Posts in Motivation
Try Starting Your Prayer With a Question

Starting lines matter- a lot. They give us an objective beginning to whatever we are doing. This applies to our prayer lives as well.

There are probably hundreds of different ways to begin your time of prayer. These might include:

  • Making the sign of the cross

  • Reading a particular Bible passage that is meaningful to you

  • Repeating a phrase or mantra

  • Gazing at a religious icon

One thing that I’ve been trying lately is to simply take note of how I’m feeling. Do I have a knot in my stomach? Am I feeling at ease? Is something worrying me?

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This “self inventory” is particularly important when we are going through a difficult or stressful time. Our family has recently been dealing with the loss of a loved one. Very difficult stuff. You want to start the day with a spring in your step. Instead, you feel a brick on your chest when you wake up… the stress of it all.

St Teresa of Avila said this, “Before prayer, endeavor to realize whose Presence you are approaching, and to whom you are about to speak. We can never fully understand how we ought to behave towards God, before whom the angels tremble.” In other words, take note of how you are approaching God, feelings and all.

The Difficulty of Daily Prayer

Imagine yourself sitting in church. The pastor asks a simple question, “How many of you have had a quiet time, alone with God, at some point in the past week?” 

A couple of hands go up. Most remain firmly tucked under the thighs of the parishioners. Eyes dart to the floor, uncomfortable. 

Let’s be honest- most Christians don’t have a daily time of prayer with the Lord. Many don’t even go to church on a regular basis- that’s for another post for us to discuss. 

The fact is that too often, we rely on our own willpower to muster up prayer. Over time, this is simply not enough, becoming overmatched by the hectic pace of our schedules. 

What we need is the following: 

  • A daily system (i.e. ritual) of prayer (I recommend the ACTS formula) 
  • ...which then creates spiritual momentum
  • ...that results in confidence

In this week’s video, I unpack this situation a bit further, plus I have a special invitation for all of you: 

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.

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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What to do When Prayer Feels Stale
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All of us get into a rut. I know that I certainly do, especially when it comes to prayer. 


Like many other things in life, routine can build momentum but it can also contribute to monotony. A friend of mine, Allan, once told me that he tweaked his workout routine every few months. The reason? To avoid getting so routinized that the enjoyment of working out gets lost. 

Your prayer life is no different. 


How do you know when it’s time to change things up? Here are some easy indicators:

• Prayer feels stale. 

• You have no desire to pray.

• Other people are annoying you.

• You are more distracted than usual.

• You feel disinterested.

• You have been using the same tools for several months.


Now, let’s say that you experience three or more of these indicators- take note of that. Then, ask yourself what you’re prepared to do about it. After all, you can’t face burnout and then just ignore the warning signs.


Imagine for a second that your body was giving you signs of a heart attack- you would take swift action! 


Your prayer life, your intimate relationship with God, deserves the same urgency. Don’t panic just because you sense burnout and your prayer feels stale. Everyone I know who is serious about his/her faith goes through some level of this. As the saying goes, “it’s part of the process”. It’s not bad, especially if you notice it. What would be worse is to lack all spiritual sensitivity and just go through life without any attention to prayer.


Yet, this sense of needed change is not one to barge into. Rather, it takes a discerning heart and a willingness to make some changes. Give yourself permission to make some edits to the way you pray. 

These edits might include:

1. Picking a different time to go to Mass.

2. Using a different daily devotional book (if you use one).

3. Modifying your prayer corner at home.

4. Listening to sacred hymns as you begin your time of prayer.

5. Finding beauty in icons.

6. Flipping your morning prayer time to evening.

And on and on...

In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others...
— St. Charles Borromeo

The key, as with many other things in life, is to make some effort to be present to God over and over again. The way in which you pray is essential to this. Rather than letting your prayer life simply fade out, try something new. 

The Holy Spirit often takes us through dry patches in prayer. St. Charles Borromeo said this about prayer, “We meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: ‘I will pray, and then I will understand.’ This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work. In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.”

This is not to be misinterpreted as if we can make it all happen by our own effort. Hardly!

I like this brief meditation from St. Mary Magdelen de Pazzi who said, “Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the angels tremble from awe and fear.” (Emphasis mine)

Prayer isn’t easy. It takes practice and perseverance. Yet, what a beautiful opportunity we have- day after day- to make ourselves wholly present to God. 


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A Resolution Worth Keeping
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I can’t imagine a year starting without a sense of hope. Hope for better fitness, hope for a simpler lifestyle, hope for new breakthroughs at work.


Psychology Today reports that many people start off the year with great optimism but, sadly, find it fading away just a few weeks later.


It’s not as if the resolutions themselves are bad. Who wouldn’t want to have 6-pack abs or more financial margin?


Rather, it’s that we often lack the structure needed to truly activate a new habit. In the case of prayer, it’s really about three things:

Visualization: the most important question I ask people when we talk about prayer is this, “If you could take 5 minutes to pray, what would that look like?” There is great power in imagining yourself alone, in a corner with a Bible in your lap. Or, alone, in a Church with your eyes closed and no one around. You get the picture. The key is to have a picture for yourself. This is like putting your handprint into cement- it leaves a mark.

Rituals: more than just routines, rituals are repeated actions with God in mind. A morning prayer ritual is different from a morning routine like brushing your teeth. A morning prayer ritual might include a phrase, a quote, a reading, a journal, etc. The ritual forms a mindset of “something bigger is happening here”. The ritual, as Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says, “carries you” when you don’t feel like praying.

Momentum: with a prayer time visualized and then rituals being put into place, God will build spiritual momentum in you. This momentum is vital for God’s insights to show up, God’s messages to be heard and God’s nudgings to be felt. It’s often after the fact that you see that God had been at work. Momentum makes this possible.


Can you imagine a daily prayer time in your new year? For me, the routines are in place and my foundation is steady. Now, it’s time for me to ask God what He wants to do next.


Maybe it’s time for you to do the same.

 

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