Preparing to Pray
Saint Theophan the Recluse offers us some excellent advice about how to prepare for prayer.
To pray we must draw inward in such a way that both our heart and mind are absorbed in the content of the prayer. This means that we need to become very attentive to the actual words of the prayer and set aside all other thoughts.
He uses the analogy of sitting down to write a note, article or term paper. You do not just sit down and begin writing. First you need to gather your thoughts and get yourself in the mood for this task. This kind of preparation is even more necessary when you sit down for prayer.
"So, Morning or evening, immediately before you begin to repeat your prayers, first stand for a while, sit for awhile, or walk a little. Try to steady your mind, then turn it away fro all worldly activities and objects."
Here is is asking that we set aside all the thoughts we may have running through our minds about the problems we are embroiled in, our concerns about activities of the day, or any disagreements we may of had with family or friends and so forth. We want to pull our mind away from all the cares that we face in this world, so it can be uplifted in our prayer to the invisible realm, heaven itself, where we find God who we are about to address.
"After this, think of who He is, Him to whom you turn in prayer. Next, recollect who you are; who it is who is about to start this invocation to Him in prayer."
God is no less than your Creator and even more, as He created all that is visible and invisible! He is all powerful and has infinite love and patience for all His creation. He wants everyone to be in union with him and to love Him as He loves us. When preparing to share your time with Him, think about how you would prepare to go to meet a very important person who help you need on a project you are involved with. You have to focus on their needs and agenda so you can present your needs in a way that they will support it. Well, in prayer you are facing the most powerful entity known and you need to be focused on who He is. Saaint Theophan is reminding us that he is not our grandfather or some other like person. Be mindful of Who God is as you enter into prayer,
Next he says,
"Do this in such a way as to waken in your heart a feeling of humility and reverent awe because you are standing in the presence of God."
Reflect on what it means to stand in the presence of God. This is what you are doing in prayer.
Saint Theophan says further,
"When the heart is conscious and feels the need for prayer, then the attentive heart itself will not let your thoughts slide to other matters. It will force you to cry out to the Lord in your prayers. Most of all, be aware of your own helplessness: were it not for God, you would be lost. If someone who is doomed to disaster were to stand before the one person who, with a glance, could save him, would he look here and there for his salvation? No, he would fall down before him and beg mercy. So it will be, when you approach Him in prayer with an awareness of all-encompassing peril and the knowledge that on can save you but God."
To frequently we try to enter into prayer without preparing ourselves. We try and enter into it without proper care or thought. Then we rush to get it over with as if it were some routine obligation we need to fulfill.
"Without preparation, how can there be a gathering of thought and feeling in prayer? Without preparation, prayer proceeds shakily instead of firmly.... Such a careless attitude toward prayer is a crime, a serious one--- a capital one. Consider prayer the central labor of your life and hold it in the center of your heart. Address in its rightful role, not as a secondary function!"
Remember always that God is your helper. Be diligent in fulfilling your prayer rule and it will bring you great benefit when you properly prepare yourself for this effort. Work hard at it. You will find many forces working to discourage you .
Saint Theophan advises,
"Once experienced, pure prayer will draw you on and enliven your spiritual life, becoming you to more attentive, more difficult, and ever-deepening prayer."
...for more read Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) On Preparation For Prayer
The quotes above are from Saint Theophan's 1st Homily on Prayer and from Letter 48