Don’t Underestimate the Great Power of a Disciplined Prayer Life
Prayer is the elevation of one’s mind and heart, spirit, and soul to God. It is our connection to God. Apart from holy Mass, prayer is the most intimate way of interacting with the divine. I often say, “If you are not praying, you will die”–your mind will grow darker until it “dies,” your spirit dies, your soul dies. In some cases, even your body will die without prayer, because prayer connects us to our source of life, which is God. Without that source of life, we fall deeper into darkness, we fall deeper into sin, and many sins become habitual and can result in death (immediately or gradually).
I think most people of faith—particularly Catholics—understand the importance of prayer. But most of us don’t realize the importance of a disciplined prayer life throughout the day. Praying just a little is not enough. Praying a lot may not be enough, either, if you aren’t praying well.
A disciplined prayer life is not just about the quantity of prayers you say in a day. It’s about what prayers or types of prayers you say, how you pray them, and when you pray.
Recently I decided that I wanted a more disciplined prayer life. My prayer life, before this, was a little more sporadic and undisciplined. I was living a life with prayer rather than a life of prayer. With tremendous help from God, I’ve been able to build and maintain a more ordered, disciplined prayer life, and it has become a fortress—like a House of Prayer that surrounds my day. Rather than my daily, ordinary life dominating my prayer life—which attempts futilely to coexist with my ordinary life—my ordinary life now exists within this House of Prayer.
Within this house, newness blossoms. New strength, new wisdom, new determination, new silence (I can’t explain that one). My regimen of prayers in the morning, through the day, in the evening, and at night marks a perimeter of holiness; a sacred space within time. A space that is claimed by God, protected by God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and where Jesus is more present than he was before. All spiritual Goods take root, grow, and produce fruit within this House of Prayer.
Here are some helpful tips and advice for building a “House of Prayer” of your own. One thing I want to point out first is that this discipline of prayer is individual. I don’t include methods for praying with a spouse or with children, because it’s intended to fortify an individual person. Praying with your spouse and children (or the family, together) is indispensable and should be additional to your own prayer discipline. I’ll cover that a little bit in a later post.
To Build Your House of Prayer…
- Have a regimen of prayers that you say at specific moments of the day.
It sounds like it’ll get boring after a week or two but stick with it. This is how you sanctify the day and build a “House of Prayer”…by placing pillars in roughly the same place every day. I’ll provide some prayers you might consider at the end of this post.
- Let nothing move these pillars of prayer. Give them priority. Only an emergency or something entirely out of your control should get in the way of your prayers. Most of us have a habit of moving, adjusting, or skipping our prayers to accommodate our lives. Don’t! Make life adjust itself to accommodate your prayers, insofar as it is within your power to do so.
- Challenge yourself, but don’t kill yourself. If your prayer regimen is too easy or too aggressive, you’re doing it wrong. If praying a decade of the rosary is torture for a beginner, they shouldn’t force themselves to say five decades a day. But two decades, perhaps even three, would be preferable as they work up to a full five-decade Rosary daily. Likewise, if an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be is too easy and simple for you, then pray a devotional prayer too/instead. Or perhaps a Litany. The point is that when you pray you are spending your will in these moments of prayer. If the prayer is too easy, you’re spending very little or nothing of your will. If the prayer is too hard, you’re writing spiritual checks that your will won’t be able to cash. Find the middle ground. The devil will make you believe you’re praying too much, or too little. Find the middle.
- Set your pillars in the morning, afternoon, evening, and at night. This House of Prayer isn’t really about the quantity of prayers you offer in a day, it’s most importantly about when you offer them. Sanctify your day by marking the major points of that day with prayer
Some additional points to consider:
A disciplined prayer life forces you to subordinate everything in your day to prayer and to God. You no longer arrange your prayer around the moments of your day but instead begin to arrange your daily life’s moments around your prayer. For example, if I need to sleep a little longer in the morning, the only way to “afford” that extra sleep is to take time away from prayer or away from my morning coffee and book reading. Guess which one gets the axe. Yep, I skip the morning coffee and book. If there’s time after morning prayer to have some coffee, I drink some while I’m getting ready for the day. If I take a little more time for sleep, I don’t make God pay for it by skipping prayer. I pay for it by cutting out a little luxury in the morning.
Discipline in prayer teaches you to deny yourself. Sometimes you’d rather do something else instead of pray, whether it’s sleep, relax, watch TV, whatever. But telling yourself “No!” puts the will into subjection to your mind, which is where it should be. Your mind knows what’s right, but your will rebels. Teach the will a lesson by denying it what it wants. A disciplined prayer life goes a long way in doing that. “I will not relax until after I’ve done my prayers.”
What about personal prayer, meditation, scripture, etc.?
Once the pillars of your House of Prayer are set, and you’ve settled into the routine to where it’s normal for you (which should take 1-2 weeks), you can add other varying prayers and devotions in accordance with where the Holy Spirit directs you. I don’t recommend replacing any of those pillars with new ones yet (but I suppose you could) but rather adding additional prayers or devotions within the house you’ve built (in between the pillars you’ve set). The most important thing here is consistency and regularity. So once you’ve established that, feel free to also spend time reading scripture, or meditating, or doing a separate devotion…whatever (assuming they aren’t already part of your regimen). These extra prayers that you add in between the pillars of your House of Prayer don’t have to be the same every day. You can change them up. Sometimes I add the divine mercy. Sometimes I add a litany or a second Rosary. Get the point? Keep the pillars the same, never compromise them, but feel free to add other “furniture” to your House of Prayer as the Holy Spirit prompts you to do so. But for at least the first 2 weeks, just do your regular routine, don’t add anything yet.
Some Prayers to Consider
I suggest mixing short, simple prayers with longer, deeper devotions.
Angelus in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Traditionally the Angelus is said at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm, but you can adjust where necessary. The exact time the prayer is said doesn’t make it more or less efficacious.
Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office) is one of the most powerful prayers of the Church. Consider adding Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer to your regimen. There are apps you can buy that will guide you through the prayer if you don’t want to buy the breviary (the actual book) and flip your way through the often confusing process of the Divine Office.
Litany of the Saints, Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Litany to Saint Joseph. You can consider any litany, but those are the most appropriate and efficacious for a disciplined prayer life. Litanies vary in length (compare the Litany to St. Joseph to the Litany of the Saints), but they are universally easy to pray.
Devotional Prayers: Rosary, Divine Mercy, Various novenas. I strongly suggest including the Rosary every single day, while the Divine Mercy or any other devotional prayer can be optional.
Meditative Prayers are super simple and can be said anywhere any time. There’s no required structure to them, but there is a general way in which they should be employed. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or “Jesus, I trust in you” are two common ones. Remember to breath meditatively, and remember to focus on Jesus, or an event in his life, as you say the meditative phrase.
Meditation on Scripture. This is challenging for some, easy for others. A minimum of 15 minutes is standard practice for meditation but go longer as you get more experienced.
Reading Scripture: Meditation isn’t the only way to include scripture in your regimen. You can just read it. Read it carefully, and think about what you’re reading. Don’t read too much. Remember, this is a spiritual exercise, not strictly an intellectual one. Reading more doesn’t make the moment more valuable. In fact reading too much might work against you. So consider keeping your reading to just a few verses, at minimum, and 1 or 2 chapters at the most.
I hope this helps in your quest for holiness and your journey to sainthood. God bless and keep you all.
Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!