Last week we started to look at the task of finding time for prayer and how it is important to set aside a specific time to pray. But how much time should I block off?
To be honest, as a father of five children finding a good chunk of time to pray alone is not easy. Many great saints suggest devoting time to a full hour, but for the beginner that can seem daunting.
That is why I was intrigued by a recent book entitled The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life by Gary Jansen, published by Loyola Press. It may seem like a “cop-out” to only pray for 15 minutes a day, but when you lead a busy life or are starting out in the spiritual life, 15 minutes is perfect. We can all find 15 minutes.
But is that it? Do we simply kneel down for 15 minutes? What do we do during that time?
In his book, Jansen provides detailed instructions on how to pray for 15 minutes based on ancient practices, many of which were inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
First of all, Jansen exhorts us to set-aside time every day for prayer. This is a pre-requisite of the spiritual life and is something we must do if we want to progress in our relationship with God. Some of us may be intimidated with that task, but it really shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t have to start by devoting ourselves to a full hour of prayer. Instead, we can begin by giving God one percent of our day. Jansen explains:
“Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in a day? It’s true. I did the math. Did you also know that one percent of all that time is fourteen minutes and twenty-four seconds? What would happen if you made a conscious decision, every day, to exercise your soul by giving roughly fifteen minutes of your time over to God? Just one tiny percent of your life. Would your life change? Mine did.” (The 15-Minute Prayer Solution, 3)
The key is to set-aside time every day. As the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race.” Steady, consistent prayer has a much greater effect on our prayer life than intense bursts that fizzle over time.
Connected to this thought of giving God one percent of our day is the idea of faith the size of a “mustard seed.” Jesus said to His disciples:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Matthew 17:20
Praying for 15 minutes a day may seem like a short amount of time, but when it is done in faith the effects can last a lifetime. Not only that, the goal is that 15 minutes of prayer will lead to praying “without ceasing.” We must start small, have faith the size of a mustard seed, and let God do the rest.
The Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, & The Examen
Jansen does not dwell too much on theory before he starts explaining what to do during those 15 minutes. He gives many different ways to pray that can all be accomplished during that time frame. For the most part Jansen focuses on ancient ways of praying that aim at quieting the soul. The first type of prayer he describes is the famous “Jesus Prayer,” made popular by the Russian book The Way of a Pilgrim. It is a very simple prayer that involves saying the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” by slowly breathing in and out. The breathing is an essential part of the prayer and helps calm a person’s mind and allows them to focus on God.
After saying the “Jesus Prayer,” Jansen suggests meditating on a short passage of scripture and engaging in what is called Lectio Divina (“Divine Reading”). This type of praying with scripture focuses on immersing oneself inside the scripture passage and listening for God’s voice.
Another option is the “Examen” prayer. This type of prayer aims at finding God in the various people, things and events of the day. Often the “Examen” is done at the end of day where we meditate on how God brought different people into our lives and thanking Him for His divine providence. It is a great way to remind ourselves that God is present in all things and nothing happens “by chance.”
Seven Days of Exercises
The book itself is not very long (which makes sense) and at the end of it is a simple guide to praying for seven days. It includes seven days of Sacred Scripture reading and is a great way to get started, especially for those of us who don’t know where to begin. This is probably one of the most helpful parts of the book and allows you to practice what you learned.
To conclude, I heartily recommend getting a copy of The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life. Jansen has a writing style that is accessible to anyone. He writes about deep theological truths in a way that a person who has zero years of religious education can understand. Much of what he writes is from experience and he gives many short stories to explain how prayer has affected his own life.
I will be honest, much of what Jansen writes may challenge you and your idea of prayer. He focuses much more on relational types of prayer than formula-based prayers. In other words, while he draws from the rich tradition of the Catholic Church Jansen focuses more on calming your soul to listen to the Holy Spirit than reciting different prayers to get what you want.
I know that I have benefited from Jansen’s book and will return to it on a daily basis.