Keeping my Promise: Foundations to Prayer (Part 1: Praise)

By Andre Regnier
On January 1, I promised everyone at CCO’s Rise Up conference that I would write a blog post for people who are learning how to pray, to help lay some basic foundations. Sr. Miriam and our other speakers talked about a personal relationship with God that is living and dynamic, one that transforms our very lives. We were all encouraged by their words, and moved by the experience they invited us into (Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, and the various liturgies). Rise Up truly was a significant encounter with God, and I’m sure you all hope that it won’t just be lost and become a distant memory. So how do we keep that experience at Rise Up present, and have it continue to grow in the weeks, months and years ahead?

There are many things to keep in mind. The sacraments and fellowship with other Christians are essential to continue to grow in this relationship with God, but I want to focus on the most important thing – our daily connection with God, what we call our prayer life. There are many important things we could say about our prayer life.

At Rise Up I challenged you not to see your prayer life as a quick five minute thing, but to set a goal of one hour per day. This may seem like a lofty goal, but I really encourage you to go for it, to make that the standard, if you really want the experience of Rise Up to be something that goes on and grows. It may take a long time to get to that point, but it’s worth working towards.

To help with this, a consistent time and place is important; praying in the morning can also be very beneficial. But what I want to focus on in these blogs is what we do during the prayer time itself. I want to do this by unpacking an acronym we often use as a model of prayer: “PRAY”, which stands for: Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield.

In this post, I want to talk about the first part – praise.

In the catechism it says that worship is the “first act” of the “virtue of religion”. The catechism goes on to say that this worship, or “adoration”, means “to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love” (2096). This means that the first thing a Christian must do is to acknowledge that there is a God, who is all powerful, all knowing and omnipresent. In the prayer that Jesus taught us, the first words are acknowledging God: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”. They acknowledge the greatness of God. To start our prayer we need to acknowledge who God is, confessing his greatness.

On a very practical level, my experience is that when I begin to worship, and use these words of worship, not only am I reminded that God is present, and of who God is, but my mind becomes focused on him, rather than on myself. There are times when it has been hard to motivate myself to begin to pray, and then I begin to use these “words of worship”. I say, “You are God, you love me, you are good, you created the heavens and the earth…” As I say these words, my mind and heart are lifted up and directed towards God. In addition to that, when I worship God, when I actually use words of worship, I’m reminded of who I’m actually speaking to – of God’s greatness. So I recognize whose company I’m keeping. And my heart is instantly humbled and I begin to take the words I’m speaking more seriously.

Prayer continues on from here. Worship is the opening of all the other aspects of my prayer life. It leads me to recognize my need for God. It leads me to confidence in knowing that God is all powerful and able to help me. It leads me to humility; it leads me to repentance. So worship should be the first step to your daily prayer.

Now to help you to engage in worship in your prayer, I would like to make three suggestions:

1. Worship can be seen as a language – a spiritual language. As I mentioned, there are words that express worship. So to be able to worship more effectively, you have to have the language of worship. Where do you learn that? My suggestion is that you start with going to the Psalms, and using them as a guide to help you learn the language of worship. One of the best ways to do this is to start with the Psalm from the mass readings for that day – it’s a way of connecting your own personal prayer with the worship of the Church throughout the world. (There are a number of websites that have mass readings online. You can do a Google search for “mass readings” for a specific date, and you should find it pretty easily.)

For example, the psalm verses for today begin like this:

“Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you” (Psalm 147:12-13).

You can personalize this: “I glorify you Lord, I praise you my God. You have strengthened me, you have blessed me.”

2. Speak out loud – Actually say these words at the beginning of your prayer time, out loud. When you say these words of praise and worship out loud, it helps you to focus, it becomes more real to you and you become less distracted by your thoughts.

3. Start with five minutes – This may seem really difficult at the beginning. But even if you say the same words over and over for five minutes, remember that every time you say them, you’re saying them to God – and they’re becoming more real to you. If you keep saying “You are my strength” over and over to God for five minutes, that’s fine. When you feel that you want to add another word, add another word. One suggestion would be to pick two new words to describe God’s greatness, and his love for us, every day. I did that with my kids over Advent this year. And it worked; they developed a basic language of worship.

So that’s the first section. My challenge to you for the rest of the week is to take five minutes each day – if more, that’s great! – to focus in on worship. Next week we’ll talk about repentance.

 

Listen to our three podcast series to go deeper into your prayer life: The Prayer of Praise, Sailing into the depths of Prayer, and The Battle of Prayer

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