The realm of tears is so mysterious! – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Re-reading the biblical passages that recall the Saviour’s turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane, I became more aware of the fact that this prayer reaches a stage of extreme fervour, and that perhaps the last bearable stage for man is when drops of blood are shed. The evangelist writes about Jesus in the garden, and how “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). What, however, is the “step” of prayer that brings us closest to God, the recipient of our prayers?
Jesus Christ is our ultimate model for the habit of praying. The Lord’s Prayer reveals to us not only what we should want (according to our needs) and ask our Creator, but also the spirit in which to do it. We only discover the concrete way in which prayer can become an environment that sustains us by practicing it daily.
I remember a wise exhortation from a Romanian priest, Father Elijah Cleopas. He said that in order to be able to concentrate on our silent dialogue with God, we must drive away the multitude of thoughts that come like wasps to distract us. It is the interference of daily worries, of the echo of actions and interactions with peers, that keeps our minds from prayer. In the Bible, they are like birds that snatch the spiritual seeds from our souls, and the presence of evil and its temptation is mentioned here as their cause (see Luke 8:5).
We need to oppose this distraction with wakefulness and lucidity. Only by overcoming it do we enter the right state of mind. We can elevate those thoughts and feelings in prayer. But the miracle of communion in prayer with God is that it is a space of personal experience that is difficult to share, because the feelings are unique, individual, and cannot be passed on to anyone else.
In the Bible, we have an essential direction on how we should approach God: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). According to this text, there are two conditions: prayer should be fervent, and he who prays should be righteous. As for the latter, we know that righteousness in God’s sight comes only by faith—not by works, and not by merit—as the apostle Paul tells us (Romans 2:20, Galatians 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9). But if we understand the first condition, we will also understand how strong our attitude of godliness and intercession for others should be.
Of course, the fervour of our requests, which is not an end in itself, can increase without us meaning it to, especially when we are hurting, when something torments us personally, or when despair urges us to turn to God. Often, fervent prayers are prayed by people in despair who, at the last hour, have given up any attempt to resolve their challenge on their own, by their own power, and have submitted themselves into the hands of God. That is, they did what should have been done from the beginning, which might have kept them from that challenge. And then, out of the feverishness of despair, they find the power to utter the wisest and most concise prayer, but also the most complete, because it recognises and circumscribes the area of action that Divinity has complete control over—the whole world. It is also a prayer originating with Christ: “Lord, your will be done!”
But we should ask ourselves if our intercessory prayers are heartfelt enough to gain that same “power.” The biblical text urges us to do so in the context of healing: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
In the attitude of the Old Testament prophet, Daniel, we find an impressive example of a prayer of intercession for an entire people—his apostate people, fallen into bondage—who bear the consequences of the sins committed against the God who had brought them into existence and made a sacred covenant with them. What ought to impress and surprise us is that Daniel, whose holy life we know about from the Bible, identifies with his people, even with the sins that he did not commit. He confesses to God, “Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth” (Daniel 9:13).
From the context of this prayer, and the entire prophetic book that belongs to Daniel—the book to which the Saviour also refers (see Matthew 24:15)—we understand that the explicit assumption of those sins is implicitly contradicted. But this state does not pass in the eyes of God as falsehood, but as humility and a manifestation of love for the people; it is a total identification with the fate of the people.
Do we succeed, in our prayers of intercession, in identifying with the person or cause for which we are pleading before God? Are they being taken into account if they are formal and conscientious, but cold? The apostle Paul asks, “Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” (2 Corinthians 11:29).
How eagerly do we pray for causes that are not personal? How much do we get involved in intercession to identify with the one we are praying for? I believe that if we became aware of this special condition of fervour in prayer every time we prayed, many of the expected answers would come, and unity in our churches would increase, becoming the rule, not the happy exception. I believe that only in a situation of identification with others, at least in the short period of a prayer, can we come to fulfill the second great commandment given to us by the Saviour—to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Formality characterises the most superficial level of interaction between people, especially among those who do not know each other. It translates into formulas of dry politeness, either of greeting, or of mutual introductions, of requests for a service, of thanks for a service, apologies for an error, an interruption, or an inconvenience.
I believe that formality is as damaging as ever in this mysterious realm of communion with God. It shows that we do not know the One we are addressing. As such, we address Him inappropriately. We should know that we are in a realm of tears! These tears may be tears of despair or of happiness—hot tears, because they spring from a burning soul.
Corina Matei, PhD, is an associate professor at the Faculty of Communication Sciences and International Relations at Titu Maiorescu University.