By Claire, Philippines
I was born into a Catholic family, and since I was young, I observed all kinds of religious rituals with my parents, among which various prayers impressed me most. Rosarywas the most basic one we Catholic had to keep. Every night we would pray the Rosary. First, we made the sign of the cross with the crucifix on our fingers and prayed the Apostles’ Creed; next, we prayed the Our Father, ten Hail Marys, the Glory Be, and prayed mysteries for each of the five sections of the rosary, and then prayed a Hail Mary. The prayers were very long, and it was really not easy to finish all of them.
“Nine-day prayer” was also another kind of prayer in Catholicism, which meant praying for the same wish for nine days in a row so as to gain the Lord’s favor and help. We also had a prayer-book, in which there were different prayers for different wishes. Before praying, we would intensively meditate on our wishes; then we would read the related words in the book; after finishing these words, we would say Our Father, Hail Mary, The Glory Be, then meditate, and say the Closing Prayer to end the prayer. It was really not easy to finish this prayer either, and at that time I thought it a godly manner. But as time went on, I found that many of my wishes failed to come true. I couldn’t help but start to wonder: “Isn’t it said that as long as we pray for the same wish for 9 days in a row then it will come true? Why haven’t my wishes been realized? If such prayer cannot help us get our wishes, then why do we keep praying in such a way?” Thus I became somewhat unwilling to attend this prayer, but seeing everyone else in the church did so, I had no choice but to keep on acting this way.
Apart from the prayers above, there was also walking and praying the Rosary. Each time we did it, we would get up at 3 a.m., carry the statue of the Blessed Mother to a room, kneel in prayer and repeat the prayers over and over for an hour, and then move to another room and repeat the process. Actually, I really didn’t want to attend this ritual, because I was so tired and sleepy when doing it. I was also a little confused: “Why don’t we pray directly to the Lord, but pray to the Blessed Mother instead?” But I often heard my parents say: “Theis the Holy Son, and Mary is His Blessed Mother. If we want to ask something from the Lord Jesus, we should pray to the Blessed Mother first. Through her intercession, our prayers will certainly be answered.” In addition, I knew that was the rule of Catholicism, and didn’t want to be condemned by the Lord for breaking it. So I still persisted in attending this ceremony following the crowd. This continued until one day when an accident happened during our prayer …
Early that morning, some of my church friends carried the statue into a church friend’s house as we always did, then they prayed the Rosary inside the house while the rest of us prayed outside. This was when the accident happened. The 2-storey house suddenly collapsed. The ceiling fell and hurt the owner of the house and the other people downstairs. I was standing outside the front gate then so I escaped unscathed. Having witnessed the dangerous situation, I felt afraid as well as confused, thinking: “We were serving the Lord, and praying to Him, so why did He let this thing happen? Does our prayer not please Him?” Fearing occurrences of similar accidents, I stopped attending this kind of ceremony and prayed the Rosary on my own instead.
One day, during my devotions, I saw several verses of scripture, “And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard” (Matthew 6:5–7). I pondered carefully: The Lord told us that we shall not be like the hypocrites, who prayed on purpose for man to hear, but rather to pray to the Lord with a true heart, and that saying more words in prayer might not necessarily please Him. I recalled that all these years in my prayers, I had done nothing but repeat the certain words every day, just like repeating a lesson, and every time I would pray for a long period of time. I also thought of the tragedy which happened during our walking and praying. I thought: Maybe God hated what we did; if not, why didn’t He protect us when we were praying? Maybe I had been led onto the wrong path. Thinking of this, I decided not to repeatedly pray the Rosary in the future, but only to pray to our Father one time, Hail Mary and Holy Mary 10 times, and then pray in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Despite this, I still could not be moved by the Lord, and felt very far away from Him. Once, when I was practicing spiritual devotion, I saw the Bible mention fasting and praying. So I started to fast to show my reverence for God and meantime asked Him to help me find a better job. However, every time after that, there was nothing but hunger and headache left with me. Several months later, I still wasn’t moved by the Lord, and my job wasn’t changed either. Moreover, my health got worse and worse and I got sick frequently, so I stopped fasting. I felt confused: “I’ve paid such a great price, so why does the Lord still not listen to my prayer? Has the Lord really cast me away?” My heart got increasingly empty and dark, and my confidence became weaker by the day.
In 2017, I got to know brothers and sisters of The Church of Almighty God on Facebook. They told me: “The Lord Jesus has returned, coming in the flesh as Almighty God, and He has expressed many truths and is performing a new stage of His work. Only by praying in the name of Almighty God can we receive the work of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, no matter how hard we pray, it would be in vain. It’s just like when the Lord Jesus came to do His work, regardless how hard people prayed to Jehovah God, He didn’t listen to them and they couldn’t attain the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit. Only those who accepted the Lord Jesus’ work and prayed in His name could feel His presence and enjoy His blessing and grace.”
After hearing their fellowship, I finally understood that the Lord had returned with a new name, but I still prayed in the name of the Lord Jesus, and that was why I couldn’t attain the Holy Spirit’s work. But still I didn’t know what other aspects of my prayers were not after. Until one day, I saw the following words of God: “Most people think that in order to have a normal spiritual life one must pray, sing, eat and drink the words of God, or try to figure out the words of God. No matter whether there is any result, or whether there is a true understanding, these people just focus on going through the motions on the outside, and do not focus on the result—they are people living within the rituals of religion, and are not people living within the church, and even less are they people of the kingdom. This kind of person’s prayers, singing, and eating and drinking of the words of God are all abiding by the rules, they are compelled to do them, and they are done in keeping with trends; they are not done willingly or done from the heart. No matter how much these people pray or sing, there will be no result at all, because all they practice are religious rules and rituals, and they are not practicing the word of God. By only focusing on the method, and taking the words of God as rules to keep, this kind of person is not practicing the word of God, but is satisfying the flesh, and is doing things to show off to others. This kind of religious ritual and rule comes from man, not from God. God does not keep rules, does not abide by any laws; He does new things every day and He does practical work. Like the people in the Three-Self Church who are limited to daily morning watch, evening prayers, giving thanks before meals, expressing thanks in everything, and other such practices, no matter how much these people do, or how long they practice, they will not have the work of the Holy Spirit. If people live within rules, with their hearts poured into practice, then the Holy Spirit has no way to work, because people’s hearts are taken up with rules, are taken up with human conceptions; therefore God has no way to do work; people will just always be living under control of the law, and this type of person will never be able to receive the praise of God.”
After reading God’s words, I understood that any prayer which is ineffective and merely a case of going through the motions is a religious rule and ritual, which is unbeloved by God. I recalled my prayers before, such as Rosary prayer, Nine-day prayer, walking and praying, and fasting and praying—I just paid attention to outward practices but didn’t focus on whether there was any result or not, just performing ceremonies. Later, though I was confused about these ceremonies and unwilling to observe them, seeing that others in the church all prayed that way and considered it beloved by the Lord, I had no choice but to follow them. However, having kept the ceremonies all these years, not only did I not have peace and joy in my heart, I actually was ever more tired, and my relationship with the Lord grew more and more remote. Only now did I have a real awakening: God didn’t like such religious prayers, and thus no matter how much we prayed, we couldn’t gain the work of the Holy Spirit. I felt that I had been so ignorant before.
Afterward, I read another two passages of God’s words regarding prayer. Almighty God says, “A normal spiritual life is to live a life before God. When praying one can quiet one’s heart before God, and through prayer one can seek for enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, know God’s words, and can understand the will of God.” “Prayer is not a case of going through the formalities, or following procedure, or reciting the words of God, which is to say, prayer does not mean parroting words and copying others. In prayer, you must give your heart to God, sharing the words in your heart with God so that you may be touched by God.”
God’s words state very clearly that prayer is not to go through processes, go through the motions, or recite God’s words by heart, but rather to gain more enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit and understand God’s will and requirement. I thought of how I had always observed various rituals of Catholicism in prayer. Every time I prayed, I just repeated the same words, and I wasn’t moved by God at all; after my prayer I only felt my legs were tired and in pain. Sometimes when I just started praying, I wanted to end it quickly. In every prayer I went through the process. I remembered the words the Lord said, “God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). God doesn’t care how much we say or how long we pray. Instead, He requests us to pray to Him with a sincere heart. I recalled that although later I didn’t say certain words repeatedly in prayer, I didn’t pray that God enlightened me to understand His will and words. At the thought of this, I saw even more clearly that my prayers in the past weren’t in line with God’s will.
I later read these words from God: “What does it mean to truly pray? It means speaking the words within your heart to God, and communing with God having grasped His will and based upon His words; it means feeling particularly close to God, feeling that He is in front of you, and that you have something to say to Him; and it means being especially radiant within your heart, and feeling that God is especially lovely. You will feel especially inspired, and after hearing your words your brothers and sisters will feel gratified, they will feel that the words you speak are the words within their hearts, the words they wish to say, and that what you say represents what they want to say. This is what it means to truly pray.” “Whilst praying, your heart must be at peace before God, and it must be sincere. You are truly communing and praying with God; you must not deceive God using nice-sounding words. Prayer must be centered around that which God wishes to complete today. Ask God to bring you greater enlightenment and illumination, and bring your actual state and troubles before God to pray, and make resolution before God. Prayer is not the following of procedure, but the seeking of God using your true heart. Ask that God protect your heart, making it able to often be at peace before God, making you able to know yourself, and despise yourself, and forsake yourself in the environment that God has set for you, thus allowing you to have a normal relationship with God and making you someone who truly loves God.”
From God’s words I understood that true prayer means opening wide our heart to God and speaking to Him about the words within our heart and the difficulties we encounter, and asking for His enlightenment, illumination, and guidance so that we can recognize our own corruption. Only then will God enlighten us to understand His will. Thinking back to how I prayed in the past, I felt even more ashamed: Every time when praying I just recited certain words by heart instead of speaking the words within my heart to God; moreover, my prayers were not reasonable—all that I asked from God were grace, such as a better life, and so on. I only prayed for my own interests, but never for gaining God’s enlightenment or breaking away from sin. I thought of the words that the Lord Jesus said, “Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31–33). The Lord Jesus taught us that we should take no thought of what we shall eat or how we shall be clothed, because He will prepare and arrange all these things for us. But I always prayed for my fleshly life and never prayed for my spiritual life, which was really not in line with God’s will. Besides, I also deceived God with some pleasant-sounding words. When I committed sins, for fear of being spurned by God, I prayed to Him for forgiveness and guaranteed not to sin next time. Actually, I knew that being of small stature, I couldn’t triumph over sin and would commit sins again, but I didn’t say the words in my heart to God. Now I realized that my prayers were not done from the heart; they were false. I should pray to tell God about my difficulties of triumphing over sin, and ask Him to guide me to know my sins and cast off the bonds and constraints of sin.
Next, I started to practice in accordance with God’s words. In my daily life, no matter what I encounter, I will pray to God in my heart to seek His will. I never again feel bored in prayer; instead, every time I pray, I feel that I have something to say to God and after praying, I feel at ease and at peace in my heart. The old religious prayers were tiring and boring, but now praying in the new way has brought me much enjoyment, and when praying I’m able to quiet my heart before God, no longer feeling exhausted or bored again. What’s more, no matter what problems or difficulties I encounter, when I entrust them to God and obey His orchestrations and arrangements, I see His guidance and leadership, and understand more and more about His will. I’m grateful to God for allowing me to understand what true prayer means, break free from the bondage of the prayers of religious rituals and rules and regulations, and be able to freely pray to God every day. Thanks be to God!
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