Prayer a priority – Making An Appointment with God Part 1
Prayer should be a priority. Something I’ve discovered in my work in ministry is that many Catholics don’t really know how to pray. They may be able to pass a test about doctrine, but are lacking when it comes knowing Christ personally. You can memorize your prayers and go to Mass on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean that you really have a relationship with the Lord. For many, it’s likely that you really haven’t been shown how to pray.
And so, I recommend to everyone I talk to the booklet, “Appointment with God” by the late Fr. Michael Scanlan (who I have no doubt will be canonized someday). Unfortunately, I have discovered it’s out of print and it doesn’t seem there are many copies floating around.
Therefore, I want to share with you the highlights from my copy. In case you are like most Catholics and need a good start on how to pray, this should be really helpful! Or if you’ve fallen into a spiritual rut and need some motivation to pick you back up, this is also for you. So let’s begin!
The answer is simple. We need prayer to live. Without prayer, like a plant without roots, our relationship with God withers and dies. Secondly, Jesus prayed. Discipleship means to imitate the master, and so if Jesus prayed, then we need to pray, too. In fact, if Christ made prayer the highest priority in his life, how much more do we need to make prayer our highest priority? “This is evident by the fact that Jesus rose early and found a quiet place to be with His Father. Scripture doesn’t say, ‘He slept in and waited and hoped for the opportunity to pray.’ ” (p. 6)
In addition, prayer will change the way you live. Before God in prayer, we put our life in order. “Your life will be integral and whole only when you stand before the face of God and let Him and the Holy Spirit bring it all together.” (p. 3) Prayer is a gift; prayer feeds our lives. “The gift of prayer is given to us so we can be in union with God. Prayer can transform our mind and inspire us so that in no situation do we give way to discouragement or depression.” (p. 4)
The easiest and most effect way to change the way you live is to change the way you pray.
In practice, no time to pray means no faith in God. Faith is dependence on God, so if we have faith, it means we turn to God first. The first step, then, to a good prayer life is to make an appointment with God. An appointment is when you set aside a time and a place to be with someone – and that someone is God. Now, Fr. Scanlan is all about people praying throughout the day while they work, drive, etc. But “it is insufficient to call ‘praying while you are doing some else,’ your prayer time. You cannot give your whole attention to God while you are occupied doing something else. It just doesn’t work.” (p. 18) So we need an appointment dedicated solely to spending time with God.
As you plan out your appointment, consider what you do when you meet up with a friend or a client. You have to figure out when and where you are going to meet. Make an appointment with God by planning out those same things. Set a time, and stick to it. You wouldn’t want to keep a friend waiting all day! Also imagine that the Pope or the Queen or someone important was coming over to your house. We must also take the initiative to find a place where we will not be disturbed or distracted and where we can be alone with God. Jesus is our model for prayer.
If the President (or maybe a celebrity) was coming over to your house, would you have the TV on, the dog barking, and the kids playing noisily in front of him? No, you would turn the TV off and clear out the house so you could give the President your full attention. Same with God – we have to have a place that is quiet and orderly if we are going to know God and hear Him.
A good prayer time place will be somewhere special where you go to pray. Obviously a chapel is a great place to pray, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Growing up we had a couch in the living room that wasn’t used often except for prayer. My parents would pray on that couch together in the morning, I’d pray there after school sometimes, and at night we’d have family prayer time there. In high school, my bedroom floor was the place I went to be alone and read the bible. Now, I’ve started using a couch by the fireplace in my own house as my place to pray. Have a setting in which your whole body, heart, and mind say, “I’m ready to pray.” The environment in which we pray is important. (p. 18)
What should you bring with you to this appointment with God? “There is no better book than the Bible to have with you when you pray. There is nothing better to get you ready to interact with God than the written Word of God.” (p. 19) Also bring a prayer journal where you can jot down each day what you believe God is saying to you, and any meaningful scripture passages or relevant thoughts from your prayer time. “The purpose of the journal is to help you get a sense of what God is doing in your life and how He is dealing specifically with you.” (p. 19) Of course a rosary and any other spiritual reading can be a part of your materials, too.
Now that you have established a time and a place for your appointment with God and have your materials, you are ready to keep the appointment. What will you do during your time with God? We’ll address that in the next blog…