Prayer - The Spiritual Air We Breathe

Prayer - The Spiritual Air We Breathe

Prayer is the lifeblood of our relationship with God.  Prayer is the spiritual air that we breathe because it is as vital to our spiritual life as air is to our physical life.  Without a consistent devotion to daily prayer, we simply cannot continually grow in our relationship with God and live a spiritual life dedicated to discipleship. 

Prayer and Christian life are inseparable.”  ~ CCC 2745

Through prayerful reading of Scripture, we learn of God’s infinite love for us, His desire for a deep intimate relationship with each one of us and our total reliance on Him.  It is through prayer that we get to know Him and begin to see His love for us manifested in our life.  Prayer is most simply two-way communication with God.  No human relationship, especially friendship and marriage, which most closely resemble our relationship with God, can survive without effective two-way communication.  Any of our relationships, even our marriage would die a quick death if we seldom talked with the other person in the relationship.  The same is true of our relationship with God.  We must talk to Him often and be open to hear what He has to say to us.  In fact, He is not only always willing, but even eager, for us to spend time with Him!

The Power of Prayer

A fundamental way to have prayer be an ongoing part of our life and to live the command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is to practice the presence of God.  We begin to do this by believing; seeing through the eyes of faith and experiencing in the depths of our souls that God is always with us.  Unfortunately, since God is out of our physical sight He is often not on our minds and we neglect to seek His guidance and to include Him in our experiences.  Once we recognize that God is with us always, we can then communicate with Him constantly about our experiences: successes, failures, joys, sorrows, etc.  We can ask His help and thank Him.  We can ask for His insights about our desires and our plans and how they need to be tweaked to conform to His much better plan for our lives.  As we go through our day we can literally make everything we do a prayer; like incense offered to God.  Staying in contact with God gives us His peace and joy.  At the end of each day we can assess how we did in walking with God and whether we were walking with Him building His kingdom or we were too busy building our own.  The beautiful thing is that He is always there for us; loving us unconditionally.

Since prayer is so very vital, we should ask ourselves two very important questions.

What is prayer?

How should we pray?

There are as many answers to these questions as there are disciples of Christ.  We can sing a song of praise, shout with joy, cry in anguish, rejoice with friends or sit alone in complete silence.  All of these and infinitely more, which are sincerely offered to God, are prayers.

Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God…”  ~ St. John Damascene

The best prayer is an honest prayer.  Tell God what is going on in your heart.  Yes, He does already know, but He wants to hear it from you anyway.  What parent does not want to hear their child, no matter how old, tell them what is on their mind.  Simply put, there is no wrong way to pray.  Any thought, idea or emotion sincerely offered up to God is a valid prayer.

The Catholic Church has a rich and deep tradition of prayer.  There are literally thousands of traditional prayers.  The Catechism which is divided into four main parts, devotes one of these four parts, Part 4 (paragraphs 2558 – 2865), entirely to the subject of Christian prayer.  That is 308 paragraphs to guide us on prayer!  There are the Rosary, Adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, charismatic prayer, contemplative prayer, novenas and on and on.

One common method of prayer is typically referred to as ACTS which is an acronym for Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication.  The prayer which follows this format contains all four of these elements in that order.  We begin by adoring God for who He is, we express our sorrow for our sins and ask His forgiveness, we give Him thanks for the many blessings He has poured upon us and then we offer our intentions for others and for ourselves.  This prayer can be as short or long as we like and probably varies in length from day to day.  The ACTS prayer method is a good way to add form and intention to our prayer time.

 “Prayer is not asking.  Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”  ~ Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The Conditions of Prayer

The condition of our heart when we pray is extremely important.  The Lord tells us to be both persistent and confident in our prayers.  We are to pray with the faith that nothing is impossible for God, the patience to wait for His response and the trust to accept and follow His will.

We pray not to change God’s mind for He is unchanging.  Rather, we pray in order to seek to know the will of God and His love for us.  Finding success in this requires entering into our prayer in the right frame of mind and heart.  We can pray with confidence but our prayer should be offered in humility and gratitude.

Humility is the foundation of prayer. …  “Man is a beggar before God.”  We are truly humble when we recognize our place before God and our total reliance on Him.  Humility is vital in our prayer life, because it is only in this spirit that we can fully surrender to God and be free from our will and the desires of our flesh.  We can then enter into union with God, be led by His Holy Spirit and live in His will.”  ~ CCC 2559

There is no wrong way or wrong time to pray.  We are even challenged in scripture to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  We can and should pray anytime, anywhere and under any conditions.  However, contemplative prayer which seeks to clearly hear the still small voice of God must be entered with a quiet stilled heart, open to hearing the word of God.  This requires solitude, silence and the patience to persist.

For it is out of the silence that clarity emerges”  ~ Matthew Kelly, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, p. 53.

Be still and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.”  ~ Psalm 46:110

The Benefits of Prayer

Prayer is communion with the infinite God.  Thus, the benefits of prayer are infinite.  We benefit personally from our own prayer and the prayers of others offered on our behalf, but even greater, when we pray, the entire Body of Christ benefits.  This is because we are part of the body of Christ.   Not only are we part of the body of Christ we are sons of our heavenly Father and growing in our relationship with our Father as His sons is the primary benefit of prayer.  It is through prayer that we gain our proper understanding of our identity as beloved sons of God.  As we spend time with God this true identity replaces any false identities we may have adopted, for example, an identity based on what we have or what we have accomplished.

In our prayers we come to know God more and to be able to more clearly see His love for us manifested in our life and in the lives of others.  Our prayers bring us closer to God who loves us beyond all imagining.  Our prayers enable us to fulfill God’s greatest desire for us, a deep and intimate personal relationship with Him both now here on earth and someday in eternal life in heaven with He who saved us.  The greatest benefit of prayer is eternal life! (CCC 2615)

We pray not only for ourselves of course, but for others.  We are encouraged by God through the Scriptures to pray for one another, for forgiveness and mercy for those trapped in sin and for healing for those who are sick.  We pray with each other and for each other and we invoke those who have gone before us, the “communion of saints”, to pray with us as well.  Jesus encourages us to pray in His name and promises that we will receive what we ask for in faith in His name.

The primary benefits of prayer are growing in faith, hope, love, peace and contentment in relationship with our heavenly Father.  When we seek to know and love God every day of our life, God forms and then fulfills the desires of our heart.  We are better able to hear Him speak to us, to see Him working in our life and the lives of those around us and to understand, trust and participate in His will for us and those we care for.

The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.“  ~ James 5:16

The Battle of Prayer

An effective prayer life requires consistency and docility to the Holy Spirit.  An effective prayer life results from commitment, humility and persistence.  We must decide daily to give the first fruits of our day to God.  This is contrary to our human nature of comfort and complacency.  How do we win the battle to remain devoted to pray without ceasing?

The best defense is often a good offense.  We know that we fill face temptation to skip or shorten our prayer time so that we can engage in other activities.  We must go to God first thing in the morning before these temptations can get a foothold and ask Him for His help and protection.  We must put on the armor of God to prepare ourselves for the battles we will face during the day.  We cannot hold back in this fight.  We must pull out all the stops and fight to win in the daily battle to spend time in prayer with our Creator.

Prayer presupposes an effort, a fight against ourselves and the wiles of the Tempter.  The battle of prayer is inseparable from the necessary “spiritual battle” to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live, because we live as we pray.”  ~ CCC 2752

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.“  ~ Ephesians 6:11

We can and should pray anywhere we are and at any time during the day.  However, establishing a routine is critical to maintaining an effective daily prayer life.  Our routine must include when, where and how we will pray each day. 

Just as we tithe with our treasure, we should tithe our prayer time with God by setting aside our very best for Him.  We do this by purposely devoting a specific amount of time at a specific time in our day to spend in solitary prayer. 

Finding a prayer place is helpful.  This should be a place where we can be quiet and focused and not distracted by other people or activities no matter how important they are. 

We also must establish what we will do during this time in this place.  Matthew Kelly calls it the routine within the routine in his book The Four Signs of a Dynamic CatholicWhether it is praying the Rosary or other prayers, reading scripture, Eucharistic Adoration, Liturgy of the Hours, or any other form of prayer, it is vital that we establish our own personal ritual of what we do during this prescribed time of prayer.

This does not mean we cannot and should not pray in other forms and at other times during our day.  We absolutely should pray often throughout the day.  We are called to pray without ceasing which is to maintain a consistent and frequent lifting of our heart and mind to God throughout our day.  We just want to make sure every day that we set aside this one specific time in this one specific place for this particular prayer.

Maintaining a daily prayer life is a battle with ourselves and the distractions of the world which the devil throws at us.  There are many good things we can and need to do each day, but first we must choose to spend time with our Creator, the One who loves us more than any other.  We must seek to discover what He wants us to do each day.  We can win the battle through His grace and strength.

We will never learn to live the years prayerfully unless we learn by prayer to live the seconds deeply and well”  ~ Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Listening At Prayer, p 14.

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