10 Steps To A Better Prayer Life
Find a space
To develop a fruitful and deep prayer life requires a designated space that you can get to everyday is quite and where you can be alone.
Set a routine
Start with two periods in the day that you strictly set aside 15 minutes for prayer. E.g. 06:30 and 11:00. Anyone who says they will find time to pray without a plan will simply never find the time to pray.
Set a rule
Decide what you will pray as a routine that you stick to, this is completely up to you it is your own personal rule. As a guide it should involve the Lords Prayer, some of the Agpia (this can be part of an hour or one or two psalms or the conclusion prayers) and the creed. Then other useful prayers include the Jesus prayer, doxologies, church hymns, songs and personal prayer. If you do not set a routine that you follow it becomes very hard to stand in reverence before the Lord. It requires discipline and clear thought to be able to focus the mind and then in turn the heart to God. It will enrich your personal prayer opening your heart to wonderful contemplations, it will teach you the necessary stillness of mind that allows you to feel the Lords presence and not just feel like you are talking. If you try to “wing it” you will find yourself rambling, getting bored and finishing the prayer before it has begun.
Get in the mood
Encountering God can be a little like trying to get good mobile phone reception. To get a good signal at times requires you to go out your way searching sometimes far just to hear the other person clearly. It’s not always possible to just jump into prayer and expect to have an instantly clear signal. We can feel distracted or inpatient with it all and find we are saying words while our minds are thinking different ones. Designate a small part of your prayer time to preparing yourself mentally. This can be a short walk or standing in silence or even a few prostrations. The aim is to still the heart and slow right down. You want to forget about the world and all your problems, forget about the fast pace you live your life. Spiritual time is slow and calm. Imagine how you run for an interview and when you get to the door you pause for a second to collect your thoughts and compose yourself. You are about to stand before the Lord of Hosts and Creator of all. So take a minute to get ready for this.
Resist the wondering mind
No matter how hard you try to pray you cant stop thinking about your work or what you plan to do the rest of the day. Do not worry this is a completely normal struggle for everyone. The solution is to slow down and speak up. To stop daydreaming requires you mind to be fully engaged in the prayer. Say each word as slow as required for its full meaning to enter your mind. If are still getting distracted say it out loud as well. If despite this you find you have recited an entire prayer without any recollection of having done so. Don’t get annoyed this is again completely normal. But also don’t accept it, God understands the struggle of true prayer, stop and go back and start again. If you spend the entire 15 minutes only reciting the Lords Prayer but you managed to do it with meaning it will be more pleasing to God than reciting the whole Midnight Praises while you mind is elsewhere, as well as being much more beneficial to your prayer life.
Make it your own
Although you are reciting prayers written by others you have to make them your very own words. This means fully understanding the words being read. They must enter the mind and you must dwell on them until there meaning is fully realized. From this point they become your own and can descend into the heart. From the heart is where the Lord receives your prayer and it is directly to your heart that the Lord will respond to your prayer. Again like point 5 this may mean it takes a lot longer than normal to say your routine. But often the monks talk of having a single phrase that stays with them lasting a whole night of prayer. By making it your own often beautiful contemplations can arise from this careful prayer and words you have repeated hundreds of times can take on whole new depths and dimensions.
Use your senses
To engage fully spiritually requires engaging the physical as well. This includes periods of bowing, standing or kneeling, but also holding a cross, lighting candles, pictures of saints or icons to look upon and even incense. All designed to focus yourself at the task at hand. Taking the time to light a candle or burn some incense is also a good way of telling yourself its time for prayer and assists in achieving a more serious atmosphere aiding in point 4.
Going it alone is all well and good if you happen to have the motivation of an Olympic athlete. But for the rest of us not having someone to push and encourage us usually means quickly giving up and sitting in front of the TV. Plus also it’s nice to get advice from someone with an active and successful prayer life. Note this can be more than one person and it does not have to be your spiritual father but this often helps.
Take it with you
As Christians we are called to pray without ceasing. This may seem like the vocation of a monk but actually applies to all of us to carry the Lord with us in all we do. This is no easy task but is a very reachable goal. Pause after your prayer to focus on your day while the Lord is in your heart. Do not race into the day forgetting all your spiritual time. Instead think how you will maintain it as long as possible. Carry with you a short prayer you can repeat to yourself throughout the day such as “Lord have mercy”. Make up short prayers or bible verses for the mundane routine things in your day. For example before you eat say “Give us food for our spirits as you do for our bodies” or before you drive say “Your hands before mine” to remind you its God we trust before even ourselves. With time you will find that the whole day is filled with many short prayers.
Build on it
Once you have a routine and prayer is as important to your daily life as washing and eating don’t forget to build on it. Extend your prayers as feels natural, add quiet time, bible study and spiritual books or sermons to listen to.