The business of prayer

The Business of Prayer
D. Sharon Pruitt, Flickr.

It’s easy to delay prayer as we brace for the daily grind, and easier still to forget about it as we wade through the tumult of the day. But what if we thought of prayer as our first and most important job?

In his book The Ladder of Divine Ascent, John Climacus refers to prayer as the work of angels. Christians are invited to join in this labor as part of our walk with Christ.

I think there’s merit to linking words like work and labor to the subject of prayer. The word liturgy in fact comes from a Greek word denoting a public-works project.

The fourth-century Spanish poet Prudentius underscored prayer’s occupational nature. In his cycle The Daily Round Prudentius discussed the morning hours as the prime time for prayer.

He pointed to those who jump in the morning to eagerly start their day. “This is the hour that profits all for carrying on their several businesses,” he wrote, “be it soldier or citizens, sailor, workman, husbandman or huckster.” What motivates them? “One is carried away by desire for fame in the courts, another by the grim war-trump; and here are the trader and the countryman sighing for their greedy gains.”

But not the Christian. The Christian, said Prudentius, starts the day eager in prayer and supplication. “This is the trafficking whereby we grow rich,” he said, “this the employment by which alone we live, these the duties we enter upon when the sun breaks forth at its rising again.”

There are several examples in the Scripture of men starting the day in prayer. David and Daniel come quickly to mind. The memory of the church relates similar examples, while its living practice encourages believers to pray the hours as Christians have from the start.

When discussing unceasing prayer, as Paul talked about, Hilary of Poitiers acknowledged that for those of us who work in the world, the primary way we accomplish this feat is by making our tasks align with our prayer — doing work that pleases God, doing it for his glory, doing it in a righteous manner, etc.

Gregory of Nyssa in fact said that’s how we hallow God’s name, as the Lord’s Prayer says. We make God’s name holy in our actions.

When we do that, our labors align with the prayer in our hearts — even if words are not fresh on our lips or minds. But for Hilary’s advice to mean anything, we have to cultivate prayer when we are not otherwise disposed.

Starting the morning with prayer is the way by which we ensure that it echoes in our hearts throughout the day. And that’s our primary vocation.

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