Let's face it: prayer is hard. It's frustrating. We try to make prayer a priority but it falls into the background. Or, if we do pray often (even daily), we just can't get ourselves into it. The experience can be flat and seemingly inconsequential. Sometimes we might even wonder if our prayer even makes a difference.

I don't have perfect prayer life by any means. It is a daily struggle that requires some intentionality, effort, and openness to being transformed in God’s will.

How do I know when I’m praying successfully?

It's hard to say on a day to day basis whether or not prayer is successful based on results. In reality, all we can really do is focus on our approach. So how should we approach prayer? The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us some great advice centered on three important words that all start with "H."

The Three Components of a Successful Prayer Life 

The 3 Keys

What are the three components of a successful prayer life?

1. Humility

2. Heart

3. Habit

Take away any of these three components of prayer and you'll avoid it. Live out these keys and you'll be changed by prayer. You will find constant conversion.

1. Humility   

"Humility is the foundation of prayer." (CCC, 2559)

If we think we can find results through prayer because of our own hard work, we're wrong. Prayer is a gift from God or a response to his working in our lives.

How do you find humility for prayer?

  1. Admit that "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Romans 8:26).
  2. Start by saying “thanks.” Prayer is a gift and we need to approach it in a humble state of thanksgiving.
  3. Listen. Listen before you speak.
  4. Praise God. Praise is an end in itself. It has no other purpose. We do not praise God to gain favor with him as we might complement a demanding boss. We praise him because he deserves it. It has nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with what he has done for us.

2. Heart 

"According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain." (CCC, 2562) 

Prayer is a relationship. We don't throw prayers out to an abyss. There is always a person on the other end. We pray to a God. When we pray, God is with us. He is always listening.

Think of your human relationships. Are you fully present with them? In words, you might communicate, but where is your heart? Are you really opening yourself up to what the other person is saying and truly feeling compassion for the joys and sufferings that they share with you? It is easy to have a conversation, but it is much harder to open our hearts to hearing and feeling what another person is sharing with us.

Prayer requires us to go all-in. Remember, go into prayer with a humble heart and you'll come out a new person.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I afraid of losing something?
  • Am I comfortable?
  • Am I feeling safe with who I am?
  • Do I like my life just the way it is?

If your answer is "yes" to any of these questions you might find that your heart is closed off to God's work in your life.

(By the way, I answered "yes" to every one of these questions, which is probably why they were so easy to write down. I don't know if we ever truly get past these fears, but when we bring these fears to God with a humble heart, at least we give God the chance to do his work anyway.)

"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. . . no one can serve two masters" (Mt 6:21, 24; CCC, 2848)

Praying with your heart means trusting in God alone. It means giving up our fear of losing what we hold on to. It means letting go.

The heart is traditionally the place of the will not so much the intellect. Our will points us in a direction. When our will is united to God's will in prayer, our lives will be transformed, even when our mind wants us to find comfort elsewhere.

God pulls us toward him through our hearts. We pull back into our pride. That is why humility is an essential first step. The more humble we become, the more we can enter into the battleground of our heart.

3. Habit  

"The life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him." (CCC, 2656) 

Prayer does not have to be made up of a series of isolated events. It is a lifestyle. We show up every day. It is infused into every part of our lives. It is not just something we do separately at night or before meals. We pray constantly.

To be in communion with God is to be united with him even when we're not "praying." That is what makes prayer a habit. We just do it. No one makes us do it. We don't even make ourselves do it. We just do it. It is a part of us. It is a lifestyle.

In this way, prayer becomes more a realization of God's presence in everything we do and less a series of actions that we perform. Making prayer a habit requires both the commitment to daily prayer practices (for me, the Rosary, the Angelus, prayer before meals, prayers before bed, prayer before work, etc.), but more importantly a commitment to the constant realization of God's presence in our lives.

All of this is a daily struggle because prayer isn’t meant to be easy. It’s meant to be a battle that spills over into the way we live our everyday lives:

"We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The "spiritual battle" of the Christian's new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer." (CCC, 2725)

Copyright 2014, Jared Dees