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The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
When the disciples failed to heal a young boy, Jesus chastised them for their weakness: “Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” After healing the boy himself he told them, “I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” And then he added, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
How are we to pray if we wish to move mountains or drive out demons? We begin by asking for God’s mercy on our souls. Listen to what St. Augustine had to say about prayer:
If a man must pray to cast out devils from another, how much more to cast out his own covetousness? How much more to cast out his own drunkenness? How much more to cast out his own luxuriousness? How much more to cast out his own uncleanliness? How many things in a man are there, which if they are preserved inside, allow of no admission into the kingdom of heaven!
The heart of true prayer is one of repentance. Prayer is a private act between a person and the Lord God. It is a way for us to enter into the kingdom of heaven. As such, we cannot come to God in prayer with our sins intact and expect to make much headway. Our sins are not welcome in the kingdom. Thus we must begin by examining ourselves and asking for God’s mercy.
Prayer is not something that we should expect to come easy. It is against our nature. As Abba Agathon, one of the Desert Fathers, said when asked which virtue requires the greatest effort:
I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.
Prayer is hard work. And it is surprising how many Christians there are—often leaders of the church—who hardly work at all to pray apart from church services. Some of us tithe our money. How many of us tithe our time? If a tithe is ten percent, than a tithe of a tithe is one percent. We would begin to be people of faith if we spent one percent a tithe of a tithe of each day in prayer. Just one percent of our day—that’s about fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time in prayer. If we spent ten percent of each day in prayer we could be saints.
But regardless of the amount of time, we must make a conscious effort to stand in the presence of Jesus every day. Not a day should ever pass by in which we do not touch the hem of his garment. He should be with us—more real than if he were physically present. If the only significant time of the week we pray is on Sunday mornings, then we need to throw ourselves at his feet, repent, and come to him every day.
To be faithless and perverse or to move mountains. Those are our choices. By the grace of God may we make the right choice.
“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”