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Heart of Prayer

Posted April 15, 2024

Let us not then make our prayer by the gesture of our body, not by the loudness of our voice, but by the earnestness of our mind: neither with noise and clamor and for display, so as even to disturb those that are near us, but with all modesty, and with contrition in the mind, and with inward tears . . . For not unto men art thou praying, but to God, who is everywhere present, who hears even before the voice, who knows the secrets of the mind. If thou so pray, great is the reward thou shalt receive. John Chrysostom, fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople

An old monk tells the story of an experience he had while walking one morning. Alone in the woods, it seemed at first like the whole world slumbered. But for the white noise of a cold creek running nearby, there was silence. Without warning, a new sound pierced the creek and interrupted his meditations. It was a voice that the monk described as intoxicatingly celestial. He immediately began to look around, curious about its source. His eyes landed on a branch opposite him where a tiny bird had perched. It was a nightingale. He was struck by the beauty of the bird’s song, how its throat puffed out and then exploded with praise. The monk couldn’t help but cry as he heard the concert of the nightingale.

He asked himself, Why is it doing this? Is it waiting for someone to praise it? Certainly not. No one is here. It didn’t know that I would be passing by this way. Struck by the fact that the nightingale raised such a melody for none but God, the monk exclaimed, “How marvelously you unceasingly carry on your duty, your prayer to God, O nightingale!”

In prayer, we are to be like that nightingale. Prayer is the song of your heart to God. Sometimes it’s an explosion of praise, and other times it’s a trickling lamentation. In either case, the source of true prayer is the heart. Jesus made this clear when speaking about a group of people whose hearts were unchanged by God’s love. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). God draws prayer out of his people like a person draws water from a well. Here, the man doesn’t need water, but he wants it. God desires our prayers, and while they echo from our lips, prayer doesn’t originate with the tongue. It reverberates from the deeper chambers of your heart, the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). God wants to hear your heartfelt prayers.

This struck me recently when preaching through the book of Revelation. In chapter 8, John had a vision of Jesus, the Lamb of God, opening a scroll. When he opened the last seal of the scroll, there was “silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Revelation 8:1). Why the heavenly hush? Up until chapter 8, John described heaven as a place of thunderous noise. Imagine the voices of an innumerable multitude singing to God with full-throated vigor, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12). Then suddenly, they all stop.

As a minister without a church office, most of my work happens at coffee shops. Occasionally I’ll try to get work done at home, but we have five children crammed into a three-bedroom house in urban San Diego. The love that fills our home is matched only by the decibels. Every so often I’ll be at the house when an important phone call comes. Right before I answer the call, I hold up my cell and let out a big “Shhhhhh.” Only when I’ve gotten the attention of my noisy cherubs and things have quieted down do I pick up the phone so I can hear the person on the other line. We ask for silence when we want to attune our ears to something, like a phone call or an important message. God is no different. He hushes the heavenly beings to listen closely to the prayers of his people.

Consider how Revelation 8 continues in verses 3–4:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

The silence of heaven makes way for the prayers of the saints. Now of course, God isn’t hard of hearing. John’s vision here is meant for us, to show us that our prayers are not drowned out by the noise around God. In his commentary on Revelation, theologian G. K. Beale notes that there was a tradition among some Jews that taught the angels in heaven would praise God at night, while Israel slept, but then remain silent during the day so that the prayers of the people could be heard by God. In a symbolic way, Revelation communicates something similar. God is listening closely to our prayers. He’s not distracted or busy with other things. He quiets heaven to hear the cries of his children on earth.

Excerpted from Praying with Jesus: Getting to the Heart of the Lord’s Prayer © 2024 by Adriel Sanchez. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.

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  • Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios (Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2005), 31–32.

  • G. K. Beale, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Company, 1999), 451.

Photo of Adriel Sanchez
Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.