Making Prayer a Priority
Five Steps to Daily Prayer… Or Your Money Back!
by Br Nathan Miller, LC | Source: Catholic.net
“What do I want to do today?” A question most people don’t ask themselves very often. Most have a set routine – up at 6:30am, shower, dress, coffee, cereal, car, work – a determined lifestyle.
Everything is clockwork: since coffee is a must, we don’t get up at 6:40; since punctuality is priority, we don’t drive the scenic route. Even most kids are subjected to priorities – school, homework, football practice, dance class – things that can’t be missed.
And yet, if asked candidly whether prayer or baseball practice is more important, most Catholic adults will rumble a preset, catechism-style answer: “prayer is more important,” and in the same breath proceed to take their child to baseball practice without having said their Saturday morning prayers. What’s more, rarely does the average businessman schedule prayer. And why should he if he doesn’t know what it’s for? There’s the rub. Catholics miss out because they don’t know what prayer is.
• Prayer is our strategy meeting with the boss – he shows us what needs to change in the way we buy and sell.
• Prayer is our daily visit to the weight room – we gain muscle by constancy.
• Prayer is mealtime – we don’t grow, let alone live, if we don’t eat.
• Prayer is the locker room pep-talk before we hit the football field – we are much more likely to win if we have a strong decision.
Here are “Five Steps to Daily Prayer… Or Your Money Back!”
1. Fix a time in your daily routine.
The highly praised contemporary planning system “Franklin-Covey” is esteemed by entrepreneurs because it helps them not only to organize time, but to prioritize their lives, that is, to choose to live how and what they want to. As Catholics, we know that prayer is the “one important thing”, yet we never get around to making it a priority simply because it never presents itself as urgent. This programming device helps businessmen to distinguish between what’s urgent and what’s important. Instead on focusing crazed efforts on trying to do everything that has to be done right now, they are shown how to prioritize time and to spend it wisely on things that may not be urgent, but that are important.
Choose a daily time that will not be disturbed. If it takes getting up 10 minutes earlier, then set that alarm accordingly. In the same way that a husband cannot begin to treat his wife more kindly without first having decided to actually spend time with her, one cannot become a saint without first choosing to be with God in prayer. And just as a man cannot treat his wife to dinner without picking a date and time, so is it impossible to make prayer a priority without choosing a daily time in the clockwork routine for this most important date with God.
2. Know what you’re after.
This has been called by long standing tradition the fruit of prayer. The more I want some fruit like deeper humility or patience with my children, the more love I will put into my time with God. We should go into prayer desiring to ask the Father for the things that we need as his children. Would you let your high school son step out of the locker room towards kickoff without “win, win, win” on his mind? Do we ever hop in the car without first knowing where we want to go? Likewise our lives find new direction when we use our prayer to break down harmful obstacles and build up positive virtues.
The greatest saints were not those who had great human qualities. They were the people who wanted to be saints, and knowing their own weaknesses, begged God in prayer to use them as his instruments.
3. Pick a source.
Some like to use a daily meditation booklet, others the Gospel or the Liturgy, still others may use a spiritual book that centers on a virtue that they want to attain. In our contemporary day and age there are even websites and SMS services that offer solid daily reflections. Look around and pick what helps you the most. Since we are always on the path to holiness – even the saint falls seven times a day – over time we get to know ourselves better and to see what virtues and vices we need to work on the most. Thus our prayer can always improve by helping us center our efforts specifically on those special areas. Try starting with 5 to 10 minutes in the morning increasing the time slowly, following the advice of a solid spiritual director and the light of the Holy Spirit.
Begin by choosing your text (preferably beforehand so as not to waste time). Place yourself in God’s presence interiorly. It is helpful to pray always in the same place – chapel, bedroom – so as to leave distractions behind. After speaking briefly with the Father or Jesus as one speaks with a friend, tell him what you want in your prayer, that is, petition the fruit in your own words. Then take the text and read it once or twice slowly, reflecting on what the Holy Spirit might be trying to say. After reading and listening to the Holy Spirit return to a heartfelt dialogue with the one who loves you and renew your petition. This can be repeated in order to wrest, as it were, the most graces out of our intimate contact with God.
5. Make a decision.
It is crucial to wipe away the misconception that prayer is a duty and a goal in itself. Prayer is a means to help us live better. If it doesn’t change me, it isn’t real prayer. Speaking to the one who loves us should bring us to know and love more and thus to Imitate. After spending time with the Father, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin or the Saints, we need to allow what we have seen to change us. Now is the time to decide to be a different person today in accordance with the fruit that we were seeking. If I was looking for patience, for example, and meditated on Christ’s dealings with his disciples’ hardness of heart, I can make the resolution to be patient today with someone I find it hard to get along with. In short, the goal of prayer is to discover God’s will and forge our own to be like his, on our knees.
The art of prayer is quickly returning to the Church because men and women are beginning to realize that it is extremely important and deserves to be made priority. Is God a priority in your life too?
Brother Nathan Miller, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.