given a colossal task no less daunting. We are called to become saints. Where do we begin? What do you have to offer? Start there, and trust the rest to God.