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On Prayer: The Benefits of Prayer

August 22, 2010

Saint Gregory of Nyssa

2. The Benefits of Prayer

If, however, all endeavours are preceded by prayer then sin won’t find a passageway into the soul. When God is remembered continually within the heart, the devices of the enemy are unsuccessful, for righteousness always intervenes where something is disputed. Prayer even keeps a farmer from sin, giving increase to the fruits of the earth from a small measure, so that sin will no longer enter by bringing along the desire for more. The same applies to the traveller, or one setting off to be a soldier or to get married. The same applies to everyone who has an impulse to do anything at all; if he does everything with prayer, he will drive away sin with the success of the undertaking, because there will be nothing opposing it and dragging the soul down towards passion. However, if he keeps away from God and gives himself over completely to his own business inevitably, as someone far from God, he comes under the influence of the adversary, i.e. the devil. Whoever does not unite themselves to God in prayer is separated from him. This, then, is what we should learn first of all in this talk, that we should pray at all times and never give up.[4] For, it is through prayer that one manages to be with God; whoever is with God, has been separated from the devil.

Prayer is a guardian of prudence, a check on anger, a curb of conceit, a cleanser of resentment, a demolisher of envy, a destroyer of injustice, a corrector of impiety. Prayer is the strength of bodies, brings prosperity to homes, law and order to cities, power to reign, victory in war, the security of peace, reunites those who are separated, gives stability to those reunited. Prayer is the seal of virginity, the faithfulness of marriage, the weapon of travellers, the guardian of sleepers, the courage of the wakeful, the good fruit of farmers and the salvation of seafarers. Prayer is the advocate of the accused, release to those in bonds, rest to the weary, comfort to the distressed, happiness to the glad, consolation to those in mourning, the crown of those getting married, a birthday feast, and a shroud to those who are dying. Prayer is speaking with God, the vision of the invisible, the fulfilment of all desires, equal honour with the angels, progress in good,  aversion to evil, the rectification of sinners,  the enjoyment of present things and the substance of things to come. Prayer made the sea-monster into a dwelling for Jonas[5], while it brought Ezekias back to life from the gates of death[6]. It changed the flame around the three young men into a fresh wind[7]; raised up a victory for the Israelites over the Amalekites[8] and killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians with an invisible sword in just one night[9].

Thousands of comparable examples can be found of things that have already happened, which make it perfectly clear that of all things of life’s valuables nothing is of higher worth than prayer.  However, it is now time to concern ourselves with prayer itself.  Even so, let me make yet one more small addition to what I’ve said. Divine Grace has given us many good things of all kinds, the only thing we have to give in return for what we have received is this, to pay back our Benefactor with prayer and thanksgiving.

3. God’s gifts through prayer.

Just think that even if we extended our conversation with God and we prayed and thanked Him throughout our whole life we would still be so far behind in paying back the price due to God in return that we would not even have started to make a reimbursement to our Benefactor. Time is divided into three parts: the past, the present and the future. The Lord’s benevolence is seen in these three stages. If you consider the present, you live in it; the future, is where your hopeful expectations lie; the past, would not exist if He hadn’t made you. You received his kindness when you came into being because of Him, and having been born you received his kindness again, since you live and move “in Him” as the Apostle says[10]. Future hopes also depend on this same action. You are ruler only of the present. Therefore, even if you keep continually thanking God in all things you would just about manage to give back what you owe for the present, without  finding a way to pay back all that you owe for the future or the past. Yet, while we so greatly lack the ability to thank God as much as we should, we don’t even show our gratitude as far as we are able. I’m not even speaking about the whole day; we don’t even give over the least part of the day to be still in the Lord.

Who laid out the earth beneath my feet? Who made the waters passable by intention? Who fixed the heaven for me as a chamber? Who bears the sun like a torch for me? Who sends out springs within the ravines? Who laid out the courses of rivers? Who placed irrational beasts under the yoke to serve me? Who made me overflow with life and thought, despite being nothing but lifeless dust? Who formed this clay into the image of the divine character? Who restored back to its ancient grace the divine image that had been clouded by sin? Having been evicted from paradise, cut off from the tree of life and covered in the ruinous pit of material life, who drew me back to my first happy and blessed state? “There is none who understands” says Scripture[11]. For if we saw all this we would give never-ending and ceaseless thanks throughout the whole length of our life. However, nowadays nearly the whole of the human race is only alert to material things. All their interests are here, all their enthusiasm is in this; this is where all their memory and hope is concentrated.  Human nature doesn’t go to bed and doesn’t sleep in its desire to have more of everything in which more can be found. Whether it is in honour or glory, or an abundance of money, or the disease of appetite, in all these things human nature always looks towards having more. Whereas no mention is made at all of the true blessings of God, neither for what is already seen nor for what is promised.


[4] Luke 18:1

[5] Jonah 2:3

[6] IV Kings 20:5

[7] Daniel 1:23

[8] Exodus 17:11

[9] IV Kings 19:35

[10] Acts 17:28

[11] Romans 3:11

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