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How the Bible Can Anchor Your Prayer Life
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This post is not to try and convince you that the Bible is important. You and I already know that. Rather, I’ll try to remind us of its gentle power within our daily prayer lives.

As a Catholic, I am often surrounded by other believers who don’t actually read their Bibles on a regular basis. This sounds judgy, I know. Still, I know enough Catholics for enough time to acknowledge an ugly truth- most don’t read their Bibles. Many are still strong disciples of Christ but simply haven’t made Scripture a core component of their daily lives.

While this genuinely makes me sad, the reasons are similar to why most Christians (writ-large) don’t have a daily prayer time:

No one ever taught us how to do it, resulting in…

  • a lack of confidence to try…

  • and a sense of private shame that we don’t read our Bibles more often.

Like saving for retirement or personal finances, Bible reading can fall into the same murky category of our lives. I’d like to challenge that and invite each of us to begin anew.

Scripture helps diminish the distance between God and us because we can become part of the story.
— Dr. Robert Wicks

The Bible, as the sacred text of all Christians, is like an anchor of our faith. It provides a rudder to help us navigate life’s challenges. It informs our decisions and reminds us that we are loved. As Dr. Robert Wicks said in Everyday Simplicity, “Scripture helps diminish the distance between God and us because we can become part of the story.”

This story is one of God loving all people to the point of sending his very son, Jesus. As Christopher West says, the entirety of salvation history is summed up this way, “God wants to marry us.” The Bible not only reminds us of this truth but gives a backstage pass to God’s plan to woo us and be in relationship with us.

Ok I’m convinced! The Bible is important. You probably feel the same way.

But, as is always the $5M question, how do I get familiar with my Bible and then incorporate it into my daily prayer life? Here are some very simple things that you can do to get familiar (again) with your Bible:

  1. Find your Bible and spend two minutes with it. Don’t have one? Go over to Amazon and buy one. Find one that you enjoy holding- not too big, not too small, etc.

  2. Choose to read either the daily Mass readings or start with one particular book. Catholics are familiar with a liturgical calendar and if you read the daily readings, you’ll cover the entire Bible in about three years.

  3. Make a decision that you’ll read your Bible every day. Just choose a small section, a paragraph or two and make progress that way.

  4. Use a technique called Lectio Divina. For a primer, check this out.

  5. Over time, let your daily Bible reading become a spiritual anchor for your day. You’ll eventually feel as if something is missing if you go a day without reading your Bible- that’s the goal!

Eventually, you’ll find that your daily Bible reading will become a reference point. It will stay with you during the day and then, when you least expect it, the Lord will pull it out of you, holding up a key idea or phrase for you to savor.


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Five Things You Can Do For Lent (and why they matter a whole lot!)
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Ash Wednesday begins on March 6, 2019 and for millions of people around the world, this means something- action. All of us want to put our faith into action and Lent is the perfect time to do this.


People will begin a 40 day sprint towards Easter and will either give things up - a sort of sacrifice- and also try out new things. It’s also a wonderful time for humility, a time to acknowledge that our prayer lives are rarely what they ought to be. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.”


I figured it would be interesting to connect five actions you can take during Lent to my upcoming book, The Five Habits of Prayerful People. I wrote The Five Habits in order to provide a virtual toolbox of strategies for prayer. It’s designed for the busy person in mind.

Before we link the book with Lenten action, let’s remind ourselves why Lent matters in the first place. Lent comes from an old word meaning “lengthen”- as the days get longer, the sunlight returns and we inch ever closer to Easter. Since Easter is all about Jesus triumph over the cross through his resurrection, Christians have, for thousands of years, practiced a sort of “retreat” during Lent. This looks like, not surprisingly, a series of actions designed to help us get ready for Easter. 


Lent is a fitting time for self-denial.
— Pope Francis

If you “do Lent right”, you’re more likely to enter into the deeper mysteries of the season and as a result, draw closer to Jesus. As Pope Francis said, “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt."

The problem of course is that we get distracted, tired or bored during Lent. The things we resolve to give up can become a distant memory if we’re not laser-focused on the task at hand.

Ok, let’s now match a strategy with each of the Five Habits:

  1. Habit of Passion and Pursuit >> Begin to enjoy five minutes of pure silence each day. Start with one minute each day for a week. Each week, add a minute to your silence. Invite God into the stillness.

  2. Habit of Presence >> Look people in the eye. When you are in public and in passing or when you are one-on-one with someone… work to give them your full attention.

  3. Habit of Preparation and Planning >> Choose the tools you’ll use during your morning quiet time. This will likely be a Bible and journal. Besides that, what else speaks to you? An icon? A crucifix? Identify and group the tools you’ll use. Place them somewhere that you’ll have your daily quiet time.

  4. Habit of Persistence and Perseverance>> Install a quote that inspires you in a place you’ll see it. This might be a quote from a saint or a Bible quote. Put the quote inside your journal or Bible. Or, have the quote framed and placed in a spot where you’ll see it often.

  5. Habit of Pondering>> Take one day off from technology each week. This is the single most powerful strategy I’ve used in the last five years. Step back from your phone and give God one day a week to break through the noise of digital stimulation.

These strategies really work. More significantly, they matter a whole lot. They contribute to a more prayerful life and collectively will help you to slow down. When we slow down, we are more present and it’s much easier to find God in everyday life. 


Quick Win: Learn the One Phrase that Will Transform Your Prayer


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Is It Selfish to Take Time To Pray?

Maybe you’ve heard of it? Exodus 90 has taken the Catholic world by storm in the past year. A program for men to practice ascetic routines, prayer and fraternity, Exodus 90 has become synonymous with “I’m serious about my faith”.

I was at a recent event and one of the attendees was on day 33 of Exodus 90. At one point, he broke off from the group in order to find a chapel and pray. I was impressed. It wasn’t as if he got up in front of everyone and made a scene. Rather, he used the free time in the meeting schedule to head off and pray.

When was the last time that you broke off from the pace of your day to pray?

This “breaking away” can feel very selfish. What will people say? Will anyone notice? How will it be interpreted?

A bit of context here: Jesus took time for prayer. Luke 5:16 says this about the Lord’s time management, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

We could end here and just leave it at, “If Jesus did it, I can too...” This would be reasonable.

But how about some other practical bits of advice? Here are three that come to mind:

  1. Don’t think that everyone is watching you. The man I was with at the meeting? I doubt that anyone even noticed that he was gone.  The same goes for you and me when we take a few minutes alone to pray.

  2. Many good things in life can be seen as “selfish”. Eating healthy foods is selfish and also something you should do. Working out is selfish and also something you should do. Getting 7-8 hours of rest is selfish... you get the point.

  3. Sometimes you just need to get away. As you build spiritual momentum, God will impress on you the times when you just need to get away. 

Is it selfish to pray? Sure. Does that mean that it’s something to avoid? Hardly.

Anything that’s good for us has a level of self-reference but that shouldn’t stop us from doing it. Give yourself permission to get alone with God and together, get on the same page. You’ll be glad you did.


Quick Win: Watch this Video about Morning Quiet Times


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How to Create a More Resilient Prayer Life
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Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

This quote is more relevant than most of us realize. As we grow in our relationship with God, it is only natural that we experience of daily prayer that has fits and starts. Being faithful in our prayer lives is critical.

It can often feel like “one step forward and two steps back”. One day, we enjoy our daily quiet time and the next feels like we’re drowning. As Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says, “Sometimes we walk on water and other times, we sink like a stone.” Can you relate?

In my book, The Five Habits of Prayerful People (coming in 2019), I talk a lot about the importance of staying with prayer. You’ve got to keep at it and try your best to avoid discouragement. Others call this resilience and in academic circles, it’s known as grit.

Gritty prayer warriors have three qualities:

  • They take the long view. They realize that, in any given week, they will have good moments of prayer and ones that feel rather ordinary.

  • They do not dwell in their sin. They recognize when they’ve messed up, name it, own it and ask for forgiveness. Then, they remember that God loves them and has already died for their sins. This brings an overwhelming sense of newness and of starting over. The emphasis is on God and not our sins.

  • They value progress over perfection. A steady person of prayer understands the human condition and isn’t surprised when they are imperfect. 

Grittiness, not something you and I think of often but very much a quality of a mature spiritual person. St. Bonaventure said, “When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than that proceeding from the mouth.”

As I continue to write about prayer, it strikes me that there are quite a few moments in our spiritual lives that invite us into deeper resilience.

These might include:

  1. Rather than beating yourself up over missing daily Mass, taking five minutes to schedule the next time you can get to Mass. This will integrate your busy schedule with your desire for communal worship.

  2. Rather than skipping your daily quiet time altogether, choose instead to have five quiet minutes of prayer. Like physical exercise, a little goes a long way.

  3. Instead of avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation for months at a time, practice a daily examination of conscience at the end of the day. By building this muscle of personal reflection, you’ll be much more in tune with what’s going well (and what isn’t) in your daily life. Then, when you can get to Confession, you’ll be more prepared and feel more in sync with God.

Resilience is a choice. God puts dozens of moments into every day for us to opt for a more gritty spiritual life. When will you spot your next moment to be resilient?

This Advice is For Me Too- Let Me Explain

I was on a recent trip to give a talk at a large college in the south. On the trip down, I was prepared to deliver my speech but on the inside, I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual. In the airport, I was playing the competition game, measuring myself by everyone else, as if they all had life figured out and I was just a rookie. It didn’t feel good. Ever had one of those moments?

The following day, heading home, I stopped at my gate at the airport. To my right, I glanced out the window and saw something that arrested my morning. The sunrise, simply doing its thing, was stunning.

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I needed that moment and I’m glad that God gave me the “pause” to appreciate it. God does this all of the time, if we will just have the eyes to see.

A spiritual life that is resilient savors these moments and discovers them over and over again. Enjoy them. Look for them. Count on them. They will spill over into your prayer life and make a tremendous difference. 


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The Right Time to Jumpstart Your Prayer Life
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Prayer is a lot like working out- the more you do it, the better you feel. Besides the emotional, confidence-building aspect of regular prayer, it also contributes to your intimacy with Christ.


On the flip side, the less often you pray, the less confidence you have and, on your side at least, the farther you could be from God. I say “on your side” because God never leaves us. His love is constantly poured out on us, whether we have an active prayer life or not.


Romans 8:37-39 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


St. Paul is clear- God’s love is constant. It’s God’s very nature to love people.


As a father, I can relate at least one some level. When I look at my four children, I want for their good. I want them to succeed. I want them to have good friendships. I want them to know the Lord.


Any honest question for those who want to pray more often but are hesitant to do so is this, “when is the right time to jumpstart my prayer?”


Two thoughts in response to this:


The fact that someone is asking the question implies some desire to know God more fully. This is excellent. To use a simile, it’s similar to inquiring about when someone ought to eat more healthily.

The “right time” doesn’t exist unless you consider every moment of every day to be “right”. Since God is pouring out His love on us each and every moment, now is the right time. Five minutes from now is the right time. Two years from now is the right time.


This is both good news and overwhelming. Since every moment is charged with opportunity for intimacy with God, it’s hard to know when to start.


My advice is not so much about timing but about paying attention to the moments in front of you. Notice your own spontaneous desires to pray. Then, do it.


Here are some examples that may help:


  • You notice a car accident on the side of the road. Emergency vehicles tend to a person behind the wheel. Say a prayer for that person.
  • You drive by a church and are ever-so-briefly reminded that God is worshiped there. Say a prayer to thank God for spaces in which people can pray.
  • You think of your elderly parents when you are in the middle of your day and aren’t sure why. Say a prayer for them, asking God’s provision for their health.


It’s simple: pay attention to the spontaneous moments in your life. As a response, pray. Trust that God puts people in your way and thoughts into your head. His inspiration, His “nudgings” are wonderful opportunities to grow in intimacy with Him.


This spontaneous-pray nowness is not a replacement for a daily quiet time. That is the backbone of a momentum-building life of prayer. Still, the spontaneous moments help us to answer the question- “when is the right time to jump start my prayer life?”


Right now. Pay attention to God’s work in your day.

Why It’s Important to Pray Out Loud
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A scenario repeats itself in my adult life. A group of Catholics are gathered. They are at table or in a living room. They may be there for a meeting or for some sort of conversation. Someone recognizes the value of starting with a prayer.


And that’s when things fall apart.


Someone asks, “would someone like to start us with a prayer?” Eyes go to the floor. An awkward silence ensues. Finally, someone says, as if to put the group out of its misery, “I’ll do it.”


Then, everyone exhales and the brave soul prays as best they can. The meeting begins.


Have you been in this situation? I’ll bet you have. For Protestants, prayer out loud is not foreign. It’s something you are raised to do. But for Catholics, it’s a different story. Catholics, for the most part, are terrified of it.


When I asked friends on Facebook what they thought of this, their responses were profound:


  • “For me it was about modeling. I will also say that it takes a good deal of practice and thoughtfulness.”
  • “Lack of a strong, personal relationship with Jesus. I never felt comfortable praying from my heart out loud until I came to love Jesus. Now it’s my preferred method of prayer.”
  • “It’s not modeled for us. We’ve only ever witnessed men praying over our family with words from a book. Unless we’ve been given a model through our families or smaller communities, it’s not something we’ve seen.”
  • “Most have never seen it modeled in the home by their parents.”
  • “I just approach it as if I'm talking to a friend, respectfully but not too distant.”


These are very personal and so many other comments came through. People take their prayer seriously and have strong feelings about it. You can hear the theme of modeling over and over again. If you’ve seen someone pray spontaneously, a seed may be planted in you that will “activate” at some point later in your life.


Second, it’s important to remember, as Merton famously wrote, that “the desire to please you (God) does in fact please you”. Even if a person’s prayer life is immature, it still can catch the momentum to take it further into a relationship with God.


Prayer out loud is important for a number of reasons.

 

First, it is an expression of intimacy. I can’t think of a “human friend” that I don’t talk to. Second, praying out loud grows our praying heart. It merges our will with our spirit, molding us into more prayerful people. Third, as we’ve seen in the comments above, praying out loud can teach others about the Lord. This will then help them grow in their faith.


Specifically, what can or should we do when it comes to vocal prayer?  I suggest three things:


  1. In your own prayer life, pray out loud more often. This will feel awkward at first. You’ll wonder if people can hear you. Still, try it out. Give it time.
  2. When you are asked to pray before a meeting or event, offer to lead the prayer. Here’s the catch- don’t prepare anything. Just let it flow. Bring something honest and from your heart. Others will benefit from hearing you talk with God.
  3. Ban “canned prayers” for your meetings or events. If you are in a position of leadership and you ask someone to lead prayer, tell them not to prepare anything. Tell them to pray spontaneously, from their heart, out loud. By doing this, you’ll be practicing what you preach and modeling vocal prayer among the group.


These suggestions are not exhaustive nor are they meant to be. What they do provide are starting points and reminders.


You can do this. God can do this through you.