Prayer For Purity Of Heart and Humility
Study 7 THE PRAYER FOR SEARCHING OF HEART — Words of Life Ministries
GREAT PRAYERS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: Psalm 139: 23-24
Have you ever prayed the prayer which forms the theme of this study - “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”? Notice four things about David’s prayer:-
- (1) He addresses God. God is the only one who really knows our hearts (Psalm 139:1-4). No psychiatrist knows our hearts or our minds, but the Lord Himself is the searcher of hearts and knows us intimately and accurately.
- (2) He asks God to search him through and through. He prays for searching of his heart, his thoughts and for such an intimate inspection that if there is any “offensive way” this will be revealed. The word ‘search’ means to ‘ransack’; it reminds us of a policeman with a search warrant, the searching look of a loved one, or of the searchlight which penetrates the darkness and reveals the enemy. David prays that God will ransack him and search him to see if there is any hidden sin, anything that grieves Him.
- (3) He shows courage, sincerity and humility. No-one can pray this prayer lightly, insincerely or with a proud heart. It would be mockery to do so.
- (4) He prays as one who is hungry for God and who wants to go on with God. This prayer reminds us of Matthew 5:6. Do you desire to go on with the Lord? Are you hungry for His best?
1. Why we should pray this prayer
There is one answer: because our hearts and lives quickly get cluttered up with dirt, dust and rubbish. It is so easy for us to let wrong things in and to harbour them. Look up Nehemiah 4:10 and Lamentations 3:40.
How easy it is for us to become slack and careless and spiritually insensitive! How easy it is to become guilty of wrong attitudes towards others, to become prayerless, to become careless about the desperate need of men and women around us who are without God and without hope for this life and for the life to come (Ephesians 2:12)! How easy it is to become formal in our worship (Matthew 15:8); to become lukewarm in our love for the Lord Jesus (Revelation 3:15-16). These are the reasons why we should pray David’s prayer, that God will reveal to us our sin and our failure and that He will be unsparing and faithful in doing so.
2. When we should pray this prayer
- (1) When we come to the Lord’s Table. Turn to 1 Corinthians 11:28.
- (2) When we are experiencing prosperity. Why? Because at such a time we are ly to become spiritually slack - read Psalm 62:10 and Psalm 119:67.
- (3) When we are experiencing adversity.
Why? Because it could be the Lord’s loving chastening in order to bring us back into the line of His will - look up Hebrews 12:6-11.
- (4) When our service seems fruitless and barren. The Lord’s will is that we should bring forth fruit - look up John 15:16.
- (5) When revival is needed in the Church. Read the whole of Psalm 85.
- (6) When our prayers do not seem to gain the ear of God. Often we pray and our prayers do not seem to be answered - read Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:1-2.
- (7) When we find ourselves getting critical and careless and when we are very conscious that all is not well with our Christian life.
3. How we should pray this prayer
- (1) We should pray it in relation to ourselves. Notice how personal David’s prayer was – “Search me…” Look up 2 Samuel 12:7 and Matthew 26:21-22, and then compare Matthew 7:3.
- (2) We should pray this prayer in private and in the light of God’s Word. This is serious business and it is important to get alone with the Lord and with the open Bible.
Then such a prayer will glorify God and bring blessings to us.
- (3) We should pray this prayer with determination. It will show itself in three ways:
- First, we shall admit what God reveals. If we are sincere we will immediately recognise anything He reveals in our lives which is grieving to Him.
- Second, we shall confess and renounce what God reveals. If He shows us that we have a critical spirit, that we have been slandering some other Christian, or that we have taken something that does not belong to us, we shall be willing at once to confess the thing that is wrong and to renounce it and to rejoice in the truth of 1 John 1:9!
- Third, we shall make restitution where this is required. If we have slandered someone we shall apologise to them; if our careless speaking has misrepresented them before others, we shall confess this; if we have taken something that does not belong to us we shall restore the stolen thing.
Notice how the prayer concludes - “Lead me in the way everlasting.” This is the way of peace, joy, power and usefulness.
Will you pray this prayer, not only now but frequently?
Humility in Prayer
How to bring together your body, mind, heart and soul in prayer is not easy but not difficult as well. Why should a Muslim perform their prayer with humility, get closer to God?
Our salah needs to be constantly shielded and guarded from everything that affects its quality.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some form of an invisible protective shield around us while we pray to keep the distractions away from us? Yes! And here’s some good news: each one of us can and should build this protective shield to guard our Salah as per the instructions given in the Qur’an and the Sunnah:
And those who strictly guard their Prayer (Al-Mu’minun 23:9)
This averse goes to show that our salah needs to be constantly shielded and guarded from everything that affects its quality.
The collective attentiveness in the actions of the heart, tongue and limbs form the basis of the khushu` protective shield.
In the first part of this article, we looked at the nature of khushu` and how it affects us both in and salah. Now we will look at some practical steps you can take on your path to developing khushu` in your own salah.
Here are some practical tips to maintain humility in prayer:
Increase in Islamic knowledge; learn about Allah, tawheed, His Names and Attributes, and various aspects and sciences of the Sunnah. Why? Because Allah says:
It is only the learned amongst His servants who truly fear Allah. (Fatir 35:28)
With regards to gaining knowledge, even our Prophet (peace be upon him) had a teacher to understand the deen (religion) of Allah: it was Jibreel (Angel Gabriel (peace be upon him). Therefore, we must seek knowledge under the guidance of Islamic teachers and scholars.
2- On Time
Pray on time and plan your life around salah timings and not the other way around. Prioritize pleasing Allah over pleasing people. We can’t say, ’But I have work, I have to meet so-and-so etc.
’ because before all of that came about, we already knew about our salah timings; so that’s not a valid excuse. But in situations that are our control, such as an exam, try to ask the moderator if a few minutes can be allowed for salah.
That way we would have at least tried our best rather than not trying at all.
3- Seek Refuge in Allah
Seek refuge in Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) from Satan by saying ‘a`udhu billahi min Ash-Shaytan ir-rajeem’ (I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan) before starting the salah and during the salah too when needed. Also say bismillah (in the name of Allah) before beginning the salah.
4- Be Mindful
Contemporary psychologists use a very simple technique called ’Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy‘ to help people stay focused in the present moment rather than being engrossed in foggy thoughts of past or future while losing touch with reality. It means to simply remind yourself to come back to the present moment as soon as you realize that your thoughts have drifted away from what is happening right now.
Perform every salah as you would perform your last salah.
With practice, insha’Allah we can benefit from this technique to maintain our khushu`. Start by being mindful of Allah when you make the intention for ablution; be attentive while doing the ablution; then recite the recommended du`aa’ (supplication) after completing the ablution. At all times of the day, keep away from anything that makes you forget the remembrance of Allah.
Satan will use various tricks and tactics to divert us, so we have to be aware of his methods. The moment you realize that the heart and mind have wandered off, try to bring your attention back. The more often you do this, the more your humility will improve insha’Allah.
Read the tafseer (exegesis) of Surat Al-Fatihah; understand each verse and pause in between. (Tafseer by Ibn Kathir is recommended.
) Remember, well-begun is half done! Read translations to understand all the surahs that you recite during salah.
Try to offer Tahajjud and recite the Qur’an during those hours of the night, as that is a good time for understanding the words of Allah.
Always try to remind yourself that you are standing in front of Allah, pray as though you see Him; and if you cannot do that, then be aware that He is definitely seeing you. As you recite, visualize the Arabic words of each surah (chapter of the Qur’an). Do not close your eyes, but focus on the place of sujud (prostration).
7- Never Stop
Be wary of sticking to your salah, particularly in times of distress – it will help a lot in dealing with the situation as mentioned in the Qur’an:
Seek Allah’s help with patient perseverance and prayer. It is indeed hard except for those who are humbly submissive. (Al-Baqarah 2:45)
Help children develop their humility and concentration from a young age. Do not force them to offer salah; rather inspire them to come to salah.
8- Good Pace
To attain humility in prayer be attentive and relaxed by maintaining a good pace between salah actions, giving a minimum of 5 seconds or more per action. Every time you say ‘Allahu Akbar’, say it from your heart. Make your sujud a bit longer than usual, recite du`aa’s in it and also before the final Tasleem.
9- It Could Be the Last
Before approaching salah, remember the inevitable reality: death. Allah created us only to worship Him. Perform every salah as you would perform your last salah. We may not know when, but one day we will be praying our last one.
After each salah, develop a habit of reciting the supplications as recommended by our Prophet.
To grow humility
After reading this article and understanding what it says, it is really up to us to take a moment and step outside of our self, honestly analyze the quality of our prayer, level of our iman (faith) and the impact of these on our life as a whole. We’ll all agree that correct knowledge is absolutely lovely, but it will be of no use to anyone at all until we actually decide to implement what we now know. It is only then that knowledge becomes lovelier and in turn beautifies us from inside and out.
Do not lose hope or give up if these tips do not work at first or do not provide an immediate solution. Remember that the seed of khushu` and humility will grow only after a gentle rain of consistent reminders seep into the heart by Allah’s will.
Purity of Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
The kingdom of God is where God’s will is fully done by us and everyone else. Our goal and God’s goal for us is full unity with Christ. The kingdom of God and our unity with Christ are what we reference when we use the word “heaven”.
The essence of heaven is our participation in the Beatific Vision. The Beatific Vision is God’s infinite self-knowledge. It is His “vision” of His own being, goodness, truth, beauty, love, everything He is—and of everything He has created.
The Beatitude about Beatitude
In heaven, we will share in this vision. Here is some heavy-duty theology from the old Catholic encyclopedia:
The blessed see God, not merely according to the measure of His ness imperfectly reflected in creation, but they see Him as He is, after the manner of His own Being. That the blessed see God is a dogma of faith, expressly defined by Benedict XII (1336):
“We define that the souls of all the saints in heaven have seen and do see the Divine Essence by direct intuition and face to face in such wise that nothing created intervenes as an object of vision, but the Divine Essence presents itself to their immediate gaze, unveiled, clearly and openly; moreover, that in this vision they enjoy the Divine Essence, and that, in virtue of this vision and this enjoyment, they are truly blessed and possess eternal life and eternal rest.”
We will share God’s vision in a limited degree. It will have to be limited because we are limited. If we could comprehend God, we would be God, which we are not! We will be as happy as we can be by what we will “see.” Christ promises us in this sixth beatitude that if we are pure in heart we will be able to see Him in this way.
What is Purity of Heart?
Those who are pure in heart are able to see God even in this life. But what does that term mean?
Purity of heart certainly includes sexual chastity. Clearly we cannot be pure in heart of we are committing sexual sins. We live in an anti-culture that seems to extol every form of sexual coupling except normal matrimony entered into by two virgins who are faithful to each other for life and whose every intimate act is open to life.
But purity of heart is more than this. It is actually more akin to right intention or sincerity.Some people exclude God from their vision of what will make them happy. We can, instead, make our goal in life pleasure, or being admired, or making money, or a thousand other things.
If we pursue these things for their own sake in an honorable way, that is, without sinning, we would be acting for a wrong intention in the sense that we would be making a big error.
These things will never be able to satisfy us.
If we were to pursue these kinds of things through sinful means we’d be doubling that error. Our means—for example—stealing, lying, cheating, killing—would be immoral. Our ends—for example wealth or fame in itself—would be erroneous.
Rectitude of Intention
But there is also another kind of wrong intention or insincerity we Christians can fall prey to practicing. We can be Christians, at least in name, but lead double lives. That is, we can be divided between our desire for God and our desire for something else we really want. Christ warned against this double vision or divided heart in his Sermon on the Mount. He said,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:19-24).
Correct purity of heart, then, is being devoted to only one thing, God. Practically speaking, this means being devoted to God’s will. This does not mean we won’t enjoy pleasure, or want and need to be held in esteem by others, or experience success.
We will and should. However, they are all secondary. God comes first and everything else comes after Him. Their value, importance, and how we deal with them will be subordinated to God’s standards.
In a very cool way, when we subordinate one of these to God’s will, it becomes better.
Jesus Christ was Pure of Heart
Christ’s own perfect purity of heart or singular focus can be seen in His first words recorded in Sacred Scripture. When the twelve-year-old Christ was lost to His parents for three days and they finally found Him in the Temple, He said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49)
Christ’s right intention is evident in His temptation in the desert when He chose His Father’s will rather than something which might have benefited Himself.All of His public activities tied directly to His divine mission. He often went off by Himself to pray to His Father.
He also spoke about His intimate relationship with the Father, as when He said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30).
A Christian’s Purity of Heart
What does purity of heart mean for a follower of Christ?
According to the Catechism, “Pure in heart refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness,” chiefly in charity, chastity, and truth (CCC 2518). Charity means putting God first and acting according to the true good of our neighbor. Chastity means living holy purity in terms of sexuality. Truth means holding the orthodox faith.
What does purity of heart mean in relation to our neighbor?
If we have a heart that is simple, open, and good, purity of heart means that we don’t hide who we are from other people, as if we are ashamed of God or of the faith. The pure of heart are little children in this openness (CCC 2517).
It also means we treat others the way Christ would, as persons with great dignity, not reducing them to objects of personal pleasure, which would be the case if we made them objects of lust or greed. It also means we will want to share the truth with others, the truth of the true Catholic faith. As St.
Paul put it in his epistle to the Ephesians, we should speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
If we live purity of heart, is there any commandment we are not fulfilling? And don’t we need God’s help to be pure in heart? This is an essential virtue that makes every area of our lives holier.
Prayer of the Heart and Humility
If one enters into the prayer life of Orthodoxy, you will find a great emphasis on keeping Christ on your heart and mind at all times. The monastics and many laypeople strive to attain “prayer of the heart,” in which their heart speaks the name of Christ or what is known as the Jesus Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” at every waking and sleeping hour.
Entering into this realm of life is exciting and transformative. It requires two things: first of all is grace from God. Without His grace, everything else is worthless. Secondly, it necessitates a readiness on our part to receive him.
If our hearts and minds are full of the cares, attachments, and desires of this world and our flesh, then there is no room for grace within us.
Of course, it takes the grace of God to remove these things, but we must make ourselves available and take the tiniest step of effort toward Him.
Releasing the desires and attachments of the flesh is a slow process. The more we dig around inside of us, the more we will realize needs cleansing. The command of Christ “Be ye perfect” begins to sound quite daunting if we have spent any time in honest introspection.
St Gregory of Nyssa teaches us that we can never reach that final resting place called “perfection.” God himself is perfection, and God is infinite and limitless.Therefore, if our goal is infinite, there is no stopping place where we will finally say, “Yes, I have arrived.
” Instead, we move from glory to glory, and the very journey itself toward Christ is the perfection that has been commanded of us.
HOW TO BEGIN PERFECTION
So, where does one even begin their journey toward perfection? One place that most people start is attempting to keep Christ in mind at all times. Working toward receiving prayer of the heart is an excellent place to begin.
However, there is another place too, that perhaps for some of us is an even better place to begin. Today, I read about venerable Sisoi the Great who was a disciple of the well known Anthony the Great. I came across the following story:
To the question of one of the monks as to how he might attain to a constant mindfulness of God, the monk remarked:
‘That is still not of much consequence, my son, but more important is this – to account oneself below everyone else, because such disparagement assists in the acquisition of humility’
WHAT IS HUMILITY?
I’m not sure I know what humility is. I’ve read about it, and I recognize it in the lives of the saints, but I am unable to offer an experiential definition. Elder Porphyrios teaches that it is impossible to be a Christian, much less attain to the Kingdom of Heaven without humility. In Wounded by Love, he states “The heart gives life to the body and humility gives life to the soul.”
St Theophan the Recluse teaches that when one begins to very purposefully work with God toward the Kingdom, the enemy will attack in one of two ways: either he will lash out with everything he’s got, or he will completely back off and allow the person to feel they are rapidly excelling in their spiritual life.
This second tactic is extremely dangerous for us because it so often leads to vainglory in those who are pursuing constant remembrance of God and prayer of the heart.
Without a foundation of humility, the person who is practicing great spiritual disciplines will easily think of himself as being superior to those around him.
He will have feelings of affection toward others, but it will be in a condescending way.
For this reason, Sisois the Great taught that monks should first practice thinking more highly of everyone else than themselves so they can begin to acquire humility, and then worry about the spiritual disciplines.
ILLUSTRATIONS OF HUMILITY
Because I know so little about humility, I am going to allow the fathers of the Church to speak about it:
From Wounded by Love* (Elder Porphyrios):
Within us there is a part of the soul called the ‘moralist.’ This ‘moralist’ when it sees someone going astray, is roused to indignation, even though very often the person who judges has strayed in the same way. He does not, however, take this as an occasion to condemn himself, but the other person. This is not what God wants…
In this way we do harm, not only to our neighbor, but also to ourselves because we distance ourselves from the grace of God. And then we pray and our prayers are not heard…It is a kind of self-projection of our own when we insist on other people becoming good. In reality, we wish to become good, but because we are unable to, we demand it of others and insist on this. And whereas all things are corrected through prayer, we often are distressed or become outraged and pass judgment on others.
On teaching and correcting our fellow Christians, St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) writes in The Arena**,
He who acts in his own strength, acts for vainglory; he offers both himself and those who listen to him as a sacrifice to Satan…
We will observe that the Fathers forbid us to give advice to our neighbor of our own accord, without our neighbor’s asking us to do so. The voluntary giving of advice is a sign that we regard ourselves as possessed of spiritual knowledge and worth, which is a clear sign of pride and self-deception.
Elder Zosimas, a desert father, was one of the first fathers that I ever read when venturing into Orthodoxy. His teachings began to turn my world upside down because they resemble the teachings of Christ,
Who could ever persuade a humble person to weave thoughts against someone else? For, no matter what a humble person suffers or hears, that person will see this as an opportunity to insult and shame himself…
For, a person that longs for the true and straight way will rebuke himself harshly when troubled by something this (being insulted). That person will always practice self-examination, saying:
“My soul, why have you lost your mind? Why are you troubled those who are insane? It is precisely this, which indicates how unwell in fact you are. Had you been healthy, you would not have been troubled. Why do you neglect to blame yourself and begin accusing your brother for revealing to you your illness both in deed and in truth?
Learn the commandments of Christ: ‘When He was abused, He did not return abuse; when He suffered, He did not threaten ’ (1 Pet. 2.23). Listen to Him, when He says and when He shows us in reality : ‘I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who beat me. I did not hide my face from insult and spitting’ (Is. 50.6).Yet, you, wretched soul, just because of a single insult and dishonor, sit there and weave thousands of thoughts, ultimately conspiring against your own soul in the manner of the demons.
After all, what more can a demon do to such a soul, that it has not already done to itself? We see the cross of Christ, we read of His passion each day, what He suffered for us. Yet, we cannot endure the slightest insult.
We have indeed deviated from the straight way.”***
All of this can be a bit overwhelming when I realize my lack of humility. But as St Gregory says, perfection is being on the journey toward Christ; that is all that is requested of us…that daily, little bit by little bit, we allow God to transform us into the image of His Glory.
*Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love. Published by Denise Harvey, copyright Holy Convent of the Life-giving Spring (Chania, Crete, Greece), 2005.
**Brianchaninov, Ignatius, The Arena. Holy Trinity Publications 2012.
***Chryssavgis, John (2008-06-06). In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Treasures of the World’s Religions) (Kindle Locations 2170-2171). World Wisdom. Kindle Edition.