The topic of prayer is wide and deep, but there are basic concepts we can learn. There may be many reasons your prayer has not been as productive as you’d like. Without knowing all the specifics, I will make some comments on prayer in the hope some will be useful to you and others with similar difficulties. I will use the “Our Father” as a way to lay down some basic principles of productive prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer as Our Model and Teacher
The Lord’s Prayer begins:
Who art in heaven,
Prayer is a conversation with a real person. God is not just creator or redeemer or judge; he is our Father. Our relationship with him should be close and tender, but that grows over time, with familiarity and love.
hallowed be Thy name;
The ultimate end of our prayer is God himself. This sets us up with the proper disposition for prayer. Dispositions are important because they are the foundations on which we build the rest of our prayer. God is our Father and God’s name is holy. Notice the focus is on God, not primarily on us. Our first and most important disposition in prayer is the humility to focus on God and not ourselves.
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The second important disposition is a real, if not overt, conversion toward God. We really do want to grow closer to God and we are willing to turn our lives around in order to accomplish that. By telling God we want his will to be done on earth that includes in our lives and hearts. So in a way, when we ask for his will to be done, we are also saying and “let it begin with me.”
Give us this day our daily bread;
After establishing a proper foundation of humility and sincere desire for conversion, we are in a good place to ask for our needs. Of course, God already knows our needs, but this prayer of petition for ourselves or intercession for others is a way to remember all that is good comes from the hands of God who is goodness itself.
The focus of this petition for our “daily bread” is a “lived trust.” God is on our side, and while we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we put ourselves in his capable and loving hands today.
God also likes to work through others so he approves of our prayer for each other. Finally, because we only asked for bread for today, we will need to ask tomorrow and the next day. This is a third important disposition for prayer — perseverance.
We cannot quit because we did a really good job praying for a week or a month. We cannot stop our prayer after the crisis has passed because prayer is just that important for our spiritual and material life.
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who
trespass against us;
This part of the Lord’s Prayer addresses the only real barrier we can set up between ourselves and God — sin. Sin not only ruptures our relationship with God but also our relationship with each other. Because we freely chose to sin (otherwise it wouldn’t be sin), we must also freely choose to ask for forgiveness.
We are fortunate though, because in God’s unfathomable love for us, if our repentance is genuine and our confession is complete and we do our penance, we are guaranteed the forgiveness of our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.
However, even when we have received the forgiveness of our sins, the brokenness we caused in our relationships with others remains. That is where forgiving those who “trespass against us” comes into play.
No healing will ever occur without forgiveness. God is willing to do his part, but we must do ours. This willingness to forgive is part of the virtue of abandonment into the hands of God. It is like the popular saying, “Let go and let God.”
We must let go of hurt and pain and resentments in order to receive the blessings and graces that come from trusting God with our hearts.
While we are on the topic of letting go, remember this applies to all aspects of our life not only forgiveness.
Sometimes people don’t see a lot of fruit of their prayer because they are hanging on to so many things that are no good for their relationship with God.
Besides lack of forgiveness, we could be hanging on to gossiping or judging others or being dishonest or being inconsiderate or rude or otherwise placing God way down our priority list. Even if these may only constitute venial sins, they are a definite detriment to the life of grace, which is what we are trying to improve and deepen by praying.
A good way to continually let go of little imperfec-
tions and grow in virtue is to engage in the practice of examining our conscience every day. Check out this link for a great examination http://tinyurl.com/oy34f8r
and lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us
from evil. Amen.
Once we have done the hard work of getting right with God and others, we pray for help in staying right. Evil and temptation are daily occurrences, therefore we need to be vigilant and ask for help and protection. Prayer becomes more consistent and productive when we avail ourselves of all the means at our disposal for God’s grace.
My prayer life took a jump up after doing a consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary which I learned from reading “True Devotion to Mary,” by St. Louis de Montfort.
Going to Mass and receiving Communion as often as possible, even daily, is an incredible and tangible grace. There are also so many other devotional practices, including praying before the Blessed Sacrament, praying the rosary, and praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy.
I cannot forget to mention grace is not only found in praying but also in doing. There is a great grace when I get outside of myself and my problems and help others with their needs.
I hope one or more of these suggestions will be helpful for you to have a more productive prayer life.
If my suggestions do not help you or do not address your specific concerns in prayer, read a book such as “Introduction to the Devout Life,” by St. Francis de Sales or speak with your pastor or another person who shows he or she has found the fruit of prayer in his or her own life by humility, service of others and reverence and love of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.
(Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Reyes wears many hats as a business owner, doctoral student and candidate in the deacon formation program for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but he says his most important hat is building his domestic church as a stay-at-home dad and homeschooling his three oldest children.)