Prayer is to be a good habit, springing from the best that you can offer of your experience, your intelligence, and your love of God.
How to achieve the habit of prayer:
- Set aside time. Take time when it can best be found, preferably early in the day. Prayers that are not said in the morning tend not be said at all.
- Set a minimum time. Begin modestly but gradually increase in length. Ten minutes is a realistic minimum and a half-hour is within most people's ability.
- Be faithful. Whatever length of time is decided, it should be firmly kept. Without some discipline, prayer tends to be pushed to the margin even by the most devout - there is always something else to do that appears more pressing or more attractive. There are days when prayer seems less easy and spontaneous and concentration is harder. On these days the offering of time is an act of obedience - which is itself an act of faith.
- Have structure. This can give shape on constancy without constricting your spontaneous approach to God. Begin with acknowledging the presence of God. Adoration follows: praise, awe, and love for who He is. Then follow where the personal situation leads. This might mean thanks for particular benefits or mercies to you and others, admission of sins, and requests for your desires or needs, intercession for the help of others. Don't worry if one area monopolizes your prayer time - consider this as a principal need of the day.
- Ask. Prayer is not a shopping list of things you'd like to have, yet it is right to bring your hopes before God, and in so doing to test their quality. But you are encouraged and even commanded to ask, so that your relationship with Him includes all aspects of your life. As you make intercession for others, ask that you be made available to be used in God's service if the opportunity is given.
- Be ambitious but not impatient. All Christians - including the saints - have known periods when there seemed to be no progress. These are times to hold fast to the discipline of prayer, waiting until you are ready to receive God's calling to new understanding and fresh devotion.
- Use a prayer book. There is strength in praying established prayers in addition to your own personal prayers. The insights and phrasing of these prayers can expand your understanding of God. Remember the Lord's Prayer which gives you a perfect pattern for prayer. Commit to praying it with renewed awareness of the words.
- Prayer is relationship. Essentially prayer brings you into contact with God. Your growth in prayer should be a deepening of that relationship with Him. Like a child who runs eagerly with requests to a loving parent, your sincerity and complete honesty are essential for prayer as you run to the Father.
From The Habit of Prayer by Raymond Chapman, copyright (c) 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pa., 1-800-877-0012.
Raymond Chapman is Emeritus Professor of English Literature in the University of London and a nonstipendiary priest in the diocese of Southwark. He is the author of numerous literary and religious books including Stations of the Resurrection and Stations of the Nativity.