St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “Pray without ceasing” and in context he does so shortly after reminding them, “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, having on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5: 17, 8). Unceasing prayer for Saint Paul is not only a pathway to eternal communion with God, but it is also a strong defense against the many temptations that come from the world, flesh and the devil, who “as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). In other words, developing a daily prayer schedule (along with practicing faith, hope and charity) where you intentionally set aside times to "pray without ceasing," has the power to defend your interior life from the numerous traps that are set and are aimed at preventing you from achieving a deep and abiding relationship with God.
Indeed, the life of prayer is a “battle” and the battlefield is in our hearts. When we are met with the numerous distractions of life the choice remains with us, "will we give-up and run away when prayer becomes difficult and we fall prey to the temptations around us or will we fight until the last breath leaves our body?"
As we already mentioned, just like any relationship prayer does not “happen” overnight. Relationships develop over time and take much effort to maintain. For example, I did not meet my wife and then propose to her on the same day. I needed to develop our friendship first over an extended period of time. Even after the wedding I could not hang up my hat and suddenly stop talking to my wife and never go out on another date. If I did our marriage would cease to exist.
It is the same with prayer.
We can not expect prayer to be perfect and never experience any difficulties. Even the saints struggled with prayer throughout their entire lives. Prayer requires great effort and is meant to grow over time.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses even stronger words and instructs us to engage in a “battle” in the midst of our difficulties,
“[O]ur battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have “great possessions,” we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will….The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance” (CCC 2728).
Often this battle occurs against our own human nature, as the Catechism explains,
“In positive terms, the battle against the possessive and dominating self requires vigilance, sobriety of heart.” (CCC 2730).
The most common enemy during prayer is our own sinful tendencies and our own lack of virtue. In order to persevere in prayer, we must develop habits and virtues that foster prayer, otherwise we will find ourselves at a loss and give-up when the first signs of distress appear.
Another way to explain the complexity of prayer is by comparing it to physical exercise. Lifting weights and running long distances take time and effort to master. I can not simply go outside and sprint a full mile and expect to be a world-class runner. I must start slow and then gradually increase my speed over several months and years before I can master it.
It is the same with prayer.
As Jim Beckman explains,
“Neither does the interior life come naturally. Why is it that so many people can push through seemingly endless obstacles to work out, but when one hurdle presents itself to prayer or spiritual disciplines, most seem to falter? I believe that if we are going to succeed in the spiritual journey, we need to approach our spirituality a bit more like our workout schedule” (God, Help Me: How to Grow in Prayer, 112).
We should not stop praying when an obstacle or distraction comes our way. Prayer is not going to be easy and we shouldn’t expect to be perfect or receive divine revelations from an archangel. Saint Teresa of Avila explained the different levels of prayer in the terms of an “Interior Castle.” We do not immediately start out in the “Seventh Mansion,” but work our way closer to God from the outside, beginning in the “First.” This is very important to remember as it will put our prayer life in perspective.
Above all things, when we set out to pray and deepen our spiritual life we should struggle and keep struggling. The worst thing that we can do is give-up or not start at all. When we do that the Enemy of our soul is victorious.
Furthermore, the devil enjoys chaos. God is the one who brought order to the world, shaped it and designed it perfectly. All the laws of nature are a symphony of order. Then Satan came into the garden of Eden and sowed disorder. He lured Adam and Eve away from God and told them that they can be divorced from him. The mission of the devil remains to separate that which should be united.
The same is true in our own lives. Satan knows that we are hardwired for order. God has certainly given us freedom, but that freedom is to be ordered to the true, good and beautiful. Sin has a tendency to disrupt our lives and causes us to abuse that freedom. Instead of following God’s design and order, we choose to build our house on sand and are surprised to see it fall.
This is why a daily schedule of prayer is so important. It mimics God’s creation, brings harmony to our lives and is in direct opposition to what the world, the flesh and the devil desires.
May we follow the advice of Saint Paul and strive to "pray without ceasing," for "the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light" (Romans 13:12).