Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Read this verse: "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication."
Does it make you feel overwhelmed? Does it make you feel sluggish and convicted?
Daily prayer is an obvious need of the spiritual life but is also a widely ignored one, too. The subtle deception from the enemy often convinces us not to engage the Lord in daily prayer. At times, I too suffer from the sloth and in times of stress, the heart of God is not always my go-to place for refuge and solace.
Some see daily prayer as surfeit and unnecessary. This crowd thinks mealtime prayers and the occasional prayer for a friend is heroic and saintly, but in reality, it's dull and is like a spoon that will hardly cut the butter. The other crowd wants to pray but doesn't make time for prayer. They have all the desire possible to engage the Lord but wonder why they don't commit to prayer the way they want. Their problem is, they are too interested in other activities, and the tradeoff for prayer is a poor investment of their time. Video games, boredom, meal cooking, the new episode of their favorite show, and exhaustion are among their most common—and perhaps unacknowledged due to self-ignorance or denial—excuses. Whatever it is, both groups suffer from sloth.
Daily prayer is a requirement of every Christian, and through one sacrifice or some sense of initiative, we must deal with the sloth. With a just amount of consideration, life is busy, and we are not all able to pray the divine office each hour on the hour. With the same consideration, though, Catholics who are serious about their spiritual life must consider daily prayer their number one priority. After all, St. Paul says, "Pray at all times and he wouldn't have said this as a working and religious man if it weren't possible. And there are several ways to go about it.
First, begin each morning with the sign of the cross. The first moment in your day is the best moment of the day to acknowledge God and to ask him to guide your path. Sometime in your morning routine, consider the words of the psalmist, "Your word is a lamp unto my feet" (Ps. 119:105) and read a short verse from a selection, a devotional, or right from your Bible. Do the same at right before bed—best if you can ask your spouse to join you.
Later in the day, develop the attitude urged by St. Paul, to "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints" (Eph. 6:18). This not as overwhelming as it perhaps seems. Focus on Paul's words to "keep alert." This word in Greek (Gr. agrypneō) means to be watchful, attentive, and ready. What Paul is telling us here is not to sit in a pew and keep perfect posture with every moment we are awake. Rather, he's telling us to be prayerful in our daily activities. What might this look like? We can be prayerful in our meals by being considerate of our body as a temple, eating healthy, in due proportion, and with sacrifice. We can be prayerful with our profession by seeking Christian ethos and high levels of perfection to glorify God. We can be prayerful in our relaxation and leisure by being grateful, enjoying peace, and sharing our joy with others. We are prayerful in our daily activities when we acknowledge the desires of God and remain open to his direction for our daily life.
Finally, while it is important to take up the two suggestions above, we absolutely must take the time for focused prayer time. Make a goal of twenty minutes per day, set aside as a time for God alone, with no distractions. During this time, talk to God about your day. Pray for your needs and direction, and that of others. Ensure you pray for the intercession of the saints as Paul directs in Ephesians 6:18. Make sure to spend an adequate amount of time in personal prayer, but be sure also to include some of this time praying with your spouse and kids as one family. Lastly here, give yourself a period of silence to hear what God is telling you. The earth won't tremble, and your skin won't get goosebumps (okay, actually it might!), but you will hear God's voice directing your life. If you can exceed the 20 minutes and make time for a Rosary every day, I cannot implore you enough to aim for this most excellent goal. For more on that, read the section in this book on praying the Rosary.
Now you have it. Daily prayer is not overwhelming. It is not a tedious task to wake up with a God-filled thought and short prayer, acknowledge God in your work and routine, and to take just twenty minutes to seek his counsel and express your gratitude. Why not start now? Put down this book and pray quietly for a few moments.