Prayer is central to our lives as Christians. It is one of the key ways we open our hearts to hear God’s call. But it’s important to understand that we’re not taking the lead when we pray. The truth is that God takes the initiative. God is already knocking at the door. Through prayer, we try to open the door and let God into our hearts.

Prayer is a vital necessity. Many things in our lives are optional, like eating junk food, getting the latest smartphone, or even playing sports. It’s absolutely possible to live and thrive without them. Other things are vital to living and thriving: eating and breathing; learning and growing; and last but not least, grace and prayer, which are vital elements of our spiritual lives.

Prayer isn’t a luxury - a “nice to have” - it’s absolutely imperative. But remember that God doesn’t make a demand without giving us what we need to meet that demand. One fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church is that we are all temples of the Holy Spirit, which means that the Holy Spirit prays with each and every one of us as we try to open our hearts to God’s call.

Prayer means we “hearken to his voice” and do not “harden our hearts.” In Psalm 95:7-8, scripture says, “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts.”

But how do we “hearken to his voice?” If prayer means listening to God’s call, how do we do that? Here are four ‘channels’ that help many people:

  1. Turn to the Bible because God speaks to us through Scripture.
  2. Look at the teachings of the Church, including the ongoing conversation among theologians.
  3. Pay close attention to everyday experience.
  4. Listen to God speaking to our hearts, often through our conscience.

In order to “hearken to his voice,” we have to first be able to hear his voice, which often means tuning out the noise and craziness of the world. As Elijah learned, God can be heard in quiet stillness:

Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. 1 Kings 19:11-13

Elijah did not hear the voice of the Lord within the power and noise of the natural world, he heard it in the peaceful quiet that followed. In our hectic world today, it’s even more important for us to find ways to silence the noise and listen for the voice of God in the “light silent sound.”

There are many ways to pray and some may be more helpful to you than others. Regardless of how you do it, prayer needs to become a daily habit. At the very least, you could say a prayer of petition - asking God for help with something - to start your day; and then say a prayer of thanksgiving to end your day. It’s a small thing, starting and ending your day with prayer, but it may help you tune out the noise of the world and hearken to the voice of the Lord!

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