We have to be wary of the danger to turn our prayer into mere babble of words. Christ pointed this out when he said: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (Mt 6,7)
To be sincere in our prayers, we need to review the crucial relationship between God and our capacity to stick to the truth or to be sincere. Nowadays, with the plethora of data and information, we have to remind ourselves constantly that truthfulness or sincerity is not a matter of simply conforming these data and pieces of information to our own designs. We need to process these raw data to leaven them with the love of God and submit them to God’s will.
To put it bluntly, we can only be in the truth when we are with God. Outside of him, let’s wish ourselves sheer luck, because the most likely thing to happen is to slip from the truth. It´s like chasing the wind. For all the excitement and advantages a Godless pursuit of truth gives, everything will just turn out to be vanity.
And so, prayer is a must. It’s what vitally, existentially unites us with God. Without it, we will just be on our own, an easy prey to our own weaknesses, let alone, the temptations around.
Very vulnerable to the temptation to distort the truth and to fall into the tricks of hypocrisy and pretension are persons endowed and favored with all sorts of talents, intelligence, position, power and who may already have attained a good level of sanctity. That’s because their situation attracts all sorts of temptations.
We have to be more aware of this phenomenon and able to handle it. Even Christ himself was tempted by the devil to deviate from his Father’s will. And the devil employed the subtlest of tricks, even quoting Scripture, to bend Christ to the devil’s will. The devil will always reserve the worst strategy to those who dare to get close to God.
Thus, those of us who try our best to follow God should not be surprised when the most “irresistible” temptations come to us not only from time to time, but even persistently. We somehow should expect this thing to happen, and be ready for it.
One gauge that can tell us that we have a good prayer, one where we truly have an intimate encounter with God, is when we come out of it burning with zeal for love and concern for the others. Somehow we would catch the fire behind these words of Christ: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk 12,49)
Yes, real prayer has that effect. If, on the contrary, we come out of it just thinking of our own selves, or worse, feeling low and dry, then we are not actually praying. Prayer will always sharpen our mindfulness and thoughtfulness of the others. We would be willing to suffer for them, helping them bear their burdens.
Prayer is by definition an act of love. And love in turn is always self-perpetuating. It never stops giving itself to God. As St. Francis de Sales would put it, “The measure of love is to love without measure.”
And because of our love for God, then our prayer which is an act of love for God will always lead us to love others. That is always the trajectory of a true, love-inspired prayer. Its vertical aspect never leaves behind the horizontal aspect.*