I presided at a Benediction service the other night (Benediction is a devotional prayer service before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar). After the service, a friend approached me and commented on my closing prayer. She said she liked it and had never heard it before. I told her, “Honestly, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that prayer as well.” You see, my practice when I preside at such events is to pray from my heart at the end of the service and I don’t know what will be said until I speak. I just follow the words of the ancient psalmist:
“Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Psalm 51:17).
I simply let the Holy Spirit guide me in my prayer.
Sure, I get in the way of God’s grace a bit by giving the prayer some structure (a beginning, a middle and an end), but I truly never know what words God will give me to speak. This type of spontaneous prayer is powerful and I’ve found it to be very helpful in my ministry. It’s an invitation to allow God to do the talking; for me to get out of the way and let his message flow.
When you pray this way and take time to reflect on what you prayed, you can begin to detect patterns and themes in your prayer life. Your heart is often freer to speak the truth than your mind, which can get stifled by pride and supposition. Another way to “peek” into your heart is to journal by themes and expressions.
Most of the time when I journal, I am recording an event or feeling that I have experienced and write like I was writing a letter, using complete sentences and paragraphs. But some of the most interesting journaling I’ve done has been to write as quickly as I can to record the experience or feelings I have bottled up inside me. I forgo grammar and sentence structure and spill it all out there on paper. Messy as it may appear, it is an effective way of identifying the themes and issues that are affecting your life. It is those themes and issues that you can bundle up and present to God as prayers of the heart.
You might give this a try: Take a pad of paper and begin writing all of the thoughts (one to three words at the most per thought) that expresses where you are in your life – your joys, your concerns, your needs, your desires. Write freely; leave the analysis for a later time. Then, when you’ve emptied the well of thoughts and emotions, take time in prayer to identify recurring themes and issues. These are the areas where you might focus future prayer … and future spiritual counseling.
“Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.” I pray these words a lot – before counseling people, before preaching, before proclaiming the Word, before leading a meeting, before singing at Mass, etc. It’s a simple prayer and it is powerful. These are also the first words of the Invitatory – the first offering of prayer each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours. What a great way to start the day.
I heard Amy Grant sing her new song, “Better than a Hallelujah” on a television special not too long ago. (Here’s a link to one YouTube version of the song) It’s a beautiful song about how God loves us as we are and where we are. The refrain of the song is this:
“We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are; the honest cries of breaking hearts … are better than a Hallelujah.”
We all have thoughts and feelings bottled up inside of us. Some of them can be beneficial to us and others, and some can be harmful. But if the thoughts and feelings are of God, they will be beautiful. So let God speak in your prayer.
Be at peace and know that you are loved!
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