Let’s get basic, very, very basic about prayer. The single most important piece of advice I know about prayer is also the simplest and also the pitch line for Nike: Just do it! How to do it is less important than just doing it. Less-than-perfect prayer is infinitely better than no prayer; more perfect prayer is only finitely better than less perfect prayer. No program, method, book, teacher, or technique will ever succeed in getting us to start doing anything unless there is first of all that simple, absolute choice to do it.
The major obstacle for most of us is just saying yes to prayer, the most popular and powerful excuse we give for not praying, or not praying more, is that we have no time. Deciding to do it is the first thing making prayer your number one priority, having made a definite decision to do it, we must next rearrange our lives around it. Rearranging your time, preparing time to pray, is like preparing your house to paint. As everyone knows who has done any painting, preparation is three-quarters the work, three-quarters the hassle, and three-quarters the time. The actual painting is a breeze compared with the preparation. The same is true of prayer: the hardest step is preparing a place, and a time. The first and most important piece is scheduling. You absolutely must schedule a regular time for prayer, whether you are a “scheduler” with other things in your life or not. One quick minute in the morning to offer your day to God is better than nothing at all. You simply must decide each day to free up your schedule so you can pray.
How long a time? That varies with individuals and situations, of course; but the very barest minimum should certainly be at least fifteen minutes. You can’t really count on getting much deep stuff going on in less time than that. If fifteen minutes seems too much to you, that fact is powerful proof that you need to pray much more to get your head on straight. After it becomes more habitual and easy, expand it, double it. And later, double it again.
What time of day is best? The most popular time is bedtime, and this is usually the worst possible time, for two reasons. First, it tends not to be prime time but garbage time, when you’re the least alert and awake. Do you really want to give God your worst?
Second, it won’t work. If you wait until every other obligation is taken care of first before you pray, you simply won’t pray. For life today is so cruelly complicated for most of us that “every other obligation” is never taken care of.
The most obvious and usually best time is early in the morning. If you can’t delay the other things you do, you simply must get up that much earlier. Should it be the very first thing? That depends. Some people are alert as soon as they get up; others need to shower and dress to wake up. The important thing is to give God the best time, and “just do it.”
Place is almost as important as time. You should make one special place where you can be undisturbed. What place? Some people are not very sensitive to environment and can even use a bathroom (but I wouldn’t). Others naturally seek beauty: a porch, yard, garden, or walk. (I find praying while you take a walk a good combination of spiritual and physical exercise.)
You probably noticed I haven’t said a word about techniques yet. That’s because three-quarters is preparation, remember? But what about methods? I can only speak from my own experience as a continuing beginner. The two most effective that I have found are very simple. One is praying Scripture, reading and praying at the same time (Lectio Divina), reading in God’s presence, receiving the words from God’s mouth. The second is spontaneous verbal prayer. I am not good at all at silent prayer, mental prayer, contemplative prayer; my thoughts hop around like fleas (squirrel).
Let’s “just do it” even if “it” is only crawling towards God, we need to learn to crawl before we walk and walk before we run. “Just Do it” start praying.