The conviction that prayer should be exclusively a matter of desire holds a specific place among other misconceptions existing in church today. I have personally heard variations of this idea voiced by a variety of people more than a dozen times. The fact of the matter is that because it is difficult for them to pray regularly in the mornings and evenings, they pray occasionally from time to time. Their argument has always been the same: you can’t pray without desire! This is said every time with absolute conviction, as if it were really true. This makes sense, because it really isn’t easy to read the morning and evening prayers every day, and it seems to be such a good excuse… However, truth be told, it is better to be silent than to make such arguments.
In reality, self-compulsion is the very basis of prayer. Clearly, prayer without desire does not come close to a sincere and voluntary appeal to God. However, it is useful to ask ourselves, “How often do I feel the desire to pray? The honest answer to this would be “Not very often”, and that is the whole point. If we turned to God only when we felt the desire, we would probably pray, at best, once every couple of months. This is why prayer under compulsion is so widespread in church. It helps us develop the prayer skill. In other words, if you want to learn to pray with desire, try to pray in spite of your unwillingness. In still other words, besides turning to God and showing gratitude for the day, the importance of the evening prayer rule is the “rule” part. It is important that the prayer enters our life and becomes the norm, making it more orderly, measured and calm.
Another common question is whether it is permissible to replace the full prayer rule with its abbreviated versions. Although reading the full prayers is clearly the best option, consistency is an overarching characteristic of the prayer rule. That makes the choice and the quantity of prayers secondary, especially in situations when a person is forced to work most of the day and there is neither time nor energy left for normal prayer. In such a situation it is much better to read two or three prayers regularly than go through the entire evening prayer rule every now and then. The same can be said about mothers of young children who have no control over their time at all. Sometimes people become accustomed to reading the same prayer rule and begin to read it by heart without thinking about its meaning. In this case, it is useful to start reading something else (for example, Psalms) instead of the usual evening prayers for a while. Again, the very fact of prayer before bedtime is of primary importance.
Summarizing what has been said, two things are important — the consistency of the daily prayer rule and the regular self-constraint necessary for its fulfilment. Both go back to the centuries-long experience of the church and are salvific for every person on the path of fulfilling the commandments of God.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds