For most of my life prayer was simply “going through the motions” and stayed at the surface. Several years ago I read dozens of book on prayer, but very few taught me how to pray with both mind and soul. I struggled to go deeper in prayer and truly encounter God.
Providentially, I was given Jim Beckman’s book God, Help Me: How to Grow in Prayer, and it opened up a whole new kind of prayer for me.
This book helped me tremendously and taught me how to pray not only with words, but most importantly with the heart. It is by far one of the best books I have read on prayer.
Jim Beckman writes from experience and relates an all too common scenario. He explains how often those who strive to do great things in the Church and work tirelessly to serve others, fail to place an importance on personal prayer. They teach people how to pray, but do not pray themselves.
They do not practice what they preach.
In a certain sense they are like Martha, who works hard to serve Jesus but then neglects the importance of what her sister Mary is engaged in (cf. Luke 10:38-42). We can not simply work, work, work and then expect to have a deep friendship with Christ. Jim Beckman recalls a quote from Saint Bernard, who said,
“If you are wise, you will be reservoirs and not channels.…The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a drop. But the reservoir is first filled, and then, without emptying itself, pours out its overflow, which is ever renewed over the fields which it waters.” (16, emphasis added)
Beckman reminds us that prayer must be a first priority in our life. We must be a reservoir of prayer in order to go out and be a witness of faith, sharing the overabundance of grace in our lives.
Often when talking about prayer, we try to justify our own practice of “making everything a prayer” or “praying when I am driving.” Beckman criticizes this approach and says that it must not be the only type of prayer we engage in. He writes,
“Though this approach has some merit, and even an air of holiness to it, if it is not combined with regular focused time in prayer, it’s not going to work. You just cannot sustain a deep prayer life with this kind of distracted prayer….Put it in the context of a relationship again: What relationship in your life would survive such an approach? If my primary time of communication with my wife was while we were driving somewhere together or while I was doing my daily tasks, I probably wouldn’t be married anymore. We can have some conversations like that, but for the most part, my wife looks for my full attention. Does God deserve any less from me?” (17, emphasis added)
After going through the many obstacles to prayer and explaining how we must set time apart each day to pray, Beckman then goes into the nuts and bolts of prayer. He explains how prayer is a movement of the heart and that it must not stay at the surface. It involves a friendship with God and that friendship must go deeper.
To accomplish this task, Beckman explains in simple terms the basics of Ignatian Spirituality. He goes through the rich teachings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and applies them to the average person. He goes through the different movements of the heart, the concepts of consolation and desolation, and even tackles the basic principles of discernment.
The beauty of Beckman’s book is that he does all of this in a simple way that is accessible to anyone. It is very common when reading different books on prayer to be confused by the different terminology and to entirely miss the point. This is where Beckman shines, as he is able to take a deep theological concept and make it simple.
He then gives some practical tips on developing a daily habit of prayer and gives a few testimonials at the end of the book to show how this method of prayer really does work.
Whenever someone asks me about prayer and is looking for a great introductory book, I always refer them to God, Help Me: How to Grow in Prayer. It is a great book that not only helps us realize the importance of prayer, but also gives practical tools to accomplish the task at hand.
Prayer is not easy, but Jim Beckman gives some great insights that makes it easier to master for the average person.