"The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." -Jas 5:16
Turn Your Mind and Heart toward God
Different sources from the Catholic Tradition describe prayer in slightly different terms, yet they all agree on the fundamentals of prayer, which include turning one's mind and heart toward God.
Reflecting on spiritual writings or Scriptural passages becomes prayer when you do it with your mind and heart turned toward God.
Likewise, words spoken silently or out loud to God become prayer when they are said with the mind and heart turned toward God. These words include words that are recited from memory and words that are spoken extemporaneously.
You can even take words from a memorized prayer and reflect on them as you would a Scripture passage or spiritual writing. The key is to keep your mind and heart turned toward God while you reflect.
Examine Your Heart to Excel in Prayer
Self-examination is extremely difficult for many people, but those who complete it come closer to God and can excel in prayer.
Examining your heart for imperfections can help to purify your heart. The purer your heart becomes, the more fervently you can turn your heart toward God. And we know from the Letter of James that "the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (Jas 5:16).
Examining your heart requires being honest about your faults. Honesty requires humility. Beginning your self-examination with a prayer for humility can help. The prayer doesn't need to be complicated. It can be simple, such as the following:
"Lord, please grant me the humility I need to examine my heart honestly and identify the one imperfection you want me to see so I may improve for my own salvation, for the salvation of others, and for your great glory. Amen."
Now, as you look within your heart, ask yourself what imperfection you can improve. If you are meditating on a prayer, Scripture passage, or spiritual writing, ask yourself what imperfection you can improve in light of what you are meditating on.
Keep your heart open during this self-examination. Don't be afraid of what might surface as an imperfection; offer your fear up to God, and trust that you will receive better things by overcoming the imperfection than by holding on to it.
Persevere in Prayer
Do you ever feel guilty when your mind wanders while you are trying to pray the rosary, a novena, or perhaps the Liturgy of the Hours? You feel guilty because you instinctively know that prayer requires your mind and heart, not just your lips or words.
Don't be too hard on yourself, though. Even the saints struggled with this, and the ones who wrote about prayer mentioned this struggle. It's normal to struggle. The important thing is that you persevere.
Lord, grant that we may persevere. Amen!