After Leaving Religious Rites Behind, I Learned How to Pray so God Would Hear

September 10, 2021

By Claire, the Philippines

I was born into a Catholic family, and from the time I was a little girl I observed all sorts of religious rituals along with my parents. The prayers were the ones that left the deepest impression on me. The Rosary was the most foundational one for us as Catholics, and we’d recite it every evening. First we’d hang a beaded cross pendant off a finger while making the sign of the cross and recite the Apostles’ Creed; we’d recite the Lord’s Prayer once, Hail Mary ten times, and the Gloria Patri once. We’d announce the mystery of the Rosary at the first decade, then we’d recite it for the second, third and fourth decades, and the mystery of the Rosary at the fifth decade. After that we recited Hail Holy Queen. These prayers were really long—doing the whole thing wasn’t easy.

A novena is another one of the Catholic prayers, and it’s done over the course of nine days with a single intention in mind. The purpose is to be graced with God’s help. We had a prayer guidebook that had different prayers for different intentions. Before praying, we would focus our thoughts on what we were hoping for, and then find the right prayer to recite. When we finished the prayer, we’d recite the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, the Gloria Patri, and then we’d finish up with silent contemplation and a final prayer. It was really hard to complete a novena, too, and I always felt really pious when I did. But over time, I found that most of the things I was hoping for didn’t happen, and I started to feel puzzled. Didn’t they say that we just had to do these prayers nine days in a row with an intention in mind, and it would come true? Why weren’t any of my hopes being realized? And since they weren’t, why was I still doing that prayer? I started to feel reluctant to complete those prayers, but everyone else in the church was still doing them, so I had no choice but to follow along.

There was also a Rosary Procession that required us to get up at 3 a.m. and carry a statue of Mary from house to house, and at each one, we had to kneel down and pray for an hour, repeating those prayers nonstop. I actually didn’t want to participate at all. For one thing, it was exhausting and I was really sleepy, and for another, I felt confused: Why couldn’t we just pray directly to God, but instead prayed to the Virgin Mary? But my parents told me, “The Lord Jesus is the Holy Son and Mary is the Holy Mother, so whenever we want to ask for something from the Lord Jesus, we have to ask Mary first and she’ll ask on our behalf. Then it can be fulfilled.” I felt like this explanation was a little far-fetched, but I figured this was the rule of Catholicism and I didn’t want to break it and then be condemned by God. So I just went with the flow and kept doing it. Then something strange happened during one of our Rosary Processions….

Catholic Reflection for Today: Does God Lend an Ear to Those Who Always Pray the Rosary?

It was very early morning, and just like always, we carried the statue of Mary into the home of a church member. Some of us were reciting the Rosary in his home while some others were praying outside. Then something tragic happened—the two-story home just collapsed. The floor caved in, crushing the homeowner and some others. I was just outside the front door when this happened, and thankfully I narrowly escaped harm. Witnessing this horrible scene, I felt both afraid and confused. We were in the middle of worshiping God, of praying to Him, so why would He let that happen? Wasn’t He pleased with our prayers? Afraid something like that would happen again, I never participated in the Rosary Procession again, but I just recited the prayer on my own.

Then one day during my devotionals, I read these 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 gave this careful thought. God tells us not to be like hypocrites, praying just for others to hear, but we should pray to God from the heart. Also, God doesn’t want to hear more long-winded prayers. I thought back on all those years of reciting prayers. Even though they took a long time, saying the same words over and over every day was really just reciting something from memory. I also thought about that tragic thing that happened during the Rosary Procession, and I figured that God must not have liked what we were doing. Otherwise, why wouldn’t He protect us during our prayer? I thought that maybe I’d been led astray. And so, I decided I’d stop repeating the prayers for the Rosary, but would just keep on doing the Lord’s Prayer once, the ten Hail Marys, and ten Holy Marys, and then just pray in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Even so, I still didn’t feel moved by God, but felt really distant from Him. During a devotional one time, I saw a mention of a fasting prayer in the scriptures, so I thought that I could express my reverence for God by fasting, and at the same time ask Him to help me find a good job. But every time I finished my fasting prayer, all I was left with was an empty stomach and a headache. I kept this up for several months, but still didn’t feel moved by God and my work situation remained the same. And I was getting weaker physically and getting sick a lot, so I stopped fasting. I couldn’t make sense of it at the time: Why wasn’t God hearing my prayers, even though I was sacrificing so much? Had God really cast me aside? I was feeling more and more darkness and emptiness in my heart, and my faith was waning.

Then in 2017, I met some brothers and sisters from The Church of Almighty God on Facebook. They told me that the Lord has already returned, that He is Almighty God incarnate. They also said He has expressed truths and is doing a new stage of work, so the only way to have our prayers heard by God is to pray in Almighty God’s name. Otherwise, no matter how we pray, it won’t do any good. It was just like when the Lord Jesus came to work—God wouldn’t hear any prayers that were made to Yahweh, and people couldn’t gain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment that way. Only those who accepted the Lord Jesus’ work and prayed in His name could feel God alongside them and enjoy His blessings and grace.

In their fellowship, it was the first time I’d heard that the Lord had already returned and had a new name. I was still praying to the Lord Jesus, so that’s why I couldn’t feel moved by the Lord. But I still didn’t know exactly what it was about all of my past prayers that weren’t in line with God’s will. Then one day, I read this in God’s words: “Most people believe that a normal spiritual life necessarily involves praying, singing hymns, eating and drinking the words of God or pondering His words, regardless of whether such practices actually have any effect or lead to true understanding. These people focus on following superficial procedures without any thought to their results; they are people who live in religious rituals, not people who live within the church, and much less are they people of the kingdom. Their prayers, hymn singing, and eating and drinking of God’s words are all just rule-following, done out of compulsion and to keep up with trends, not out of willingness nor from the heart. However much these people pray or sing, their efforts will bear no fruit, for what they practice is just the rules and rituals of religion; they are not actually practicing God’s words. They focus only on making a fuss over how they practice, and they treat God’s words as rules to follow. Such people are not putting God’s words into practice; they are just gratifying the flesh, and performing for other people to see. These religious rules and rituals are all human in origin; they do not come from God. God does not follow rules, nor is He subject to any law. Rather, He does new things every day, accomplishing practical work. Like people in the Three-Self Church, who limit themselves to practices such as attending morning services every day, offering evening prayers and prayers of gratitude before meals, and giving thanks in all things—however much they do and for however long they do it, they will not have the work of the Holy Spirit. When people live amidst rules and have their hearts fixed on methods of practice, the Holy Spirit cannot work, because their hearts are occupied by rules and human notions. Thus, God is unable to intervene and work on them, and they can only continue living under the control of laws. Such people are forever incapable of receiving God’s praise.

It wasn’t until I read this passage that I realized that all those fruitless prayers were just going through the motions, that they were nothing more than religious rules and rituals. That’s not the kind of prayer God wants. I thought about all those Rosaries, novenas, Rosary Processions, and fasting prayers I’d done. I was focusing my effort on the process without thinking about its effectiveness—I was just observing rituals. And later on, I had some confusion about those prayer rituals and didn’t really want to keep doing them, but I saw everyone else in the church doing them and they said that was what God wanted, so I just followed along. After doing them all those years, not only was I not feeling peace and joy in my heart, but it was more and more tiring, and my relationship with God was becoming more distant. Reading this was a real awakening for me—God doesn’t enjoy these ritualistic prayers, and no matter how much someone might do them, their prayers will never be heard by the Lord. I felt like I’d been really foolish.

Later on, I read a couple more passages of Almighty God’s words about prayer. Almighty God says, “A normal spiritual life is a life lived before God. When praying, one can quiet one’s heart before God, and through prayer, one can seek the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, know God’s words, and understand God’s will.” “Prayer is not a case of just going through the motions, following procedure, or reciting the words of God. That is to say, praying is not parroting certain words and it is not imitating others. In prayer, one must reach the state where one’s heart can be given to God, laying open one’s heart so that it may be moved by God.

God’s words put it very clearly. Praying isn’t about going through the motions, following a procedure, or reciting God’s words. It’s about gaining more enlightenment and illumination from the Holy Spirit, and understanding God’s will and requirements. I thought about myself. I’d always followed all the Catholic practices for prayer, and every time I prayed, I’d say the same things. After I was done, I never felt moved by God. My legs just felt tired and achy, and sometimes I was longing for it to be over right after I started. I was just going through the motions for every prayer. It made me think of this Bible verse: “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 talk in prayer or how long we talk for, but He requires us to pray to Him with a heart of sincerity so that we can understand His words. Realizing this highlighted for me even more how the ways I’d prayed in the past really didn’t conform to God’s will.

There was another passage of God’s words that I read: “What is true prayer? It is telling God what is in your heart, communing with God as you grasp His will, communicating with God through His words, feeling especially close to God, sensing He is there before you, and believing you have something to say to Him. Your heart feels filled with light and you feel how lovable God is. You feel especially inspired, and listening to you brings gratification to your brothers and sisters. They will feel that the words you speak are the words within their hearts, the words they wish to say, as though your words were a substitute for their own. This is what true prayer is.” “When praying, you must have a heart that is quiet before God, and you must have a sincere heart. You are truly communing and praying with God—you must not try to wheedle God with nice-sounding words. Prayer should center upon that which God wishes to accomplish right now. Ask God to grant you greater enlightenment and illumination, bring your actual states and your troubles into His presence when you pray, including the resolution that you made before God. Prayer is not about following procedure; it is about seeking God with a sincere heart. Ask that God protect your heart, so that your heart may often be quiet before Him; that in the environment in which He has placed you, you would know yourself, despise yourself, and forsake yourself, thus allowing you to have a normal relationship with God and truly become someone who loves God.

I saw that true prayer is speaking to God from the heart. It’s opening up to God about the things that are on our mind, including the difficulties we are facing. We should pray for His guidance and enlightenment, so that we can recognize our own corruption. This is the only way God will enlighten us to understand His will. Looking back on how I’d prayed before, I felt even more embarrassed. Every time I prayed I was just reciting prayers, not sharing what was on my heart with God. I wasn’t reasonable when I was praying, either, but was just asking God for His grace, asking Him to give me a good life, and so on. It was all for my own benefit, never to gain God’s enlightenment or to get rid of sin. I remembered something 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 kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you(Matthew 6:31–33). The Lord Jesus taught us a long time ago not to be thinking of things like our food or clothing—God will prepare all of these things for us. But I was always praying for my fleshly life, not for my spiritual life. That kind of prayer wasn’t in line with God’s will at all. I would also say some things in prayer that just sounded nice, but that was being dishonest with God. When I failed to stop myself from sinning, I felt like God had abandoned me. I’d ask for God’s forgiveness and say I’d never do it again, but I actually knew that my stature was too small, and I couldn’t triumph over sin. I’d do it again, but I never shared my heart with God. Now I understood that my prayers weren’t coming from the heart, but they were empty and fake. I should pray to God about my struggles with sins I couldn’t stop committing and ask Him to help me understand my own wrongdoing, so He could guide me to be free from the bonds of sin.

From then on, I started putting these words of God into practice. Whenever I encountered something in my life, I would say a heartfelt prayer to God and seek His will. It didn’t feel tedious anymore, and I gained a sense of calm and peace after every prayer. I always felt like I had something to say to God. My old prayers were always tiring and boring for me, but with this new way of praying, I could really enjoy it. I became able to quiet my heart before God, and I didn’t feel exhausted or bored anymore. And whenever I ran into a problem or difficulty, as long as I sought God’s will and submitted to His rule and arrangements, I could see His guidance and understand His will more and more. I’m so grateful to God for showing me what true prayer is—now I’ve been freed from the constraints of religious rules and rituals for prayer. By praying to God sincerely, I gain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and inspiration and I’ve grown closer and closer to God. Thanks be to God!

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