Very often, one can even say, in the majority of cases, we come to church in the search for help, especially during the time of trouble, sorrow, or grief. The heart shows us the way, gives us a direction; the soul of every person yearns for God and inexorably attracts one to the church. Having crossed the threshold of the church, having heard the most accessible and comforting prayer “Lord, have mercy”, little by little, we become eyewitnesses and participants of a great miracle: our repentance, renewal, and healing.
At first look, it seems that this process is extremely simple: church is perceived as a pharmacy, or a store – you come, get what you need, and continue on your way. However, such an approach – even when it is at the subconscious level – always ends in a disappointment. Some for a short while, others for a number of years try to get something from God; I shall dare to say that some try to get their own way with all righteous and unrighteous means.
In some cases, everything is resolved in good time: we are churched and begin to see our needs differently. Yet at other times, on account of our weakness of soul and our willfulness, we get stuck in erroneous opinions, built upon and by all means founded on our fleshly reasonings. Stubbornly striving after our goal, there are times, when we undertake considerable efforts: we fast too strictly, take upon ourselves extended prayer rules, read one after another books on spiritual life, look for elders, in order to use their blessings as some seal of approval for our desires and actions. In other words: we become great zealots, yet without proper understanding.
In itself, fasting, prayer rule, reading of spiritual books is without doubt of great benefit, save for the times when they are, in essence, some bargaining tool in trading with God. I really need something, so I’ll fast more strictly, I’ll say some extra prayers, will read some books, and look, perhaps, the Lord will give me what I want. How always painful it is to see such, though most sincere, yet still mistaken way of thinking.
Such an approach toward spiritual life was already condemned by the Lord. Blinded by our desires, we do not hear His strict warning. Addressing pharisees, lawyers, and scribes, the Lord accused them for trying by all means to keep the letter of the law, at the same time violating its spirit. The Lord said: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)
What did He want to say by those words? The Lord did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it and taught us to live by the commandments. Consequently, we should fast, pray, and read the Holy Gospel. Only we must always remember that we do all that in order to have the strength to fight with our passions: with pride, avarice, hardness of heart and others. Our passions are those camels, which we swallow, in other words, we do not pay due attention to fighting them.
If we use the weapons for the spiritual struggle with the passions for our own self-centered goals and then, when, in the end we do not get what we want, we are mistaken about the reasons for our sorrows and consider ourselves righteous and worthy of God’s help, we run the risk of becoming exhausted and mentally ill, of losing our faith, of becoming angry with the church and its ministers, the risk of becoming a prey of the evil one.
Such are the consequences of self-will.
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Saint Isaac the Syrian said that grace is bestowed not for the virtues, but for the humility, which is born in those, who try to acquire the virtues and come to see their falls, sins and shortcomings.
In the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord gave us an example of how we should pray and ask God: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) In this short prayer the Lord humbles Himself twice, saying first: “if it be possible”, and then: “nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
Let us also, when we seek help from God, seek deliverance from sorrows, believe with our whole heart in His loving providence for us sinners, knowing that everything always happens for the better, for our benefit. Let us always remember that the words “Thy will be done” are part of the Lord’s prayer. Then, no sorrow, no trial will be able to darken our reason and separate us from the love of God and commitment to His Church.