Praying From The Heart

As Christians, we are all called to pray and we are drawn by the deep yearning for God engrained in our hearts. What is the proper way to pray? In the Gospels, Jesus provides us with many important lessons on how to pray.

In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches us to have the proper disposition when we pray. We are not to pray for outward appearance, but inwardly from the heart. Those who pray for the sake of exercising their religious custom in a public assembly have received their reward. To pray inwardly from the heart is to open our innermost being to the Lord, in secret, in the sanctified interior space which the Spirit prepares within us. If we pray in this way, Jesus assures us that "your Father who sees in secret will repay you." (Matthew 5.6)

In the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, Jesus teaches us the importance of humility in prayer - to know our place before God in the light of His truth. The one who prays from the disposition of pride will not be heard; but the Lord will hear the one who, with a humble heart, prays the words of the tax collector: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18.13) St Teresa of Jesus underscored the importance of this teaching when she wrote: "Humility is the principal virtue which must be practiced by those who pray." (Way of Perfection, 17.1)

Faith is the foundation of effective prayer. If we pray with unwavering faith, the power of God will be exercised in ways well beyond the limits of our own fragile capabilities. Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive." (Matthew 21.21-22) Elsewhere, He advises: "All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours." The power of faith is unlimited - Jesus emphasizes that "everything is possible to one who has faith." (Mark 9.23) The power of faith is multiplied when we pray together with one another, for He Himself joins us in our prayer. (see Matthew 18.19-20)

From the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow (Luke 18.1-8), Jesus teaches us to be persistent in prayer - "to pray always without becoming weary." (Luke 18.1). If, by dogged persistence, we are able to persuade others to do what is right, even if they lack a sense of righteousness, how much more we can be certain that God who is Righteousness will answer our prayer without delay.

Jesus emphasizes the importance of being vigilant in prayer. On entering the garden of Gethsemane, He advised His disciples to "Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14.38) St Peter also advises us to be vigilant, for our "opponent, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour." (1 Peter 5.8) If we strive to be vigilant in our prayer, it is like having a guard on the watchtower of the soul, scanning the horizon for any sign of an enemy attack. Vigilance in prayer enables us to safeguard the virtues and holiness which God has entrusted to us by helping us to be wary of temptations, our own weak tendencies to sin, and occasions of sin. With vigilance, we are also more attuned to God's hand in the events of our lives, so that we are able to more readily respond to the movements of the Spirit as they unfold.

Prayer is the means to exercise our faith, and prayer is the place from which we are able to serve the Lord most effectively. This poem describes the proper disposition for effective prayer.

Prayers of the Heart

The prayers that arise from the heart,
With trust the Father knows our needs
And faith that thanks Him from the start,
Bears fruit like trees from mustard seeds.

The way is sought with vigilance,
In truth, the humble soul remains;
His life flows with true persistence -
His grace, by faith, the heart obtains.

By faith, we draw down His mercy,
We join our hearts with Him in prayer;
He knows our needs and hears our plea -
In His mercy and grace we share.

We trust the Lord will hear our call;
With faith in prayer, we can move all.

Holy Spirit, teach us to pray
With humble hearts, true persistence,
And faith, trusting the Father's way-
To follow Him with vigilance. Amen.


St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2607 - 2616, 2650-2652, 2656, 2730, 2732, 2735-2737

prepared by:

Paul Buis

(c) Paul Buis, 2005