Wasting Time With God

How we spend our time is a very good indicator of what we value. Prayer, for many, is simply a waste of time and effort. Some even find the whole notion offensive. My first tweet of the day, which is always to assure people of the community’s prayer for them, usually gets one or two grumpy responses along the lines of ‘Don’t waste your time on that nonsense!’ or ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. Yet I notice that our email prayerline and our Facebook page attract numerous requests, while people sometimes ring up in the middle of the night to voice their concerns and ask for prayers.

All these prayers are asking God for something: a favour, a healing, a miracle even. Yet at its simplest, prayer is about nothing more than being with God, ‘wasting time’ with him. He knows our needs and is always ready to respond, though not always as we might wish. It is in this context that today we re-read chapter 20 of the Rule, On Reverence in Prayer. The text is so important that I shall quote it in full:

Whenever we want to ask something from powerful people, we do not presume to do so without humility and respect. How much more ought we to pray to the Lord God of all things with profound humility and pure devotion! And we must realise we shall not be heard for our many words, but for our purity of heart and tears of compunction. Prayer, therefore ought always to be short and pure unless perhaps prolonged by the inspiration of God’s grace. In community, however, prayer should be kept very short; and as soon as the signal has been given by the superior, all should rise together.

We could tease many ideas out of this short passage but there are two words that occur again and again, ‘humility’ and ‘purity’, so let’s look briefly at them.

How humble are we when we pray? By that I do not mean how grand are the titles by which we address God or how lowly is our concept of self, I mean how truthful are we? To be devoid of falsity, to allow God to search our innermost being, requires more honesty and courage than most of us can muster. It takes a lifetime to achieve that kind of humility, but it is what we aim at because humility tears down the barriers we erect between ourselves and God. It allows our humble God to find a way into our proud selves.

‘Purity’ is a word freighted with theology. In Greek the original meaning of apatheia was ‘detachment, without feeling’, but thanks to Cassian’s genius in rendering it in Latin as ‘purity of heart’, we have come to see that the purity needed in prayer is one of great attachment. We are serious about prayer, not in the sense that we are sad-faced or solemn, but as people to whom prayer matters — prepared to give it time  — because we love God and wish to be close to him.

If you read this chapter of the Rule slowly and carefully, you will see that it has much to say about prayer that we are apt to forget. ‘Short and pure’: that is what Benedict recommends our prayer should be. It isn’t difficult to make it short, but pure? There is a challenge for today.

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7 thoughts on “Wasting Time With God”

  1. Thanks for an insightful post.

    I can’t think of any better way of wasting time, other than being in prayer with God.

    And I try to waste such time at least in morning and evening, but also other times as well. And, being able to worship at various different churches three days a week as well as Sundays, is a privilege that I abuse as often as I can.

    And, just sitting quietly, with no interruptions – letting my mind wander and wonder at God’s presence around me and hopefully within me is another privilege.

    This is the bonus of being retired. When I was working it was always a struggle to get some space in a busy day for prayer. I had to consciously make the space by leaving the office and walking quietly to do so. The other guilty pleasure was to sneak away quietly and go to my parish church for mid-week Holy Communion. People knew where I was, but no body ever complained, they had already been surprised and delighted by my conversion, so seemed to expect that I would be doing something like that.

  2. Wasting time with God is, for me, like talking with your lover. Those wonderful moments when you look into each others faces and time seems to be suspended; when one glance can convey more love, more feeling than a thousand words or kisses… And it is something that I cannot get enough of or, alas, at the moment, have enough time for.

    But purity of prayer, now there is definitely a challenge.

  3. The idea of spending time with God is the most perplexing part of Christian life for many people I know. It seems alien. They can accept that a person of faith has belief/does good deeds but doing nothing but “talk” to God really unsettles them. It also unsettles me if I stoop and think about it. Perhaps it should.

    I find pure prayer very hard to get right. Bombarded by worldly concerns and demands (excuses?) I end up rattling off a few old favourites (They have their place too, I know) and feeling guilty and shortchanged at the same time.

    Even when I do make time I am often distracted and have to try again…

    If I was going to ask God for something in a prayer it would be for the grace to pray – in a way that is pure.

  4. Thank you for your comments. I hesitate to write more myself because prayer is such a private area of life, but some of you may find helpful some thoughts on prayer and intercession over at our main website, see http://bit.ly/xJHWxT and the page following.

    Links posted in the comments section are the poster’s responsibility and their appearance here in no way implies endorsement by the monastery — though I think you can rely on the orthodoxy of the links we ourselves post!

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