Posts in Communication
Worried About a Boring Sermon or Homily?

Bad preaching is a real problem in the Christian church. Without understating the difficulty of delivering a message to a diverse audience, preaching is hard. Imagine giving a talk to both young children and senior citizens… at the same time. Not easy.

With that said, here’s a trick that I’ve learned when it comes to matching your prayer life with the routine of listening to a homily. During your morning prayer time, go over the readings of the day (for Catholics, this refers to the Bible readings that will be featured in the daily Mass). Read these slowly and let God show you what stands out. Then, imagine yourself delivering the homily or sermon. Imagine nodding heads as they listen to you and make meaning for themselves out of the readings.

I’ve used this technique for years, not because I see myself as a better preacher than the priests in my parish. Rather, envisioning a homily coming out of my mouth makes the readings come alive. New ideas form. Insights emerge. I see myself communicating God’s word to others.

 
 
After Twenty Years of Journaling, Here’s What I’ve Learned

I’m a journal guy. It started in college with those 99 cent notebooks you could get at any local grocery store. Then, after college, I graduated to the more expensive, $1.50 versions. Each morning, during my time of prayer, I would jot a few thoughts. Sometimes, these looked like prayers while on most days, I would just write whatever came to my mind.

This has continued for the better part of two decades. 

I’ve discarded most of my journals. Rarely do I go back and read them. I don’t care about them. I don’t want to relive the past.

What I value is the very act of journaling and after two decades, here is what I’ve learned: 

  1. Journaling has been the singular best way for me to measure progress in my spiritual life. By keeping to a daily discipline of journaling, I am reminded to pray. I only journal in the context of praying and in so doing, I take a mental note, “I prayed today”. This develops streaks which propel me closer to God. Momentum trumps willpower any day of the week as I’ve mentioned in The 5 Habits of Prayerful People.
  2. Journaling is a selfish endeavor.  When I journal as a form of communication with God, journaling is God-focused. Most of the time however, I’m journaling to get stuff out of my head and that’s fairly self-focused. If I’m honest, I journal for myself more than for anything or anyone else. I need to clear my mind. Some people jog. I journal.
  3. Journaling is a core component of my prayer life.  I use journaling as an essential part of my daily devotions. By practicing the ACTS method of prayer, my journal serves as the “container” for that routine. If you’re unfamiliar with ACTS, this video will help.
  4. Journaling helps to clarify thought.  The more you write, the more clear you think. The more clear are your thoughts, the better you will communicate with the rest of the world.
  5. My journals are 100% temporary and disposable.  I rarely go back and review what I’ve written. I don’t care if they are lost, destroyed or misplaced. It’s the act of writing that counts more than the final products. I journal to stay in mental and spiritual shape. The journaling is a blunt means to an end.
  6. My doctoral dissertation and book would not have been possible without journaling. I don’t think that I would have been able to write a book-length dissertation or The 5 Habits of Prayerful People without two decades of journaling. It’s partly about volume folks! Even a marathoner starts with a 5K race.
  7. Journaling can masquerade for prayer itself.  While journaling is a part of my morning devotional time, I can at times mistake journaling for prayer itself. It can be but it’s not necessarily the same thing. Just because I’m writing doesn’t mean that I’m automatically praying. 
  8. A digital journal app is the single most important app I use.  My calendar and email app are important but without my journaling app (I use DayOne) I’d be toast. It’s an anchor for daily prayer, intellectual growth and my interior life in general. 
  9. I’m only getting started.  Who knows where God will take my writing and prayer in the next two decades. One thing I know- I’m only getting started! Each day, I look forward to writing a few thoughts. 

If you are a journaler, I’d love to hear why you journal and what God has taught you through it.  Want to see how I use DayOne for daily prayer? This video explains much of it.

The Power of Being Specific When You Pray
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Science has affirmed what we already knew- gratitude is good for you. It cuts down on your stress and connects you with other people. “Practicing” gratitude, or listing 3-5 things each day for which you are thankful, is a healthy way to ensure that you are in touch with all that God is doing in your life.

I wonder though if, at times, we are too vague in our acts of gratitude.

Think of the last time you had a moment of prayer before a Thanksgiving meal. No doubt the things said were honest (“I’m thankful for our home”…”I’m thankful for my family”, etc.) but what if we infused our thanksgiving with more specificity?

Being specific with God does a number of things:

  1. It pushes the savor button all the more, turning over and over the bits of God’s goodness that we might otherwise miss.

  2. It accompanies a healthy examination of conscience.

  3. It cultivates resilience.

  4. It reminds us that God is doing so much more than we typically appreciate.

Henri Nouwen once said, “I am deeply convince that the necessity of prayer, and to pray unceasingly, is not as much based on our desire for God as on God’s desire for us. It is God’s passionate pursuit of us that calls us to prayer.” Specific gratitude is a gentle response to God’s pursuit of us. It’s a way of saying, “I see you God. I’m noticing you Lord.”

So how do you do this? It’s quite simple. Be as specific as you can be when you pray. Tell God how much you appreciate the smallest of things- a soothing nap, a person’s wide smile, a conversation that brightened your day.


Quick Win: How to be More Resilient

 
 

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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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Can You Pray in 10 Minutes a Day?
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What can you do in just 10 minutes? 

I did a quick inventory from the past week and came up with a few answers:

Change the sheets on the bed

• Unload the dishwasher

• Steam clean the kitchen floor

• Call my parents on the phone

• Iron my clothes for the following day

You could probably create a similar list if you had to. It’s actually kind of amazing when you think about it. Much of the time, I tend to underestimate what can be done in just ten minutes

A question I’ve been thinking about lately relates to this. Can you build a meaningful prayer life on just ten minutes a day? 

The answer surprised me. 

Let’s compare prayer to physical fitness. If you asked the same question, (Can you get fit in just 10 minutes a day?) would you get the same answer? Yes and no. And, it depends.

Yes, you could get fit (or at least more fit) by dedicating 10 minutes every day for brisk physical activity. Do this over and over again and you’ll have built a steady habit of fitness. Will this propel you towards olympic competition? Most likely not.  Will you develop six-pack abs in just 10 minutes a day? Perhaps...

Now turn it over to prayer and the 10 minute question. Will you become a saint by giving just 10 minutes a day to the Lord? Probably not. It will likely take you more time and a lifetime of devotion and service. But can (here’s the six-pack abs element) you build a strong foundation of prayer in just 10 minutes a day?

I think you can.

Prayer is not so much about minutes but about routine and momentum and honest dialogue with God. If 10 minutes can help you with that routine and stronger relationship with God, it might be just the thing to focus on in the coming month.

You can do a lot in just 10 minutes a day. God can do even more than we imagine in that same block of time, given over to him faithfully each day.

To be clear, this is not about speed or about rushing through prayer. While Jesus did recommend brevity (Matthew 6:7), it’s of course good if you can spend more than ten minutes in prayer. We’re talking about the basics and about foundational habits. Saint John Paul II said, “Become a saint, and do so quickly,” but he didn’t mean that we ought to hurry when we pray. Rather, he meant for us to sense the great love God has for us and respond accordingly.

I’m mindful too of this quote from St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, “He who prays most receives most.” Give God your 10 minutes and let Him do the rest. Over time, these moments will expand and then spill over into the other minutes in your day.


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What a Baseball Player Taught me About Prayer
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Craig Kimbrel is the closer for the Boston Red Sox. If you’re not a baseball fan, that means that he is the last pitcher to face the other team. At the end of the game, Kimbrel is the final stop before victory. Translation: the guy is a stud with ice in his veins. Nothing faces the closer.


What makes Kimbrel so fascinating to even the casual fan?


It could be his diminutive stature- he’s only 6’ tall. It may be his long beard. One could easily point to his success- he’s been one of the best closers since entering the big leagues in 2010.


What stands out for me regarding Kimbrel is his unique posture as he prepares to deliver a pitch. He stares towards home plate and strikes a pose- it’s really more of a pose. His right arm sort of dangles and he enters the mysterious place where pitcher and catcher communicate through hand signals.


Then, in the blink of an eye- he delivers the pitch.


So what does all of this baseball talk have to do with prayer? Consider the various postures we use when we pray:


  • Kneeling: a gesture of surrender, repentance and obedience.
  • Standing: a sign of respect and praise.
  • Hands up: an act of praise.
  • Palms out: a sign of openness.
  • Hands folded: a sign of focus and concentration.


If the best athletes in the world use gestures and postures to execute their craft, we can learn something from them. They pay attention to the slightest detail and maybe it’s time that we do as well.


Watching Kimbrel this year in the playoffs caused me to ask: what is my ideal prayer posture?


The answer came quickly- it’s hands up, palms open, head slightly bowed. When I need to pray with all of my might, that’s the posture I use. It means openness and reminds me of my total need for God. I feel like I can talk with God in the most honest way possible- as if I’m not holding anything back.

 

This isn’t to say that other postures aren’t valuable. They are. It’s just that this particular posture seems to be most effective when I need to pray and pray hard. It’s good to pay attention to these things. 


How about for you? What’s your ideal prayer posture?


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