One of the most common questions people ask me is: “How can I pray better? How can I hear God and experience God in my prayer?” The best definition for prayer that I can come up with is this: “prayer is an encounter with God”. This means that whatever we do in
our prayer life should make us feel like we have had an encounter with God. Think of what it is to encounter another human being. It is to go beyond just speaking to someone, or just spending time with someone. These do not guarantee an encounter. What we need in order to really connect with another is a willingness and a desire to be present to the other, to listen, and to honour the person. The same is true in our prayer life. St. Theresa of Avila was known to say about her religious sisters: “They spend many hours in the chapel each day, but what they do is not what I would call prayer”. In order for our prayer to be meaningful, I must present myself before God with a true desire to encounter Him, that is to say, to honestly share with God what is present in my life, and to honestly listen to what God has to share with me about His life. These are the two steps of prayer: sharing truth, and receiving truth.
1. Sharing truth is predicated on our ability to be honest with ourselves. God meets us where we are, and not where we think we ought to be. This is why we must begin by becoming aware of where we are: joyful, sad, grateful, angry, etc. The reality of what we are feeling and experiencing before prayer should overflow to our prayer life. We don’t want to leave the reality of what we are experiencing that day behind the doors of the church or chapel where we enter to pray. We must be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with God.
2. Receiving truth that God wishes to offer us is where our meditative reading of Sacred Scripture comes in. After we have taken the time to share ourselves honestly and simply with God in prayer, it is now time to pick up a short passage from the Bible and sit with it. Read it slowly, word by word, line by line, verse by verse, stopping often and allowing the words to sink deep into our hearts. Pay attention to the words or phrases that move your heart (through feelings) or your mind (through new ideas). Stay with these for a while, it is through these movements that God wishes to communicate His truth with you. It is unique to you and to your situation.
The key to good prayer is to make that prayer meditative, to slow it down. It is always better to say fewer prayers in a slower pace, than to say many prayers quickly. Quality over quantity.