Chris Hall, in Worshiping With the Church Fathers
, examines the topic of prayer in the fathers and he has several chps because the topic of prayer was so central to the worship of the early fathers.
Proba, a woman, wrote a letter to Augustine asking his advice on prayer to which he responded in a letter now famous in those who study prayer. One of Augustine’s points was that she, a wealthy woman, relied too much on what she owned and that such a life detracted from a prayer life. The brevity of life and the need to embrace death are necessary ideas for Augustine and the fathers’ sense of both spirituality and worship.
Chris Hall asks how long it has been since one heard a sermon about signs of our death. So he quotes from Psalm 39:
39:4 “O Lord, help me understand my mortality and the brevity of life!
Let me realize how quickly my life will pass!
39:5 Look, you make my days short-lived, and my life span is nothing from your perspective.
Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor.
39:6 Surely people go through life as mere ghosts. Surely they accumulate worthless wealth without knowing who will eventually haul it away.”
39:7 But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying? You are my only hope!
Gregory of Nyssa reflects — deeply and profoundly — on the ease of neglecting prayer time. Work and passions and laziness … but no one plans to neglect prayer.
Then back to Proba and Augustine, and Augustine probes further to see if her pursuit of happiness is genuine. He wonders if pleasure is her source of happiness and — Hall observes — rather surprisingly hopes for some desolation. Desiring only that which is truly good is the secret to happiness according to Augustine. Augustine believed knowing these things mattered in prayer … and even friendship is to be had for the sake of God. For Augustine, the ultimate aim is the vision of God.
A few more ideas from Augustine: we pray unceasingly in order to conform our desires to God’s desires, and then he examines unanswered prayer through Richard Foster and John Chrysostom, telling a story about Reba and Rachel that are worth the price of the book (and I won’t spoil it here). What he has learned is this: don’t give up.