A Guide to Prayer: Why, When, and How

Prayer is an absolute necessity for human beings. Here’s how — and why — to do it.

Why? Pray to get what you need to face life.

God has made us greater than everything else he created. Greater than animals, mountains, or the angels. Therefore, nothing on earth will satisfy us. Only God.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Lord,” said St. Augustine.

This is because God made everything, and wrote the rules of the universe. The only way to be happy is to be in tune with Everything. The only way to do that is to have frequent contact with God.

Pope Benedict once spelled out what we get if we spend time with Jesus Christ, and make him our friend:

Knowing Jesus “can give a person what he or she needs to face life: serenity and interior enlightenment, an aptitude for thinking positively, broadmindedness with regard to others, the readiness to pay in person for goodness, justice and truth.”

When? Times to Pray

Imagine your best friend was also your roommate, co-worker, and constant companion. Pray at all the times you would talk to God if he was that friend. Because he should be.

Pray when you rise, when you eat, when you make a major decision, when you travel and when you go to bed. Pray for comfort in suffering, patience in adversity, gratitude in good times, and resignation in bad times. Speak to God about anything momentous or trivial that concerns you and devote special time to conversation with God every day in meditation.

How? Daily Meditation

Saints say daily contemplative prayer is an absolute must — meditation on God and the truths of the faith. Here is one method for daily meditation that I have found helpful. Find one that works for you.

If it’s all you can do, start out by praying five minutes a day. Gradually add more time.

1: Enter God’s presence.

It’s not a matter of making God present, but of reminding yourself of his presence.

Kneel or sit respectfully. Your body and soul are one. The way you carry your body encourages you to remember and reverence God’s greatness.

Make an act of faith, hope, and love in your own words or use those given here.

An act of faith: My God, I believe in you and all that your Church teaches, because you have said it, and your word is true.

An act of hope: My God, I hope in you, for grace and for glory, because of your promises, your mercy, and your power.

An act of charity: My God, because you are so good, I love you with all my heart, and for your sake, I love my neighbor as myself.

2: Express Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (Petition): “A.C.T.S.”

Your imagination can help prayer along. If it helps, imagine Jesus Christ sitting with you. Then go through each of these categories.

Adoration – Repeat “Oh my God, I adore you. You are so great and I am so small.” Or say the Glory Be slowly and meditatively. Adore God as simply as the shepherds did at Bethlehem, or Mary at the cross.

Contrition – Recall your sins and offer reparation for the sins of the world. Say “Jesus, I am so sorry for having offended you. Please forgive me. I love you.” If it helps, imagine kissing each of his wounds as you express your sorrow.

Thanksgiving – Thank Jesus for all he has done for you, your family, your friends, your community, and the world. Thank him especially for your faith. Be specific and thorough. Thank him for this time of prayer.

Supplication – Speak directly and honestly to God about what others need and you need. Ask for what you need most in the spiritual life and pray for guidance and for strength to follow any lights you have received. Pray for those in need in your family, city, nation, and throughout the world. Pray for the grace to persevere in prayer.

3: Meditate

Christ is the best object of meditation, and the Gospels are the best place to start. The first four books of the New Testament – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – recount what Jesus actually did and said, and his interactions with people.

Read a brief Gospel passage. Imagine what it would be like to there during the story. Notice how Christ respects, cares for and challenges people. Read the passage again, applying its lessons to your life.

4: Commit

Commit to some act that will help draw your prayer into your day — for instance, a good deed or a kind word. Close by thanking God for this time of prayer.

And that’s it.

There is an ocean of grace waiting to flow into your life if you just start opening up the channel a little. You do that through prayer.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.