How often do you pray? I’ve always been fascinated by the Muslim religion and the fact its adherents pray five times a day, an act that serves as a constant reminder of the role God plays in their lives. Equally compelling are the devout Christians who take a particular Bible passage (1 Thessalonians 5:17) at face value and “pray ceaselessly”, though I imagine this would interfere with everyday life.
When I think about prayer in my own life, I quickly realize that I engage with it on a fairly regular basis. For me, praying has become an instinctual reflex—something I do throughout the day. I give thanks for the good in my life and the small blessings that pop up daily. I sometimes ask for guidance or patience or, on an especially tough day at work, pray for inner calm.
If prayer is something you only engage in at bedtime or when you’re in dire need, here are three times when you might consider prayer*.
#1. Praying when things are going well: the prayer of gratitude.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s so important I’ll gladly mention it again. The prayer of gratitude may be the single most powerful prayer there is and it’s one I use every day. It’s a simple prayer of thanks for all the abundance and good in your life, a thank you to God for all the things that makes life worth living, from your family members to a beautiful morning sunrise.
I was reminded of this prayer the other day while reading the Reshad Field autobiography The Last Barrier. In it, Field writes about his spiritual guide who stresses to him the importance of gratitude, telling him he should get up in the morning and go to bed at night giving thanks to God. He asks:
How many times a day to you remember to say thank you? You are completely dependent on God and it is to Him that all thanks are due. Until you can be truly grateful you will always be in separation from God.
And in a nutshell, that’s the reason for this prayer. It somehow seems to bring you closer to God, because by recognizing God in this way it makes the Divine a real presence in your life and can lead to even greater abundance.
PRAYER: Start with the words “God, I’m thankful for all the good in my life…” and from there you complete the thought, naming all the things you appreciate most on this day and in this life.
#2. Praying when you have to make a tough decision: requesting guidance.
Can God really help us make a difficult decision? I can tell you from experience, that seeking this guidance can’t hurt. It takes some of the weight off your shoulders when you remember there’s a greater source in the universe that can help guide you—and, in time, lead you to a decision with the best possible outcome.
My spiritual mentor John Templeton has written about prayer at length and says that “when we become very still and ask for guidance, we may be directed clearly and unmistakably, with a “yes” or “no”. But sometimes the best approach is to “release the answer to God and trust the flow of the divine to enter our lives”.
The key here is to give it time if we don’t find the answer you’re looking for right away. Patience is sometimes needed, so delay making a final decision until the answer has been revealed. Templeton reminds us that we are never alone in this process:
Sometimes, when our prayers seem to be unanswered in the manner we think they should, we may feel that we are not in tune with the timeless, unlimited universal creator called God. But nothing can be separate from God. Everything that touches you, everything that touches each individual in the universe, is a part of God.
PRAYER: “Dear God, I ask for your guidance in making this decision. Please lead me to the choice that is best for me, my family, and my mission in this life.”
#3. Praying when you’ve hit one of life’s potholes: asking for help.
I think that Emmet Fox got it right, when he suggested that whenever we find ourselves in a tough situation that we “stop thinking about the difficulty, and think about God instead.” By putting the focus on God, we take some of the pressure off ourselves.
Ask the question: What is the lesson I am to learn from this experience? And do your best to turn
Many times our thoughts are counterproductive when we’re in trouble—we just dont, so it makes sense to take a break from our struggles and ask for guidance. Again, John Templeton provides some sage advice:
Trials can help us grow and may come into our life to offer a greater realization of God’s presence and power. As we maintain trust and peace, our problems are more likely to be solved, and sometimes in a mysterious hour and sometimes even at the eleventh hour.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I trust in your wisdom and know that there is something . I ask you to lead me through this difficult time to a better day.
A NOTE ON PRAYER: Explaining “how to pray” could be a column unto itself, but let me give you my definition. By prayer, I simply mean going into the silent place within ourselves and engaging with what John Templeton calls “something wise within us” or what Charles Fillmore referred to as the “the great stillness that pervades our whole being”.
This post previously appeared on my “Wake Up Call” column at Patheos, September 11, 2014.