The Lord Jesus asked His closest friends a simple question. And their answer was the same mine had been for thirty-two years of my Christian walk.
They fell asleep.
It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with Him. I did. But though my spirit was willing, my flesh was often not. Restlessness pulled me toward getting on with my day. Then there were the distractions, or weariness, or simply running out of things to say that offered a plethora of excuses that trumped my desire to quiet myself for very long with the Father. Soon, my prayers dwindled into little more than a quick “Lord, bless me, mine and ours.”
I don’t know why it took me so long to discover that prayer – the kind I longed for – is a discipline-driven exercise. In his book, Seeking Spiritual Direction, Fr. Thomas Dubay wrote: Most of us assume that world-class excellence in music, scholarship, or sports is due mainly to extraordinary talent, but . . . while talent does play a part, the chief factor is drive and determination. And then he added the clincher: Am I as determined in my pursuit of God as the worldly are in seeking prestige and power, fame and fortune?
The Psalmist wrote often of specific times of prayer, for example here, here and here. And we know the Jews in the New Testament continued the practice of specific times of prayer, for example here and here.
For many Christians, an extended and uninterrupted period of worship each day is easy to start, but difficult to continue. Other thoughts whisper in our ears to draw us from our place at Christ’s feet. Such distractions should not discourage us. Brother Lawrence knew of distractions, and his advice should encourage us: "We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often fail in our endeavors.” Brother Lawrence learned if we persist in prayer we will create, in time, a habit of prayer that produces its fruit in us -- “to our exceeding great delight."
In the last few lessons we looked briefly at the idea of knowing God, instead of simply knowing about God -- and how knowing God is directly related to the amount of time we spend with Him. Let’s look now at some tools available to anyone who yearns to draw deeper into Christ. (By the way, I do not necessarily endorse everything contained in the following websites. I include them only for illustration).
1. Find a quiet place (a room or large closet) where you can be alone for a time. Mine is a corner of my study which I have screened off from the rest of the room. I hung a crucifix on the wall, opposite where I sit, so I can often meditate on our Lord's passion.
2. Pray the Scriptures. I often pray scriptures I've memorized, or a passage that spoke to me during my daily reading.
3. Pray the Scriptural Rosary (for the history of the Scriptural Rosary, see here: For examples of Rosary prayers, see here). I find the Scriptural Rosary a very valuable method of remaining focused on the Lord and on His word.
4. Pray the prayers of Saints. Their words, born sometimes out of a deep union with God, can become a wonderful pattern for us.
5. Pray hymn lyrics. Many Christian hymns began as prayers, and so their lyrics lend themselves well to be prayed. A modification of praying lyrics is to listen to Christian choruses and sing them to God -- which is one reason a quiet room or area is nice to have.
6. Meditate on passages of scripture. Place yourself in the scene described in the chapter. How do you feel being there? Can you see or hear the people in the scene you are imagining.
What are the thoughts God brings to your mind?
7. Pray spontaneous prayers. Pray for people you know, situations you or others are experiencing. Pray for the Church, for political leaders . . . there is no end of the circumstances and people we can lift up to God. Make a list and keep it handy. Mine includes those I pray for each day, and those I pray for on specific days of the week.
8. Pray -- not just recite -- the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. Pause at each phrase and consider what those words mean to you.
Tools are simply that -- tools. Recitation of prayers without thought is nothing more than useless rote. And rote will not move us toward intimacy. But prayers spoken with honesty and a hunger to communicate with the One who loves us so much that He gave His son for our redemption will accomplish much. These tools (and you will discover your own, as well) can help us stay focused and disciplined during our time with Jesus.
And that's the whole point, isn't it?
As we will discover, knowing God is far greater than knowing about Him. Surely that is why St. Paul prayed here in Ephesians: May the eyes of (your) hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe . . .
To which we say, "Amen."
Questions for Reflection:
1. Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wrote: God does not offer Himself to our finite beings as a thing all complete and ready to be embraced. For us He is eternal discovery and eternal growth. The more we think we understand him, the more he reveals himself as otherwise. The more we think we hold him, the further he withdraws, drawing us closer into the depths of himself.
What do you think about Fr. Pierre's comment in relation to your own spiritual journey? How can an enhanced prayer life help you along that journey?
2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes this: Prayer is a vital necessity . . . If we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin. How can the Holy Spirit be our life if our heart is far from him? (paragraph 2744)What can we learn from the Church's teaching in this paragraph? What steps will you take to bring your heart closer to God?
3. Author Rhonda Cervin writes: How sad that God may be drawing us closer and closer to Him, but we prefer to remain distant, safe on our own territory and seemingly in control. The saints lure us into praying for greater intimacy with the God of love.
What might our preference to remain safe and in control have to do with a subconscious reluctance to draw closer to God through prayer and meditation on His word?
4. Won't you comment to the others who read this blog how YOU stay focused in prayer? If your comment does not appear within 18-24 hours, please email me a copy (firstname.lastname@example.org). Sometimes I don't see all the comments in my inbox.