Preparing the Heart for Prayer

"I sought the Lord, and he hearkened to me [Psalm 33 (34): 5].  Where did the Lord hearken?  Within.  And where does he give you what you ask?  Within.  There you pray, there you are heard, there you are made happy.  You prayed, your prayer was heard, you are happy; yet a person standing beside you knows nothing about it, because the whole transaction took place in a hidden way, as the Lord commanded in the gospel: Go into your private room, shut your door, and pray in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will give you your reward [Matthew 6:6].  Entering your private room means entering your heart.  Blessed are those who enjoy entering their hearts, and find nothing unpleasant there....

"Do all you can to make your home-coming to your own heart pleasant.  Clean it, because the clean of heart are blessed, and they will see God.  Take the filth of disordered desires outside; get rid of the dirt of avarice and poisonous superstitions, banish profanities and evil thoughts.  As for hatred--and I do not mean only hatred of your friend, but even of your enemy--rid your heart of every trace of it.  Then enter your heart, and you will enjoy being there.  When you begin to enjoy it, the very cleanliness of your heart will be a delight to you and make you want to pray.  You know how it is if you go into some place where there is silence and an atmosphere of peace, a clean place.  You say, 'Let's pray here.'  The harmony of the place delights you, and you are ready to believe that God will hear you there.  If the cleanliness of a visible place is so delightful to you, why does the uncleanness of your heart not offend you?  In you go!  Clean up everything, then lift your eyes to God and he will immediately hearken to you.  Cry out to him, I sought the Lord and he hearkened to me, and rescued me from all my troubles [Psalm 33 (34): 5].  Troubles?  Yes, because when you have been enlightened and have begun to live with a good conscience in this world, troubles remain.  Some weakness remains in you until death is swallowed up in victory and this mortality of ours is clothed with immortality.  Inevitably you will feel the lash in this world; you are bound to suffer some temptations and sinful urges.  God will cleanse it all and rescue you from every trouble.  Seek him."

--Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), Expositions of the Psalms 33-50, Exposition 2 of Psalm 33, trans. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), pp. 29-30.

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