Many people talk about how prayer gave them clarity, direction and strength in the most confusing and difficult times of their life. ‘When I’m troubled,’ they say, ‘I just pray.’ It seems so simple for them. But most struggle. ‘I don’t know what to pray for.’ ‘I don’t know if I’m praying the right way.’ Others feel that their prayers are flat and mechanical. They yearn for a way to connect to God, but the words feel empty and powerless. If these sound familiar, try one of these deeps for a richer and deeper prayer life.
1. Find a quiet time and place.
It’s hard to pray when you’re surrounded by crying kids, ringing phones, or the endless hum of the television. Look for a quiet spot. It doesn’t have to be a church—many people find they can pray better in a garden, or even at their kitchen when everybody is asleep. Or, you can set your alarm clock 20 minutes earlier so you can steal quiet time before the morning madness starts.
2. Set a regular ‘date’ with the Divine.
Don’t wait for a quiet time, create a quiet time. Block off a part of your day for prayer, and treat this ‘meeting’ as you would any appointment with an important client. This helps prayer become a habit, and also guarantees that you get spiritual nourishment on even the busiest days—which, come to think of it, is when you need it the most.
3. Look for opportunities to pray.
If tip # 2 makes you think, ‘I never have time!’ look at your schedule again. Chances are there are many activities that you can combine with prayer. Perhaps you can talk to the Lord while jogging, gardening, commuting to work, rocking the baby to sleep, or even washing the dishes. Any mechanical task can actually serve as a kind of ‘moving meditation,’ funneling your nervous energy into a repetitive and rhythmic activity while your thoughts and spirit soar.
4. Use your heart, your mind—and your voice.
While it is possible to say silent prayers any time of the day, try to pray aloud during your daily prayer date. This accomplishes many things. First, your thoughts are less likely to wander. Second, hearing your prayers can make them feel bolder, more powerful, and more real.
Some people aren’t comfortable with voicing their deepest fears and secret dreams. That’s okay. God knows what you’re thinking. However, you may notice a new level of intimacy and connection to the Divine when you pray aloud what you’re not even ready to tell another human soul. It’s a big act of trust that can, on its own, take your relationship with Him to new heights.
5. Prepare your list of prayer intentions.
It’s very therapeutic to write down everything you’ve been worrying about. Our faith urges us to bring everything in prayer, and not think that it’s too big for God to solve, or to small for Him to care about. You can just write things down as they come to mind, or create categories (ex. relationships, money, health, career, friends).
Writing things down also alleviates two problems that people encounter when they pray: the fear their forgot something, and the tendency to get derailed by negative thoughts. You now know that you’ve written everything that troubles, and have ‘mailed’ them to God’s inbox.
Don’t forget to note down God’s responses to those intentions! It’ll be inspiring to look back, months from now, to all the needs He met and the surprising ways he solved your problems.
6. Declutter your mind.
Very often your mind will wander to other things in the middle of a prayer. For example, while asking for God to bless your children with good health, you may suddenly remember that they’re due for vaccines, or wonder what you’ll make them for lunch tomorrow.
Don’t beat yourself up for this. Instead, keep a notepad next to you for reminders and other lists, so you can quickly go back to your prayer with a clear mind.
7. Try different kinds of prayers.
We commonly focus on prayers of petition (asking for help or blessings). But also include prayers of praise and thanksgiving. You may also want to meditate on a scripture or a nugget of wisdom from a sermon. You may want to sing along to a favorite song, or recite a prayer from your favorite saint (if you’re Catholic) or books by Marianne Williamson,
Stormie O’Martian, Anthony de Mello and other inspiring authors.
Some people also make prayer boards, clipping photos that represent the intention they lift to God, pasting it on cardboard or cartolina. This is a powerful act of affirmation, and is particularly effective for people who are going through a spiritual crisis and struggle to find hope—or even faith!—that God listens. As they say, pray and act as if God has answered already.
8. Write letters to God.
One of the biggest blocks to a rich prayer life is the idea of God as a distant and uncaring Being. You can fear God, but not trust Him.
To help you develop a personal and intimate relationship with him, develop a prayer habit where you open up the way you would to a best friend. Tell Him about your day, or muse aloud about a Biblical passage that you’re struggling with. Do this in a journal—just write ‘Dear God’ instead of ‘Dear Diary’—and let go. God doesn’t care about grammar or logic, nor will He be shocked at the things you say. (It’s not like you can reveal anything that He doesn’t already know.) However, you will gradually get more used to being completely honest and sincere with Him, which is a crucial part of prayer.
9. Don’t get caught up in the form of the prayer.
Many people worry if they’re ‘praying right’ or unconsciously adopt the formal language usually seen in prayer books from our childhood. However, we don’t pray to impress God, but to connect to Him. A sincere, heartfelt one-sentence prayer (‘Please give me money for this month’s rent, I don’t know who else to turn to’) means more than an hour of litanies you don’t understand or connect to.
Remember, the power of prayer isn’t in the person who says it, but the Being who hears it. To understand this, think about your child. When he runs to you, sobbing, what moves you to comfort him? What he says, or the deep love in your heart and instinct to help the most important person in your life? You are God’s child. And that is the gift of the a rich, meaningful prayer life: not just the intentions He answered, or the miracles you witnessed, but the knowledge that every second of your life, God is just a heartfelt prayer away.
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