One of my resolutions this year is to read one book a month. I like to cycle through self-help, spiritual, and fiction (aka Star Wars) books to get a good mix of knowledge and enjoyment. January’s book, 13 Powerful Ways to Pray by Eamon Tobin, provides deeper understanding of traditional forms of prayer as well as new ways to spice up your spiritual life.
I’m a cradle Catholic. I grew up going to Mass with my parents and attended Catholic school from Pre-K all the way through 12th grade. On top of that, I actively participated in a youth group and singles ministry, and even spent a year as a missionary. Despite all that, my prayer life has been up and down through most of it. A friend recommended 13 Powerful Ways to Pray as a way to generate discussion in our prayer meetings. I didn’t want to wait every couple weeks to read one chapter with a group, so I went ahead and read the book.
The book is divided into two parts: the four keys to an effective prayer life and the thirteen forms of prayer. I found the first part to be most helpful as it was more the “theory” of prayer than it was the “practice” of prayer. I had already been practicing each form of prayer mentioned in part two to some extent, so there weren’t a lot of “a-ha” moments for me as there were in part one. The four keys to an effective prayer life give us a solid foundation no matter how many more forms of prayer are ever invented. They are the “why” of prayer that get us from saying prayers to simply praying.
Key One: Developing a Positive Image of God
Key Two: Being Honest with God
Key Three: Connecting Prayer with Daily Life
Key Four: Listening to God in Prayer
I had two takeaways from these four chapters. 1) How we perceive God affects how we approach Him and that our perception comes from “childhood relationships with parents or authority figures.” 2) How we relate to our closest friends is a good barometer for how we relate to God. If we can be open and honest with our best friend, but not with God can we say we have a good prayer life?
Both of these revelations were eye opening and it inspired me to change the way I perceive and approach God. Until I read this book, most of my conversations with God were polite and formal. But if our friends can still love us after an argument or hurt feelings, how much more can God do the same after we let Him know how we really feel?
The Forms of Prayer
Think of each form of prayer as a different tool in your tool box. Each is used for different situations. You wouldn’t use the prayer of forgiveness to discern what to do next in your career just as you wouldn’t use a hammer to insert a screw. I won’t go into the details of each, but there were some interesting takes that I have tried to put into practice. For example, I oftentimes mindlessly pray the rosary in the car on my way to work. I have a hard time meditating on each mystery, but Eamon Tobin suggests praying for a particular intention related to the mystery. If you practice many different forms of prayer, there are plenty of tips scattered throughout this part of the book.
At the end of each chapter is a set of questions. They can be for personal reflection or for small group discussion. We’ve only gone through the first three keys together, but it has allowed us to talk about a part of our lives that we don’t talk about enough. Hearing about the struggles and victories of others puts things into perspective: things aren’t as bad as they seem or I can do much better. No man is an island.
13 Powerful Ways to Pray is a great way to enhance your personal prayer life and our Christian community. There’s something for everyone, from rookies (see what I did there?) to those far along in their spiritual journeys. It allows us all to walk together and bring each other to Heaven.