The Holy Spirit speaks in Sirach 18:23, “Before you pray prepare your soul and be not as the man who tempts God.” This reminded me of a favorite antidote from Jewish lore. A disciple asked a learned holy man, “Rabbi, what do you do before you pray?” The Rabbi answered him, “I pray that I will be able to pray.” That is just good common sense.
Before an athlete competes, he or she will warm up. They will practice the moves they will be expected to make to excel at their sport. They would never think of going out to the field without proper warming up. If we wish our prayer to be most productive, we should follow that advice. There is no wrong way to pray except not to pray.
We should start with a proper disposition. First of all, that means humility. We must remember who we are and who God is. Of the four ACTS of prayer, the A is for Adoration and the C is for contrition. We pray in adoration because of who God is. We pray in contrition because of who we are, sinners kneeling before God. Humility will instill in us a fidelity to God’s will.
With this disposition, we move on to the T, Thanksgiving for what God has done for us, and the S is Supplication for what we need. To pray well is to enter fully into the relationship with God using all four types of prayer.
Treat prayer like a relationship. It is important to keep in touch. Watch teenagers. They spend all day with their friends and within 10 minutes of parting they are texting each other. It is not about sharing anything new. It is about being in touch.
The only contact some people have with family and friends is the yearly Christmas card. That reflects the distance that has grown between them and us. Every year we say we intend to do better to keep in touch but don’t follow through. Recall the memories their card inspired. That is why we need to keep in touch with God, to recall all the memories of his goodness.
The last part of praying well is listening to God. Finding time and quiet are important to listening. Using scripture is a way to hear God’s word in reply to our prayers. Read a passage and then quietly meditate on it. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart about the passage.