The Surprising Truth About Prayer
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January and February are often times of the year when people try out new things.  In a quest for form new habits, we go on diets, save more money and go to the gym.  The seed inside of us, wanting improvement, is good.  

After all, it’s a good thing to be in better shape, to manage our finances more effectively and to eat healthy foods.  Rather than poo-poo this innate desire we all have to improve, we should celebrate it.

On one hand, forming new habits is easy but on the other hand, each requires a certain “barrier of entry”.  Let’s look at a few of them and consider the hoops that you have to jump through to really excel:

  • Fitness: do I go to the gym or purchase equipment to excercise at home?  Do I work out on my own or with a buddy?
  • Diet: do I ditch carbs or increase protein?  Do I have to drink eight glasses of water a day?  Should I eat three meals or five smaller meals?  Organic or regular food?
  • Reading: do I buy traditional books or use a Kindle?  Sci-fi or fiction?  What if I don’t like to read? Does listening to an audio book count as reading?

Now, consider something that prayer has in common with each of the habits we’ve just mentioned: it takes practice.  Prayer, to truly become a habit that “sticks” must be done over and over again.

But, and here’s the wonderfully surprising truth about prayer, there is literally no barrier to entry.  You and I can pray right now.  No fancy clothes needed.  No apps needed.  No level of education needed. 

All that’s needed is to surrender to that seed of desire in you to be closer to God.  That alone, placed there first by God, is enough of an engine to get you going.  

Consider the words of 16th century mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila wh described prayer prayer in terms of, “being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us”.

As my father would say, “that’s a wow!”  Prayer is nothing more or less than building friendship with God.  We talk with Him in our hearts or out loud.  We listen to Him, even when it is hard to hear His voice.  We do all of this because we know, deep down, that He loves us and waits for us in prayer.

There’s no barrier of entry, only a surrender to the tiniest incling that we should pray.  When you sense that incling, drop everything and say a prayer.  

  • When you see a car accident on the side of the road, say a prayer.
  • When someone tells you some bad news, say a prayer.
  • When you are stressed at work, say a prayer.
  • When you read the news and hear of a natural disaster, say a prayer.
  • When you know something or someone is “off”, say a prayer.
  • When you start your day and before you go to sleep, say a prayer.

By praying when you have the smallest sense that you should pray, you will be building the muscle of prayer.  God waits for you there and wants for you to meet Him in the quiet and ordinary spaces of daily prayer.

What is the Point of Prayer?
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It's cool to know how to pray.  It's nice to read books about prayer.  It can feel good to pray.  Underneath all of this is a more fundamental question- what is the point of prayer?

In this recent episode of Praying Well, I provide a five minute answer.

Answering the question (about the purpose of prayer) is very, very simple and yet we've made it complicated.  It's become complicated because of the new "mindfulness movement" and because of apps like Headspace.  Mindfulness and meditation are good but need to be seen as a means to an end.  They make you more aware and alert.

A spirituality without a prayer life is no spirituality at all, and it will not last beyond the first defeats.
— Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

What mindfulness doesn't do, since it's not grounded in any religious tradition, is link you to God.  You can be mindful all you want but when you are faced with a moral decision or when life gets hard, you realize that it's God that's needed above all.

Consider the words of Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB who said, "A spirituality without a prayer life is no spirituality at all, and it will not last beyond the first defeats."  She's talking about mindfulness and meditation without God.

I see prayer as having one ultimate goal: intimacy with God.  Sometimes, this will include words and at other times listening.  Mostly, it involves showing up and being with one another.  When I greet the Lord each morning, I make myself present to the One who has already been waiting for me.  He is there and enjoys being with us.

Why would it be any other way?  Like a human relationship, our friendship with God is built on trust, showing up, surrender, listening, talking and ultimately union with Him.  

Faith, prayerMike StPierre
Should You Pray in Public?
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A lot of people want to separate our lives- work during the week and have fun on the weekend.  Or, pray on Sunday morning and watch football on Sunday afternoon.  It’s as if we have various “buckets” that we do things in and there is no crossover from one bucket to the next. 

Except that that’s a fallacy which, if we’re honest, we know isn’t our experience.  For example, if we are upset about something in the morning before we go to work, chances are we are going to be affected during the day.  Or, if you fall in love, this sense of intimacy with your lover is going to be with you throughout your week. 

In other words, we live one life rather than a series of separated lives.  Pope Paul VI called this the “unity of life”- a synchronized experience of letting God into all parts of our busy schedules.   

This brings us to today’s question- should you pray in public?  The answer is YES.  Let me share a story of something that happened to me recently on a plane.  Across the aisle from me was a Jewish man and he was saying his morning prayers. I was moved by how seriously he took his prayer and how reverent he was about it.  If he can pray in public, with leather bands around his head and his hands, surely a Christian can do the same.  We can bring our “unified life” with us, even into public.

How can you do this?  Here are some suggestions: 

1. Pray before a meal.  Make the sign of the cross, pause for a moment, and thank God for the gift of sustenance.  

2. Pray when you see a car accident.  Turn off the radio and pray, out loud, a prayer for the person involved. 

3. Pray when you travel.  Before you start the car, get on the bus or hop a flight, pray silently that God will provide you with a safe journey. 

 

These are just three ways that you can pray in public and here’s the good news- no one will make fun of you or persecute you.  It’s ok and it’s good.   

Faith, prayerMike StPierre
5 Steps To Praying More in 2018
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 So you want to pray more in 2018?

 

Just like those that want to exercise more or save more money in the New Year, there are a lot of us who also want to be more prayerful.  The catch, and there’s always a catch, is that it’s easier said than done.

 

A desire needs a bit more to become a reality.

 

Still, a seed of desire is a good starting point to a more prayerful “you” in 2018.  St. Therese calls prayer a “surge of the heart”- that sure sounds like desire-language to me!  If you have a desire to pray more, that’s fantastic so let’s explore it further.

 

Once you have the inclination to be more prayerful, what do you do about it?  I suggest a couple of things to get you going:

 

  1. Pick an app.  As you can see from my Productivity Awards list, I recommend either Magnificat or Give Us This Day. If you’d prefer a free option, go with Laudate.
  2. Decide on a time of day. For most of us, mornings are the best time of day to pray.  There’s just less resistance in the morning and it also feels great to start your day with some personal time with God.
  3. Decide on your location.  This isn’t a fancy step but still an important one.  Will you pray at the kitchen table or in a chapel at church?  Will you find a comfortable chair in your living room that looks out on your backyard?  Where in your life can you find a quiet spot to be with God every day at a particular time?  For me, it’s typically in a chair in my living room, listening to the birds begin their day just outside.
  4. Decide on your ritual or practice.  You know when you go to church and the service (or Mass for us Catholics!) begins the same way every single week?  Those repeated signs trigger your mind and heart into a different point of focus, i.e. “this is prayer time”.  You can do this at home by lighting a candle, making the sign of the cross or saying the same thing each time you start.  I like to begin with “O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me” which I’ve borrowed from the Liturgy of the Hours. Find what works for you and then use it each and every time you pray.
  5. Revisit your journal.  A journal is a great place to “ponder” things.  Writing makes you more reflective, more grateful and can improve your intimacy with God.  Just let it flow- don’t try to impress anyone or be perfect.  The point is to talk to God through your writing (or typing via an app) and “turn over” your heart a few times.

 

These are five simple tips for a more prayerful you in the New Year.  I can’t wait to hear of your success stories!

The Productivity Awards 2017
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I decided to do the TPA awards for a second year after the positive response from last year’s awards.  A few disclaimers are helpful: I’ve tested each and every app in the list.  Second, if I’m an affiliate for an app, I indicate that in the award.  

 

One new feature in this year’s awards is the inclusion of a  “Best Prayer App”.  Since prayer can make you a more productive person, why not highlight two apps for you to try in 2018?  Ok on to this year’s awards!

Best All Around Todo App: Tick Tick

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TickTick is this year’s best all around todo application, mainly due to its versatility and customization. It offers Smartlists, Themes, Natural Language and so much more.  It even has a Pomodoro timer for tasks if you want to track your work.  Want to use Touch ID to protect your projects?  You can do that too.  TickTick will even give you a weekly achievement score and visual “map” of your most productive day.  You won’t be disappointed with TickTick.

 

Runner up: Todoist

Todoist is a phenomenal app.  Sure, it’s due for a UI refresh but if you are looking for productivity app that can be customized to suit your needs, Todoist can handle anything.  The natural language input is the best in the business and its various color themes take your personalization to another level. 

 

Best GTD-Specific App: Things3

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Things3 from Cultured Code has its limitations and that’s by design.  It still isn’t my favorite app for file attachments and you can’t use Things3 to collaborate with peers.  But, the 3rd version of Things did not disappoint in 2017 for its stunning visual design and a “less is more” approach to productivity.  It’s the one app that is actually fun to use when you are trying to get things done.  If you don’t require deep natural language input or collaboration, Things3 will make you enjoy using a todo app like never before.

 

Runner up: OmniFocus

Not including OF in this year’s list would be like omitting a Mercedes from a list of luxury cars.  While its UI is ready for a refresh, OF is so powerful as a GTD-related app that it can equip you with various customized perspectives.  These allow you to work how you want to work, teasing out the projects or tasks that you need when you want them.

 

Best Project Management App: Nozbe

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While Nozbe is also due for a UI refresh, it still gets our top slot for project management.  Besides the fact that Nozbe is 100% cross-platform and the company can’t be beat in terms of its customer service, the collaboration features are what make Nozbe stand out from other apps.  Whether you need to share files or delegate tasks, Nozbe is our favorite project management app. (Disclosure: I am a Nozbe Ambassador and  an affiliate for Nozbe.)

 

Runner up: Asana

Asana continues to get a head of steam as a favorite project management app for both individuals and organizations.  While the barrier of entry is somewhat high, Asana allows teams to share documents, chat and organize their projects into “tiles” which makes work more fun.

 

Best Productivity Podcast: The Productivity Show by Asian Efficiency

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The Productivity Show got a reboot in 2017 and the results paid off.  Featuring various guests, including some from their “Productivity Dojo”, TPS comes out each week in order to help you be more productive and apply tactical strategies to daily life.  The shows gives you a “deep dive” into topics related to productivity.

 

Runner up: The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry

Todd’s podcast is an extension of his best-selling books on creativity and work.  The Accidental Creative Podcast is bolstered by its brevity and Todd’s practical advice for working smarter with your colleagues. 

 

Best Productivity YouTube Channel: Keep Productive with Francesco D’Alessio

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You’ll get tired just trying to keep up with Francesco as he reviews multiple apps per week.  How he finds time to manage a day job is mind-boggling but his output of high-quality videos is what puts him in this year’s top slot.  Besides his affable tenor and creative app comparison videos (i.e. Todoist vs. TickTick), Francesco is like an online coach, walking you through different apps without showing a bias.  

 

Runner up: The Working With Channel with Carl Pullein

Carl’s channel started as a way of sharing his love for Todoist.  Since then, it’s exploded into a full-on productivity channel with multiple videos per week.  Carl’s branding has expanded into multiple “Working With...” verticals (with apps, with work, etc.) and he’s a delight to watch.  Coming across as a fellow practitioner rather than a lecturer, Carl really wants to help people get more out of their everyday lives.

 

Best Prayer App: Give Us This Day

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New to the Productivity Awards this year is the top app for daily prayer.  We give this year’s top spot to Give Us This Day.  Give Us not only provides you with the daily Bible & Mass readings but its interface is playful and easy to use.  You’ll find yourself wanting to use it more just as a result of the UI as tabs expand and “fold” down as you click on them.

 

Runner up: Magnificat

Magnificat is a wonderful app for following along with the daily Bible and Mass readings and offers a daily meditation and feature on the saints.  If you enjoy the Liturgy of the Hours, you won’t be disappointed in Magnificat. 

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Want more help with technology and prayer?  Click here to get Mike’s free PDF “5 Ways That Noise Wreaks Havok on Your Prayer Life”.

A New Definition of Silence
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Silence is hard to find.  It’s either the noise in our head, the noise through our technology or the noise via our hectic schedules.

Some would say that silence is actually impossible since the absence of noise might be impossible except for a few remote spots on planet Earth.

If that’s the case, then how might we define silence in a prayerful way?  I describe it the following way, “the intentional and uninterrupted state that you choose in order to be mindful of the presence of God.”

Let’s break it down further:

-intentional: in other words, you choose it.  You take a few moments to be quiet and still.  This can be anywhere and anytime but it’s always deliberate.  Sometimes a quiet space chooses you.  You are going for a hike and the vista nearly arrests you.  It takes your breath away. 

-uninterrupted: in other words, there is focus.  This can be for only a moment but it’s a silence that captures your heart and your mind.  In this way, the silence isn’t forever but for a distinct period of time... and then it ends.  Its ending is either the result of your choice or the noise from outside that breaks the silence.

-mindful of the presence of God: in other words, the silence brings you into deeper awareness of God’s presence.  You become grateful for something- grateful to God.  You gain a new insight- an insight from God.  You process your heart and your thoughts- all so that you can be drawn further into relationship with God.

If silence is found in this way, through an intentional pause from the noise of the world, it can be discovered in ordinary moments.  As you go through your week, where will you choose to find silence and how will God use it to bring you closer to Him?

Noise, prayer, SimplicityMike StPierre