Developing a Habit of Prayer – Advent 2023


We must be very intentional in working to build a prayer life. As we implement silence to listen to God speaking to us, and as we stay faithful to the daily practice of prayer, God will begin to transform us.

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

“Pray without ceasing,”

1 Thes. 5:17

1. Deanna mentions many different kinds of communal prayer we can make use of. Which types of communal prayer are you most drawn to? Have any of them helped you grow closer to God in the past?

2. Many people come to prayer wanting to know how they can understand God’s will for them. Have you felt this question before? How can you work on implementing silence in your prayer life, in order to be able to hear Him better?

3. As we advance in our prayer life, we may begin to notice that certain things that used to annoy us or bother us no longer do so. Have you ever noticed something like this in your life before? What might your life begin to look like as God helps you overcome your faults?

4.  A strong prayer life can give us knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. As we learn to know God more deeply, we see more clearly who we are in relation to Him. Do you have a strong sense who God created you to be? Who might He be calling to you be a light to in your life?

Text: Developing a Habit of Prayer

Hello everyone. I’m Deanna Bartalini and I am going to be talking to you today about developing a habit of prayer. To begin, I am going to pray one of my favorite prayers to the Holy Spirit and it comes from an ancient Pentecost liturgy. Let’s begin.

A Prayer to The Holy Spirit

In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Come divine spirit, rattle our cages, break into our locked houses, water our parched lands, undo our bends in twistedness, awaken our hearts. Help us to overflow with kindness and give us unending joy, Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Different Types of Prayer

As someone who is a regular pray-er, I always try to invoke the Holy Spirit before I begin my prayer times. It was interesting to me that I was asked to talk about this because this is something that comes, I’m not going to say comes naturally to me, but something that I do quite often because I’m a spiritual director. And so one of the things spiritual directors do, or at least one of the things I do as a spiritual director is help people learn how to pray a little bit differently maybe than they’re used to.

We’re going to talk a little bit, no, we’re going to talk a lot in this talk about ways of praying and how to make prayer a habit to become so necessary in your life you feel strange leaving your house without having prayed first. Like you would feel strange if you left the house without brushing your teeth or something.

So let’s look at a couple of things. In our faith, there are different types of prayer and just two big categories are communal prayer and personal prayer. So communal prayer are things such as mass, liturgy of the hours. Even if you pray them by yourself, they’re still communal prayer. And I’ll explain why, the rosary, same thing. Adoration, if you have times of praise and worship, if you have holy hours at church, if you are praying a novena with a large group of people. Those are communal prayers. They have a set pattern, a rhythm, and they are the same pretty much all the time in terms of its format, right?

The priest doesn’t come in one day and say, oh, I think I’m going to do the liturgy of the Eucharist first, and then we’ll do liturgy of the word. It just doesn’t work that way. There’s a way that we do things in communal prayer, and that is so that everyone who’s participating knows what’s going on and how to do it.

Personal prayer is different. Personal prayer is what you do by yourself with God. And you might say to me, well, sometimes I pray the rosary with my family. Isn’t that personal? No, it’s communal. If you’re going to pray with other people, it’s communal. If what you do is out loud and follows a similar format and rhythm and pattern, it’s communal.

The Meaning and Practice of Personal Prayer

We’re going to talk mostly about personal prayer today. Now we need both, we definitely need communal prayer and we need personal prayer. We need communal prayer because we do that in community and we are meant to be in community. The Trinity is our first and best example of community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Family is another example of community. Every family is an example of a community. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to worship and pray together in community.

So it’s important, but we are also called to have a deep personal relationship with Jesus and with the Father. And I believe very strongly that the only way to have that deep personal relationship with God is to have a deep prayer life, a deep personal prayer life.

Now we want to talk about how do we make prayer a habit? Well, if you want to pick up a book on habits, just go to Amazon or your favorite bookstore or Google habit, how to make a habit books. It’s endless, it’s endless, it’s everywhere. Both in the faith world and in the secular world. And there are lots and lots of good ideas about how to build habits. I’m not going to talk about all of them. That’s not the point of this talk, nor do I have time to talk about all of them. But how do we form our habits, so we can form them intentionally. We also form habits by watching others. If you think about little children, their mannerisms, things they say and do, it’s because they’ve watched other people do them. And sometimes we pick them up by happenstance.

Reflection: St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians

Let’s talk about being intentional in forming our habit of prayer. How are we going to form an intentional habit of prayer? So first I want to turn to the word. We’re going to go to St. Paul, his first letter to the Thessalonians, the final chapter, which is chapter five. And we’re going to start at verse 16. And I’m going to read that to you. “Rejoice, always pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything, retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will accomplish it. Brothers, pray for us to the one who calls you is faithful and will accomplish it. And St.Paul says “that God of peace Himself make you perfectly holy. And that entirely spiritual body be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How Can You Create A Personal Prayer Habit

If you want to be holy, then we’re going to need to have a personal prayer habit. If you want to be holy, personal prayer is not optional. So how are we going to do this? Because you probably are not a cloistered nun or monk. We live in the world. So how are we going to pray always as St. Paul is admonishing the Thessalonians, admonishing isn’t the right word. Let’s say inviting the Thessalonians and he’s inviting us to pray always.

Well, first of all is we can. And it is good to pray the prayers of the church. So if you want to pray liturgy of the hours, right? There are many books about how to pray the liturgy of the hours. There are websites, there are apps. Again, you need to do what works for you on that. I have a lot of opinions. Not going to share them because they’re not really important. What’s important is if you feel drawn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, then go ahead and do that. Those are the prayers of the church.

If you want to go to daily Mass, absolutely go to daily Mass if you can. The rosary again, very good. So that’s one type of prayer. Another type of prayer is praying with scripture. And as I said, as a spiritual director, that is where I guide people, in learning to pray with scripture, to deeply meditate and contemplate on the word of God so that it sinks into our very soul, into our being and helps us to be the person that God created us to be.

So the word of God is very important. Praying with scripture, there’s also rote prayers. So if you pray grace before meals you maybe you have same grace you pray every time. Hail Mary our Father, glory be, the Memorare. All the prayers of the rosary, those are rote prayers. They have them in our head, we can remember them easily. We’ve known them since we were young, since we were children and pray them often. Those are great prayers. There are spontaneous prayers. I’m sure as you’ve listened to these talks, some speakers have used a spontaneous prayer in the beginning and some have used a written prayer. Both are good, spontaneous prayers. Dear God, help me. And then you ask for help in a situation. Spontaneous prayers are great.

Aspirations, so for example, an aspiration that’s very popular, you may have heard the surrender novena. So in that novena, there’s something that we repeat over and over, Jesus, I surrender all to you. Take care of everything, that’s an aspiration. Jesus, I trust in you, Lord, have mercy. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me as sinner. Those are aspirations. Short little sentences that we can use when we need to refocus. Maybe when something bad is going on that we feel a little bit anxious about or out of control or angry, we go back to that aspiration and we call that to mind and we pray it out loud so that we can refocus and come back to center, so to speak, to come back to Christ.

The Role of Silence In Prayer

There are as many different prayers in our church as there are people. Different prayers for different circumstances. Is one better, more valuable than another? No, what is important is to know what prayer you need and what prayer helps you to grow closer to God, to know who you are in relation to God and who God is to you and for you. That’s what prayer does.

Again, one of the most important things I try to teach people, one of the most necessary parts of personal prayer is silence. Now, I cannot spend this video time being silent and praying in front of you. That would be extremely counterproductive. But silence in prayer is so important. If we think of prayer as lifting our mind and heart to God, if we think of prayer as a conversation, what is it like when you have a conversation with someone where you, the listener, never gets a word in edgewise. It isn’t fun, is it? It’s also not very helpful in terms of growing in getting to know each other.

Sure, you may get to learn lots of things about the other person, but does the other person get to learn anything about you? It’s the same with God. God has things he wants you to know. God has things He wants you to do, things He wants you to understand. If we are so busy talking, saying our rote prayers, praying scripture, but never pausing to let the scripture sink in, what are we really doing? Are we checking a box? Yep, I did this for the day, I am good. That’s not what we’re looking for here, but we’re looking for is to develop such a deep personal prayer life that is necessary for you every day.

Tips on How to Build A Habit of Prayer

So the first thing I’m going to suggest, and if you want to take notes, this would be a great time to take notes. What I’m going to suggest is this, first you make a plan. When you make a plan, you’re going to decide a few things. The first thing you’re going to decide is what type of prayer are you going to start with? And you can start with communal prayer. So you can start maybe with deciding every morning you’re going to get to up and you’re going to pray a rosary or you’re going to pray a morning offering, whatever it might be.

If you don’t have a habit of prayer, I’m going to suggest that you start small and grow rather than try to do all the things. And then in three days fail at all the things and feel like an awful person because you haven’t developed a personal habit of prayer yet. It takes time, it takes dedication, and it takes effort. So going slowly is a much better way to start. So you’re going to decide on the type of prayer, and I again, am going to encourage you to please include silence. I’m going to talk about that more in a minute.

Decide on a certain time in a certain place. Please again, do not make it complicated that you want to go to this specific adoration chapel and sit in a certain place and do a certain thing because then you’re depending on so many externals to make your prayer happen instead, keep it very simple. You’re going to stay in your bedroom where no one is going to disturb you when the door is closed, you’re going to pray in a certain chair, in a certain part of your house when you have quiet, make that decision. And then if you really want to go all in, put it down in your calendar, put it down in your calendar.

If that’s something you do on a regular basis, then gather all your supplies. It shouldn’t be a surprise, your supplies. Gather your supplies, so typically I have a Bible. I typically have a journal, I have a pen and a pencil. The pencil’s for underlining in my Bible. The pen is for writing in my journal. And I’m not sure if you can see the chair, but I sit in this chair right behind me and that’s where I pray. And I do my best to start every morning praying very intentionally.

So you have your supplies, they’re visible, keep them out of reach of other people in your home if you need to do that. I don’t need to do that anymore, but I used to. And then sit down and pray. Now again, the first day that you decide to do this, an hour might seem a bit intimidating. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Do whatever prayer you’re going to do. Ask God whatever questions you have on your mind or to help you with something specific. And then be quiet for at least five minutes, at least five minutes. Work your way to being quiet for 25 minutes. I know that may sound like an enormous thing to ask of you, but if you persist in small chunks, so you start out with five, you go to eight, 12, so forth, set a timer so that you’re not looking at your phone.

And when you are quiet, don’t keep thinking about what’s supposed to happen. Just put yourself in the presence of God. Look at him and let him look at you. If it is helpful, close your eyes, if it is helpful to have very soft, quiet music in the background without words, instrumental music, do that. But don’t get caught up in the externals. Get caught up with God, not the externals, because the externals can change. God does not. And if you show up to that quiet God is going to show up to the quiet as well.

Less is Better than More

One of the other things to think about is this. In our prayer life less is often better than more. Keep it simple, you don’t need 10 prayer books, you don’t need five journals. Keep it simple, other ways that you can grow and establish this habit of prayer are some prayer apps. Again, I am not, in all honesty, very familiar with a lot of prayer apps because I like to keep it simple. If I get into technology, I find myself distracted by the technology instead of focusing on God. So I don’t use a lot of technology in my prayer time, but that’s me, not you.

So do what works for you. I think keeping a journal is very effective and useful. Oftentimes in our spiritual life we think, oh, I’m not growing, I’m not changing, I’m not learning anything. And then if you’ve made little notes, you don’t have to write volumes, you don’t have to write warranties, but write little notes about things that you’ve learned, things God has mentioned to you, scripture that has stood out for you. And you’ll see how you are making progress in your spiritual life, even if it’s not as fast or as visible as you would like it to be.

How Can You Hear God in Prayer

Spiritual direction can also help you grow in your prayer life. So it’s something to consider. I want to talk a little bit more about silence. One of the questions that people often ask is, how do I know God’s will or how can I hear God? They’re somewhat related, it’s silence. We cannot hear God in the noise. I’m going to say that again. We cannot hear God in the noise. We can only hear Him in the silence. And we are meant to have silence with God. I believe that very strongly.

The other thing is, is it takes practice and like anything else, you can get very good at it. And then you fall out of practice and then you have to kind of go back a little bit, starting again to build up to being able to sit in prayer for an hour or so.

In the best case scenario, you would start most of your days with some type of prayer of the church, a bit of scripture, whether it be from the daily Mass reading or something that you are reading. Maybe one book of the Bible in particular, however it works out. And then spend a good 20 to 25 minutes in silence. And then when you’re done with the silence, there’s a prayer of thanksgiving. And then you make a few notes as to what happened during that prayer time. So you have to practice it though.

The other way that you hear God is a feeling. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes when I am in deep prayer, I almost sense a shift in the way my body feels, that I feel the presence of God inside of me. But in order to feel God’s presence, I do need to be quiet. Do you notice a theme here? Silence, being quiet, listening for the one who created us out of great love. The other thing that you might notice is you sense a change. So let’s say for example, you have a certain way of behaving in certain situations and then all of a sudden you realize, things that were annoying you in the past are not annoying you anymore, or things that maybe would cause you to fly off the handle and be rude or disrespectful to people, you’ve backed off on that, you start to become more Christ-like. And that is because you are spending time with God. When we spend time with God, when we spend time in His word, it is going to work on us and it is going to change us.

And so little by little we start to hear God’s voice saying, “No, don’t do that. Do this instead, don’t be that way, be this way.” And it’s not to say that we are bad people right now, it is to say that we live in a fallen world and that we can always be a little bit better, not in a, I have to beat myself up, but rather I want to be the person God created me to be so that I can bring Him to other people. Because the prayer constantly helps you to be more of who God wants you to be and less of who the world wants you to be.

The Difference of Having a Prayer Life and Praying

When we talk about wanting to cultivate a habit of prayer, I look at it this way. There’s a difference between having a prayer life and praying. So a prayer life is when the word and God has taken root in you and changed you in some way. It’s not about praying for someone or for something. Now I pray often for other people, I pray for myself. I pray for situations to be resolved. I pray for help in difficult areas of my life. Of course, I pray for people and for situations. I do pray for something in someone all the time, but that’s not all, my prayer life is between me and God.

It is finding out who God is and who I am in relation to God. That’s what a prayer life does, as opposed to praying prayers. And when we have a prayer life, we’re going to receive tremendous grace and that grace is going to help us to do what St. Paul says to the Thessalonians to pray always in all circumstances. It’s going to keep us rooted in Christ because rooted in Christ means we are going to be able to know God’s will and know what we are supposed to do in our lives and big things in small ways. It means we’re going to have faith and trust that God is for us at all times, even when life is hard and sometimes life is very hard.Sometimes life seems very heavy.

There are things that are going on in the world that are beyond our control, beyond our influence. And then there are things that go on in our own lives with the people we love, that maybe we can influence them or maybe we can’t influence them, especially in matters of health. So we have to be able to pray and trust always and to have that faith that God is paying attention and having a prayer life helps you. It also helps when it seems that our prayers are unanswered.

I know God hears me because I hear God. I know He listens because I listen. And so even when I think He’s not answering, I know that He is in some way, even if I don’t see it, which is why it, like I said earlier, it can be helpful to keep a journal. And the last thing is why have a prayer life? Because a prayer life helps you, and I’ve said it before, I’m saying it again. It helps you to become the person God created you to be. It gives you knowledge of God and knowledge of self.

It’s only by knowing God and knowing who we are in relation to him, that we can be a light in this world, a light for ourselves and for those around us. I hope that some of these tips have helped you to understand how you can have a prayer life, how you can pray always in all circumstances, and to not forget what St. Paul asked of the Thessalonians and asks of us as well.

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Father God, we thank you and we praise you, and we give you the glory, all that you do in our lives, help us, Lord, to turn to you before anything happens, while things are happening and after they have already happened. Help us to rely on your grace and help us to learn to have silence with you, to come to know you and to come to know who we are. We ask you to be with us. Send your Holy Spirit to guide us and draw us close to you, Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

About Deanna G. Bartalini

Deanna G. Bartalini, M.Ed.; M.P.A., is a certified spiritual director, speaker, and writer. She has served in parish ministry as a religious education director, youth minister, liturgical coordinator, and stewardship director.

Deanna has been married to Deacon John for 40 years and they are blessed with four grandchildren. She is the founder of Her Not Lukewarm Podcast gives you tips and tools to live out your faith in your daily life.

She writes for,, Women in the New Evangelization (WINE) and Deanna wrote a bible study, The Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women, Invite the Holy Spirit into your Life, contributed to the Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, and Digital Ministry and Leadership in Today’s Church.

You can find Deanna: through her website, on her Facebook page, and Instagram.