Transforming Habits of Spiritual People
In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen!
I am not yet the spiritual person God wants me to be. Indeed, I know that the meaning of salvation is to be and become spiritual, filled with the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of a new year I reflect on what is required of me to move just a little closer to this divine intention for me, and for us all, that I become spiritual. Transformed by the grace and gift of the divine life and love within me by the indwelling Holy Spirit. There are many things that I might make the subject of a new year’s resolution, and which might improve my life in one way or another. But the meaning of being a human being is to be united with God, to become spiritual, and so before all else it is these transforming habits which I need to acquire in an increasing degree.
Developing a habit requires some effort. At first it might seem that we are making little progress, but through persevering with the grace and help of God, we can make these practices habitual. This is not the same as them being spiritual, since we can do many things without them being performed from the heart. But when they have become habitual it means that it is easier for us to turn to them each day, and it is easier for us to focus our heart upon them with transforming fruitfulness. But we have to begin by developing these habits.
#1 – Read a portion of the Bible daily
We will not get far in the spiritual life if we do not read the Bible, regularly and daily. It is the record of God’s divine perseverance in love towards mankind, and it is filled in every page with the very teaching of God in different types of text. God has provided it for our salvation, and as St Paul instructs us…
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17
It is not enough for us to have a Bible, or a Bible App. We must read and study the Scriptures if we wish to become complete and thoroughly equipped. To make this a habit we should do no more than begin by being sure to read carefully the Gospel which is given for us in the Liturgy of each day. We can use the Coptic Reader App to find the passage of the Gospel for each day, or we can use another Bible reading scheme. We must begin, not with grand ideas of all the things we might read, but by simply deciding, by the grace of God, to read this one little thing, a portion of the Gospel each day. In due course we might be able to commit ourselves to more. But we begin with the passage for the Liturgy, or some other programme of breaking down the Scriptures. And we ensure that we do not start the day without reading this passage and prayerfully reflecting on it for a few moments, so that it will provide us with a lesson and inspiration to take into the day.
#2 – Pray one of the Hours from the Agpeya each day
We should not underestimate the value of the Agpeya. It has nourished the spiritual life of multitudes of spiritual people. It is not for beginners only by any means. It teaches us how we should pray, and this demands a lengthy apprenticeship. All too quickly we imagine that we know what we are doing and saying when we pray, and we don’t need any help. But it is only after using the Agpeya for many years that we begin to learn how to address God in prayer in different ways.
The habit of praying the Agpeya also preserves us from abandoning prayer when we are facing difficulties or times of dryness. When we have made it a habit to pray the Agpeya once in the day, and this is the beginning of a habit, then we discover that the force of this habit encourages us to pray, even when we feel unwilling. Many of the prayers of the Agpeya are also found in our liturgical worship together, and the Agpeya is filled with Scripture and Psalms. We discover, when we pray the Agpeya each day, that we are united in our prayer with the whole community of the Church.
There are times when the Agpeya appears boring or fruitless, but when we persevere by God’s grace at such times, we discover much later that we have experienced a maturing of our spiritual life, and a frutifulness that was not immediately apparent. Learning to discipline ourselves to pray just one hour from the Agpeya each day, and offering that time to God, with the intention that these words we pray represent our spiritual aspirations, slowly transforms our spiritual life, so that we come to enjoy the Agpeya as a necessary and spiritually seasoned gift, rather than a difficult and oppressive obligation.
#3 – Pray the Jesus Prayer each day
The meaning of salvation is not found in obeying rules so that we earn our way to Heaven, or trying to do more good things than bad things. Salvation is found in the present and continuing experience of union with God in this life, as the guarantee of what is to come. Prayer is to stand in the presence of God, which is life and light and love, and therefore the effort made to practice unceasing prayer and remembrance of God is already an experience of this transforming spiritual union with God.
One of the most fruitful means of developing this practice of unceasing prayer is the use of what is known as the Jesus Prayer. It is the words – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me It can be used in a variety of ways, such as the following…
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
What is important is that we make the effort to develop this prayer as a spiritual habit, and then that we try to unite our heart with each remembrance of these words, so that it becomes true prayer. But we must begin with the habit. We should develop this in several ways. In the prayers from the Agpeya, we can add a certain number of uses of the Jesus Prayer, perhaps 50. We pray the words slowly and concentrate on them. The words are few, and so our mind is encouraged to become quiet, but the meaning is very deep, and we are drawn into God’s presence when we make them our own.
But we might also obtain a prayer rope, or a set of beads, of a variety of lengths, so that we can also set aside a particular time each day to pray this prayer a particular number of times. And we should also start committing ourselves to pray it as we walk to school, or college, or drive to work, or do the shopping. Slowly, if we persevere, it will become a habit, and everytime our mind is not occupied these words will rise to the surface of our thoughts and invite us to make them a true prayer. But we must develop the habit first. Start with 50 of these prayers, and pray them as a duty, and they will soon become a joy.
After much use of this prayer it is possible to pray it for hours at a time with great spiritual benefit, and to discover that it sustains us when otherwise we might be bored or lonely. Through this prayer, when it is a habit, we find that God is always present.
#4 – Receive Communion as often as possible
Our spiritual life is not a matter of our own effort, but it requires at all times, the gift of the grace of God, the divine life and energy which sustains and transforms our own human effort into one which produces spiritual fruit. This divine life and energy is the indwelling Holy Spirit, who unites us with God in Christ. Above all other experiences, we receive this divine life and energy in the communion of the divine and immortal mysteries of the Eucharist, when the bread and wine we offer to God, are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we receive the life of God not only spiritually in the soul, but physically in the body, so that our whole being might be united with God.
If we wish to become spiritual people then we must receive this gift of spiritual life and energy as often as we are able, and with the necessary preparation of mind and heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself says…
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. John 6:53
Our spiritual life is an expression of this divine life and energy which we receive as a gift of God, the gift of himself. This must also become a habit. Not only that we make every effort to attend the Eucharist and receive communion in the Holy Mysteries, but that we do all that is necessary to prepare ourselves before hand, and that we do not waste the grace that we receive afterwards. It is easy to attend the Liturgy when there are no obstacles, or when we enjoy being with friends, but we must make our attendance a habit that is not easily broken, so that we overcome obstacles to attendance, and so that we wish to be present and receive the divine life, which is our salvation, even if none of our friends are present and it is not easy to offer the time of prayer to God.