My best advice for anyone struggling with prayer: Make a morning offering.
Nobody in their right mind would look to me for advice on how to have a strong, consistent prayer life. All my life, I have struggled with prayer, and I have mostly won. (Think about what that means for a moment. It’s not good!)
But if you could zoom out and look over my life, you could see one thing: The times when I am most at peace and seeking God’s will most often are the times when I was consistently making a morning offering.
This is not a straight “if x, then y” causal connection, of course. It is not magic to make a morning offering. It may even be the other way around: I am more likely to make a morning offering when I’m at a time in my life when I am already feeling connected to God or when I’m already remembering consistently to turn to him to help with hope and trust. One thing I know is that there are not any shortcuts.
Nevertheless, if anyone asked me what was the one thing they could do to start off on a better path spiritually, I would recommend resolving to make a morning offering. It hits that sweet spot: It’s fast and it’s easy, but it takes a small amount of discipline on your part, which signals to you that it is worthwhile. But it also puts the ball in the Holy Spirit’s court, which, well, I am starting to think is the whole entire point of life.
It is also something you can do no matter what your current relationship with God is like. If you’re feeling distant, you can offer up your day as a wistful act of hope, no harm done. If you’re angry, you can do it defiantly: Hey, You! See this sack of garbage you left me with? How about you carry it for a while? [Flings life down at foot of cross with horrible splatting noise.] If you’re feeling lazy, you can do it because it’s quick and easy and better than nothing. If you’re feeling very connected, it can be a beautiful and profound way to begin another day with the Lord. If you’re feeling trusting, you can thank him in advance for whatever is about to come.
If you are looking for something a little more robust, Psalm 51 makes a great morning offering.
The big thing is, you don’t have to be…anything. You don’t have to have particular plans or expectations for your morning offering. It may even be better if you don’t. You just have to be conscious, and that is enough material to work with. There was a time in my life when I just said, “Jesus, I offer this day up to you” every morning because that was literally all I could manage. I had no idea what it meant, so I left it up to him to work out the details. In retrospect, I believe that is what kept me alive through a horrible dark time.
So that is one very legitimate way you could do it.
If you are looking for something a little more robust, Psalm 51 makes a great morning offering. There were many years when I recited it pretty faithfully because it felt like a fitting “strapping on armor to get the day started” kind of prayer:
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, And your Holy Spirit take not from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation, And a willing spirit sustain in me.
That seemed to cover all the bases. A good way to start the day, and sometimes one line, one aspect of my supplication, stood out more than others.
Simply make an act of thanks in your own words, as soon as your eyes are open and your head is clear enough to realize you’re alive.
For whatever reason, the juice ran out of this particular set of verses for me after a few years (it happens!). But then, when I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, I came across this prayer of surrender published by the Father Walter Ciszek Prayer League, and it strikes me as extremely psychologically healthy and spiritually specific, which I appreciate. It begins:
Lord, Jesus Christ, I ask the grace to accept the sadness in my heart, as your will for me, in this moment. I offer it up, in union with your sufferings, for those who are in deepest need of your redeeming grace. I surrender myself to your Father’s will and I ask you to help me to move on to the next task that you have set for me.
The rest of the prayer gets more specific and is not long, and you can find it here.
An awful lot of people are facing the day feeling somewhat defeated or at least depleted these days. I like that this prayer acknowledges sadness and difficulty for what it is, and then asks Jesus for help in putting it to good use. So compassionate and practical at the same time. You could certainly do worse than to print out this prayer and tack it to your bedroom wall so you remember to say it every morning before you start your day.
Or one final suggestion: Simply make an act of thanks in your own words, as soon as your eyes are open and your head is clear enough to realize you’re alive. This is fine: “Thank you for this day. I offer it up to you. Please help me make it good.” And then you can check Twitter or go feed the cat or whatever. This is what I have been doing for a while, and starting my day this way has had the effect of showing me just how many things there are in my life, every day, that I also want to thank God for. It’s nice! It’s lovely. It’s a hard life sometimes, but it’s so good.
So there it is, my big spiritual advice: Try a morning offering. Pick something you know you can do, and really do it every single day, no matter what else is going on. If you stop, start again. Take it from a slow learner: Life is just too hard to carry on your own. This is true for everybody, every single person. So offer it up to God, and be open to seeing how he will help you carry it, because he will.