When Prayer is to be preferred to service?

We should without fail accept the necessary duties that are imposed by the Providence of God; but we should lay aside needless tasks, preferring prayer, and especially when these tasks entice us into extravagance and lust for money. For the more one can, by the strength of the Lord, restrict these preoccupations and cut off the fuel which feeds them, the more he collects his mind from anxious wanderings. The more
he collects his mind, the more he allows room for pure prayer and manifests his faith in Christ. If one cannot do this, because of a lack of faith or some weakness, at least let him be well aware of the truth, and let him try as hard as he can, reproaching himself for his inability and for the infantile condition in which he still finds himself. For it is greatly
preferable that we give account to God for our deficiencies than for error and arrogance.

Beyond what we have said, we need much discernment from God, so that we may know when and what kind of service we should prefer to prayer. This is because every one of us, occupied as he is with what pleases him, thinks that he is carrying out a necessary service, without realizing that if one is to please God, he must judge whether things are pleasing to God and not to himself. But what is much more difficult for us to discern is the following: that even those demands which are obligatory are not always put forth equally; rather, according to circumstance, it behooves us to give preference, sometimes, to one thing and, sometimes, yet to another, since different services are not carried out continuously, but at a fixed time. Whereas, by contrast, prayer has been laid  down as a spiritual service without interruption (I Thessalonians 5:17).  For precisely this reason, we should prefer prayer to occupations that are not necessary.

Abba Mark, The Evergetinos, Book 2, Hypothesis ix, p.85.

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