Once we realize that prayer is “friendly intercourse” with God, rooted in his deep love for us, we can begin to talk about the method for how we do this. I offer, based upon my own reading of various spiritual directors and great theologians, some observations on how to pray in this way.
First, we cannot speak to God “intimately” unless we are in contact with him personally. This doesn’t just happen in conversion but daily as we approach him directly. Because we are in personal contact with God we make preparation. This is not a matter of human works offered up to save us in any sense of the word. It is our placing ourselves in the presence of God, turning ourselves to him by means of true godly thoughts. I begin to relate to God more intimately when I place myself in his presence, turning aside to him by means of good thoughts. This includes both biblical words and insights from other Christian teachers who thought deeply about the Word of God.
Second, to prepare we must again and again convince ourselves that God loves us. During my early days I always wondered, “Have I been truly saved?” Maybe I’d not done something right. Maybe I needed to walk forward and “rededicate” myself. Then after I came to appreciate much of the Reformed confessional tradition I wondered, at times, “Am I among the elect?” And, “Did Jesus really die for me?” How do I know for sure? More confusion followed. Now I know that unless I am fully persuaded that God loves me then I will never pray as intimately and personally as I should. This is why “friendly intercourse” with God is so precious to me.
In order to know that God loves me I choose readings, from the Bible and other wonderful treasures rooted in the Bible, that reveal his love to me. But reading is not enough.
Third, I must meditate by reflecting upon this truth. God loves me. He really does love me. This is the greatest truth in all the world. I must chew this and digest it and revel in it. All revealed truth can manifest God’s love to me but each day I try to get hold of one reading that does this for me. I make direct use of various thoughts contained in things I choose to meditate upon in quietness. My goal is always to convince my heart that God really does love me. What often happens is that this love springs up spontaneously in my heart after some time alone.
Fourth, there begins a colloquy, or a dialog with God. I tell God, with whatever words spring to my heart, how much I love him, how much I want to love him even more and that I desire to advance in his holy love this very day. I also tell him that I want to demonstrate his holy love in my actions this day by doing his will.
Fifth, I come to the center of real prayer. This is the heart of it all. In order to facilitate the dialog I do three things:
1. Give thanks. I not only tell God I love him but I thank him for all the benefits and blessings that he has given to me. “Count your blessings, name them one by one . . .”
2. Offering. Aware of all my blessings I ask God what I can give to him? He does not need anything from me but as my heavenly Father he loves to receive my good resolution and my decision to give. What can I do this day to show my gratitude to him?
3. Petition. The consciousness of my weakness and humanness prompts me to then pray for divine help.
You can practice mental prayer without the last three acts but they fill out the practice and make it applicable to every aspect of my daily life.
When my soul freely reflects upon a text read, a thought pondered, I can pass into dialog, or colloquy. This is at the heart of the process of mental prayer. As for tools that specifically help me I just keep looking and finding an incredible treasure of ancient and modern resources. Here I draw from the whole Christian tradition—Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. Here ecumenism deepens my sense of the whole church throughout all the ages seeking the same God who loves me in this place, right now.