Sincerity in Prayer - St. John of Kronstadt

Sometimes during a lengthy prayer only a few minutes are really pleasing to God, and constitute true prayer, true service to him. The chief thing in prayer is the nearness of the heart a God.

 

Sometimes people call prayer that which is not prayer at all: for instance, a man goes to church, stands there for a time, looks at the icons or at other people, and says that he has prayed to God; or else he stands before an icon at home, bows his head, says some words he has learned by heart, without understanding, and without feeling, and says that he has prayed—although with his thoughts and his heart he has not prayed at all, but was elsewhere, with other people and other things, and not with God.  Did the Pharisees think that they prayed hypocritically? They did not think so; they considered themselves to be right in their hypocrisy itself. It had become their habit; it had become second nature to them; and they thought they were serving

God by their prayer. Do the Christian hypocrites of the present day think that they pray and live hypocritically? They do not think so. They pray daily, perhaps at length; but they pray out of habit with their lips, not with their hearts; without heartfelt contrition, without a firm desire for amendment, and only in order to fulfill the established rule, and think they do God service, whilst in fact they only incur the wrath of God. We all sin, more or less, in praying hypocritically and we shall be be greatly censured for it.

Many people pray hypocritically, and hypocritical prayer becomes a habit with them; they do not themselves observe and do not wish to observe, that they pray hypocritically, and not in spirit and in truth, so that if anybody were to accuse them of praying hypocritically they would be angry at such an absurdity, as they would hold it to be.

Men become hypocritical not suddenly but gradually, perhaps, they pray whole-heartedly, but afterwards— pray with the whole heart is always difficult; we have to force ourselves to it—they begin to pray superficially, with their lips, not from the depths of the soul, for this is easier.  Finally, at the increased assaults of the Devil, they pray only with their lips, the prayer not reaching the heart at all.

Our heart often sleeps during prayer: the outer man prays but not the inner one. Often during prayer we only flatter with our tongue.

How often it happens in life that a. man has one thing in is heart and another on his lips, and wears two faces at one and the same time. It is the same during prayer, before God himself who knows the secrets of the heart; in prayer also a man frequently wears two faces, saying one thing and having another in his heart and thoughts. If, which happens still more frequently, a man does not sympathize in his heart with what he is saying, although he understands and thinks about it, then he is throwing the words to the air, and he deceives himself if he believes that he can please God by such a prayer. This is strange and sinful duplicity. It is a bitter fruit and evidence of our fall into sin.

Outward prayer is often performed at the expense of inward prayer, and inward at the expense of outward. That is to say, if, when I pray with my lips, or read prayers, many of the words do not penetrate the heart, I become double-minded and hypocritical; with my lips I say one thing, and in my heart I feel another. The lips speak the truth, but the heart does not agree with the words of the prayer. But if I pray inwardly and whole-heartedly, then, I concentrate upon the contents and power of the words, rather than upon pronouncing them, in this way gradually accustoming my heart to the truth, and entering into the spirit of the prayer. In this way I accustom myself, little by little, to pray in spirit and truth, in accordance with the words of him who is Eternal Truth: They that wor­ship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Every insincere prayer removes your heart from God, and sets it in enmity to you yourself, whilst every earnest prayer draws your heart nearer to God, and helps to make it enduringly godly.

During prayer do not allow the enemy, acting through the flesh, to conquer you; speak the truth from your heart, and let your tongue utter no falsehood. Think and feel what you say in prayer, and do not let there be honey on your tongue and ice in your heart.

How can we teach ourselves to speak the truth from our heart during prayer?  We must bring every word of the prayer down to our heart, lay it to heart, feel its truth in our heart, be convinced of our need of that for which we ask, or of the need of heartfelt gratitude for God's great and innumerable benefits to us.

It seems habitual to our heart to lie, both in prayer, and in our intercourse with other men. The heart is a pillar of falsehood. The Christian must make use of every means to eradicate all falsehood from his heart, and to implant in it pure truth. We must begin with prayer, as with a matter in which truth is indispensable before all else, in accordance with the Lord’s own words: Worship him in spirit and in truth. Speak the truth from your heart. When we have learnt to speak truth from our heart during prayer, we shall not allow ourselves to lie in everyday life:  sincere, true prayer, having cleansed our heart from falsehood, will also protect falsehood in our relations with others.

It is sometimes necessary to ask a person who prays for himself or for others this question, in order to rouse his slumbering heart and conscience: Are you really in need of that for which you are apparently asking; do you really desire to obtain it? Do you sincerely desire—for instance—amendment and holiness of life for yourself and others?

He who prays must hunger after those blessings—above all, the spiritual ones: the forgiveness of sins, the hallowing, the strengthening in virtue—for which he prays; otherwise it will be a useless waste of words.

Some seem to be praying to the Lord, but are really serving the Devil, who nestles in their hearts, because they pray only with their lips, whilst their hearts are cold, and neither feel nor desire that which the lips ask, and are far from the Lord.

The name of the Lord himself, that of his immaculate Mother and those of the holy angels and  saints, must always be pronounced from a pure heart, with burning faith and love.

It is sometimes well during prayer to say a few words of our own, breathing fervent faith, and love for God. Let us not always converse with him in the words of others, let us not forever remain children in faith and hope; we must show also our own mind, we must indite a good matter from our own heart also. Moreover, we grow too accustomed to the words of others, and consequently grow cold in prayer. And how pleasing to the Lord is this lisping of our own, coming directly from a believing, loving and thankful heart.

When you truly pray to God in your own words the soul trembles with joy, with fire, with life, with bliss. You will utter few words, but you will know blessedness such as you would have found from saying the longest and most moving prayers of others, pronounced out of habit, and insincerely.

Forced prayer develops hypocrisy, and renders a man incapable of thoughtful, concentrated activity, and slothful in everything. This should persuade all who pray in this manner to correct themselves. We must pray gladly and energetically, from the whole heart. Likewise, do not pray to God only you are obliged to, in sorrow or in need, for God loveth  a cheerful giver.