Wednesday, 10/11/17 — One Simple Word to Expand Your Prayer Life

Reflecting on today’s readings, a word came to mind that may change much about my prayer life. It’s a word that I haven’t really thought of in relation to prayer before, but it seems like it could be incredibly powerful, for myself and for (hopefully) doing God’s will.

In the Gospel selection from Luke, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, a prayer that we recognize immediately as the basis for the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a glorious and famous prayer, and it’s one that should come readily to the lips of any believer.

However, what caught my eye was a line of the Gospel before Jesus teaches this prayer. One of the disciples says, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”

In other words, His disciples were asking Jesus how to pray.

“How.” How common is that word in your prayer life? I know it’s been pretty darn rare in mine up until now. Sure, I pray for those in need, I pray to be a better father and husband, I pray my gratitude about the blessings in my life. But there isn’t a lot of “how” there.

Consider the difference between:

“Help me, Lord, to be a better husband and father.”


“Open my heart and mind, Lord, so that I might know how to be a better husband and father.”

To my ears, that “how” is much more active. It’s not just leaning back and waiting for God to drop a sack of enlightenment on my skull. It’s inviting my participation.

Similarly, “Please, God, help the poor” might become: “Please, God, make me aware of how you want me to help the poor.”

“Lord Jesus, give me the strength to endure this trouble” may be restated as “Lord Jesus, help me understand how you want me to endure this trouble.”

As a final example, compare “God, thank you for the blessings I’ve received” with “God, teach me how to best show my appreciation and gratitude for the blessings I’ve received.”

Today’s first reading is the ending of the Book of Jonah. In it, Jonah is resentful that God shows mercy on the people of Nineveh after they turn back from their evil ways. He sulks, even as God offers some comfort and wisdom. The story ends before we hear of the resolution, and — for me — it’s one of the great reflective “What happens next?” moments of Sacred Scripture.

However, thinking about this tale in relation to my reflective mind today, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Jonah had said, “God, I still feel all this rage at the people of Nineveh, and I have such anger that you didn’t carry out your punishment upon them. Please, Lord, show me how to channel my feelings to do Your will, or how to ease my heart so I can return to being your cheerful servant.”

Of course, part of the problem with asking “how” is that it might be a question you feel dumb asking, because you already know the answer. “Tell me, God, how I might help this widow struggling to feed her children” feels silly if you have surplus money or food. You already know how to help them; give them food or money!

In that case, I’d argue the foolishness you might feel is the Spirit trying to reveal to you a truth you already know. “Please, God, help this widow and her orphans” lets you off the hook: “I sent my thoughts and prayers to those in need; job done!” But interjecting that “how” puts you on the hot seat; many times we know what needs to be done to do God’s will, and it’s a matter of finding the fortitude to actually to do it. That’s where the “how” might prove invaluable.

In some cases, there may not be any additional action outside of further prayer or contemplation. That’s still concrete action! But we should be careful not to close our minds and hearts off to other spiritual insight. After all, the disciples asked Christ how they should pray!

In other cases, that “how” can open our mind to the possibilities of the Sacraments. How do I be a better father? Well, the Sacrament of Holy Communion can bring me closer to God, reflecting on the Sacrament of Marriage can bring me strength and understanding to the Christ-forged aspect of my relationship that brought my child into the world, and the Sacrament of Confession is a great way to get right with God if I’ve messed up along the way.

Not every prayer can be rephrased to include a “how,” and there are many problems in our lives that can’t be acted on with more corporeal directness. But I suspect there may be many more opportunities in our lives to invite the Spirit to act by showing our willingness to act.

“How.” It’s a simple word — only three letters — but it may well change my entire outlook on prayer. If it’s not already a part of your reflective life, consider making it so. Like Jesus’ revelation of the Lord’s Prayer, that simple idea may be the first step to a whole new realm of having your prayers answered.

Today’s readings: Jon 4:1-11; Ps 86:3-4,5-6,9-10; Lk 11:1-4

About the Author

Despite being a professional writer and editor for over 15 years, Steven Marsh is more-or-less winging it when it comes to writing about matters of faith. Steven entered the church in 2005, and since then he's been involved with various ministries, including Pre-Cana marriage prep for engaged couples, religious education for kindergarteners, and Stephen Ministry's one-on-one caregiving. Steven lives in Indiana with his wife and son. Despite having read the entirety of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he's still surprised at elements he rediscovers or reflects upon in new ways. The more Steven learns about the faith, the less he feels he knows; he's keen to emphasize that any mistakes are his own.

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  1. “How.” It’s a simple word — only three letters — but it may well change my entire outlook on prayer.

    Thank you Steven on this, like the disciples asking to Jesus how to pray, it somehow enlighten and help me to practice this way.

    God bless!

  2. The “how” question is a call to action as you rightly pointed out. And it is a good dimension to add to our prayers and actions as well. We can always ask God to show us how to act in any given situation we find ourselves in. Ciao.

  3. Thank you Stephen, I am just spiritually uplifted today reading your reflection on how to pray. God richly bless you

  4. I will like to say that I have never looked at how the use of ‘how’ in my prayers makes it have more self meaning. Thank you for this reflection, Steven. I feel blessed to read reflections on this forum. Thank you once again.

  5. Thank you Steven. Reflecting on the how aspect will make my prayer more meaningful and though provoking. God Bless you for this wonderful reflection.

  6. Thank you, Steven. What a powerful and Spirit-led reflection. This “new and improved” way to pray is a turning point in my spiritual journey. There have been times I feel the Lord has tried to open up this more active way of praying, but your reflection has clarified it. God Bless you,as you continue to serve Him.

  7. Thank you Steven. I love the story of Jonah. The whole story makes me laugh because his fickle nature, running away from God, and his indignity and resentment about God sparing the people is a great reminder of how I can be with God. And how God is so patient with him. If I were God I would have rolled my eyes and hit him upside the head with the castor oil tree. Haha, thankfully He is a loving God and He treats me the same way when I’m acting foolish. I love the idea of the HOW. It gives me more accountability. Thanks so much and God bless.

  8. Hey Steven,

    If you ask me, the best description of how to pray is Mt 6:5-8.

    Well, that and the church scene at the end of the movie “Cool Hand Luke”.


  9. God knows our heart and our mind. Short and simple and mindful prayers are likely as acceptable to God as word-specific petitions. We don’t have to be literature literate to to be in union with God.

  10. great reflection. it puts more accountibility on me when I ask God for help, rather than dropping my load and expecting to wake up with my prayers answered.

  11. Jack–I think the idea of using the word “how” is not to make our prayers any more acceptable to God, but rather to open our own hearts and minds to hearing, seeing, and implementing the answers to our prayers.
    God Bless !

  12. Thanks Steven for your wonderful reflection. Using the word HOW in our prayers clearly shows that we are ready to listen to God’s advise on how best we can put our prayers to Him for him to answer us. It also shows we are committed in what we are asking and are ready to obey our God

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