When we were first married, my wife used to ask me to “whisper a prayer” whenever a situation would arise. At that time I thought her expression was quaint, maybe even lacking a degree of seriousness. However, it was not like her to not take prayer seriously. In those years of our marriage when prayer was struggle for me, Charlotte was steadfast and committed to “whisper up” a prayer that always seemed very effectual.
My track record with prayer was somewhat spotty. My reputation on prayer was “when all is said and done, more is said than done!” In seminary I took a class on prayer with a requirement to write a final paper. I didn’t get the paper in, but my professor gave me the grade anyway. He retired at the end of the semester. When I confessed the paper fail to his successor, he told me to write the paper and get it to him. That was 36 years ago!
I’m not saying I didn’t pray. I did, probably not as consistently as someone in ministry should have, but I prayed. And it always felt like a burden to pray for everyone I should pray for, and it took a lot of energy to state to God how those prayers should be answered. I am being a little facetious, but pastors are good at framing prayers to either instruct the listeners or give coaching hints to God on how everything should come down.
I dabbled in all kinds of prayer techniques and programs: “Change the World School of Prayer,” praying for the “10-40 Window,” “Freedom in Christ” prayers, “Concerts of Prayer,” 24-7 prayer, prayer retreats, all good in and of themselves, but after a while I would have to move on to something else.
Over many years, and especially in the last five, I have learned that the key components to prayer are first, making time for it, second is a commitment to pray for specific people, specific needs and specific causes, third is the commitment to spend that time with Jesus. A growing conviction in my life has been the challenge from Jesus himself, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41, NRSV).
For me it started by incorporating a daily prayer guide. I started with Phyllis Tickle’s multi-volume Divine Hours. From there I moved on to the Book of Common Prayer. And as I was journeying into the Catholic Church and to the present I have made the Divine Office: Liturgy of the Hours my daily companion. I couple that with the Saint Paul Daily Missal that incorporates the readings and prayers of the Mass.
That is great! But how do I pray effectively for the concerns that I have, the people who ask me for prayer, and the burdens I sense from the world around me? Over time I have developed quite a list of prayers and pray concerns. There are prayers that I pray every day, prayers have a specific day focus, and even a monthly focus. I incorporate well-known prayers from the Church as well as ask for the intercession of my patron saint and other saints who are known to have specific concern for marriages, different illnesses, and world affairs.
I would be remiss if I did not mention again the important place the Rosary has played in my devotional life and growing discipleship. Who better to guide and instruct us in prayer than the one who knew how to ask of her Son, and then who tells us “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5 NRSV). Another great gift to prayer is spending time in the Adoration Chapel. There, as I sit or kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I can wait before Him, open my heart and leave with Him the concerns that He wants me to share. I have been privileged to spend specific time there praying for my bishop, my priest, my loved ones, my friend who is soon to announce his resignation as pastor to come into the Catholic Church and many other things to come.
I love to pray, now! I haven’t written that paper, but Jesus has been writing it on my heart. So, “I’ll say a little prayer for you!”