Prayer for Beginners by Peter Kreeft

(San Francisco: Ignatius, 2019), 130

This is a short little book but—as with most of Kreeft's writing—so deep and thought provoking. It served as good travel reading on our month-long trip to California and morning reading since then. Having read Brother Lawrence a couple of years ago this made me remember how great his thoughts are and want to revisit them as well.


  • Much of it is based on principles found in Brother Lawrence’s little classic The Practice of the Presence of God, which I have found the simplest, most - practical book for beginners, (loc. 42)

1 NECESSITY—Why Praying Is More Important than Eating

  • Eating keeps your body alive, and prayer keeps your soul alive. Praying is more important than eating because your soul is more important than your body. Your soul is more important than your body because your soul is you, your - personality, your self. (loc. 47)
  • Praying keeps your soul alive (loc. 56)
  • Reading a book about doing something can be an obstacle to doing it because it gives you the impression that you are doing what you are only thinking about - doing. (loc. 62)
  • One common cause of this mistake of preferring to imagine and admire a great ideal instead of beginning to do little deeds is our impatience with little - baby steps, our lack of humility. (loc. 65)

2 MOTIVES—Ten Compelling Reasons to Pray

    1. Why pray? Because only prayer can save the world (loc. 74)
  • We must pray because God commands it (loc. 80)
  • We pray, not to change God’s mind, but to change our own; (loc. 84)
  • prayer gives truth to our mind, goodness to our will, and beauty to our heart. - (loc. 84)
  • “The true, the good, and the beautiful” are the three things we need and love - the most, because they are three attributes of God. (loc. 91)
    1. We should pray because God’s honor deserves it, (loc. 98)
  • we need to rehearse now for what we will be doing forever in Heaven, (loc. )100
  • We do not have an infinite amount of time (loc. 107)
  • Praying is like gardening: the growing of something alive—in (loc. 112)
    1. Prayer is delightful (loc. 124)
  • Macdonald). 7. Prayer is the way to know God, (loc. 135)
    1. Prayer, and its effect, knowing God, is the essential prerequisite for all - religious teachers, catechists, evangelists, and preachers (loc. 140)
    1. Prayer is the only way to spiritual progress (loc. 142)
  • “Not to advance in the spiritual life is to go back” (Letter 4). (loc. 158)
    1. Prayer is necessary because without it we cannot attain the meaning of - life, the end and purpose of our existence (loc. 159)
  • Becoming saints is the meaning of life. It is why we exist. It is why God - created us. (loc. 170)

3 METHODS—Why We Need None

  • Can you talk to a friend? Then you can talk to God, for he is your Friend. And - that is what prayer is. (loc. 188)
  • Prayer is love. (loc. 189)
  • Love is also communication. (loc. 191)
  • There can be no technique for love, no “method” for loving. (loc. 201)

4 WORDS—Vocal Prayer as Conversation with God

  • Not all prayer is in words, because not all conversation is in words. But it - begins with words. (loc. 204)
  • But the road to wordless prayer is paved with words. (loc. 220)
  • We do this rightly, because God deserves the best, and these prayers are the best. They were composed by other people, but we make them our own when we - pray them, (loc. 223)
  • We must not only “say our prayers”, we must pray. (loc. 229)

5 STEPS—Stop, Look, and Listen

  • “Stop, look, and listen” (loc. 234)
  • First, STOP! (loc. 240)
  • You cannot “do God” by halves. (loc. 245)
  • you have to stop even to smell the roses; all the more necessary to stop to - talk to God! (loc. 246)
  • The second step is LOOK: look at God with the eye of your soul, the eye of - your mind. (loc. 251)
  • “I look at him, and he looks at me” (loc. 255)
  • So the last step is LISTEN. (loc. 266)
  • Praying by reading the Gospels prayerfully and “listeningly” is one of the - very best ways to pray. (loc. 267)
  • We also need to hear what God says to us at each moment of our lives. (loc. 272)
  • He is not your Santa, he is your Savior. (loc. 278)
  • You can pray the “stop, look, and listen” prayer in just one minute; can you - not give God just one minute? The first minute of each hour? (loc. 292)

6 THOUGHTS—Where the Action Is

  • The practice of the presence of God in prayer is not the end of sanctity, but it is its beginning. It leads to acts, and habits, and character, and destiny. - (loc. 304)
  • spiritual beings are moved from within. (loc. 307)
  • thought is where the action starts. (loc. 315)
  • First, the will must command the mind. (loc. 324)
  • the more we know him (with our mind), the more reasons we have to love him (- with our will), (loc. 328)
  • Just as the love of God makes us know him better, and the knowledge of God - makes us love him better, (loc. 331)

7 FAITH—The One Prerequisite for Prayer

  • Faith is simply believing God’s promises. (loc. 346)
  • The reason these things will fail while faith will not fail is that all these - things depend on us, while faith depends on God. (loc. 359)
  • God trains us to rely on faith, not feeling or sight or proof, by giving us - the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. (loc. 366)
  • Feelings are wonderful decorations, but they are not a foundation to build on. - (loc. 378)
  • Only faith can sustain us then, as only faith sustained Christ on the Cross (- loc. 384)
  • he hides his presence from us so that we can practice his presence by faith. (- loc. 394)

8 THEMES—What Should I Say When I Pray?

  • We turn to him the four faces of love, which are the four themes of - prayer: Repentance Adoration Petition Thanksgiving (loc. 421)
  • The four themes are easy to remember because they make up the acronym RAPT (Repentance, Adoration, Petition, Thanksgiving). We are not only to pray but to - be rapt in prayer, in rapturous and self-forgetful love. (loc. 438)

9 “JESUS”—The Shortest, Simplest, and Most Powerful Prayer in the World

  • “Jesus” (or “Lord Jesus”, or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”) (- loc. 461)
  • It is not only the shortest prayer but also the shortest and earliest creed. Twice the New Testament mentions this most basic of all the Christian creeds: - the simple three-word sentence “Jesus is Lord” (loc. 482)
  • This prayer is not merely subjective, like a psychological device, any more than it is merely objective, like magic. It is not a sort of Christian yoga. It is not meditation. Its purpose is not to transform our consciousness and make us mystics, or to bring inner peace, or to center on our own heart. Whether these things are good or bad, these things are not what this prayer is for. For all these things are subjective, inside the human soul; but this prayer is dialogue, relationship, reaching out to another person, to Jesus, (loc. 521)
  • Even Muslims respect the holy name of Jesus more than Christians do, in practice: they commonly add “blessed be he” every time they pronounce it. (- loc. 600)
  • he is light, and he simply does not and will not coexist with any darkness at - all; either he casts it out, or it keeps him out. (loc. 605)
  • For instance, he makes us men see how flawed and mixed our motives are even in such natural and spontaneous things as a look into the face of a beautiful woman. (Half of all the women in the world are beautiful to men, nearly all are beautiful when they smile, and all are beautiful all the time to God.) We find that there is something in this look that is his, and also something that is not from him but is from the world, the flesh, or the Enemy. And yet this insight does not bring about a guilty despair but a happy humility. For it is a sign of his presence. He is the standard. When the plumb line is present, apparently straight lines show their inclination. And this is, of course, upsetting (how easily our lines incline!), but much more is it a cause of joy (- it is he!). As John Wesley said, “The best thing is, God is with us.” (loc. 612)
  • And when his light and our darkness, his straight and our crooked, are thus brought into relationship and warfare, we gain rather than lose, even if it is - upsetting. (loc. 632)
  • far more important things are at stake than my feelings, (loc. 633)
  • We do not always get specific answers, even when we invoke his name; but we always get the Answerer. It is better to have his authority for “no answer” - than our authority for ours. (loc. 656)

10 WORK—Praying Always

  • Instead of peeling potatoes because we want to taste them, we peel them - because we love God, the God who wants us to peel potatoes right now. (loc. 679)

11 DISTRACTIONS—Mental Obstacles to Prayer

  • you will fail. (loc. 690)
  • (By the way, “spirit” and “flesh” in the New Testament do not mean “soul” and “body”. There are four separate Greek words for them [pneuma, sarx, psyche, and soma]. “Spirit” is the whole self as redeemed and directed by the Holy - Spirit; “flesh” is the whole self as fallen and selfish.) (loc. 693)
  • We should be dismayed but not surprised at this weakness. (loc. 694)
  • If we are surprised at this habitual slide away from God, that may be a more - serious problem than the slide, because that is pride. (loc. 703)
  • Just ignore them and turn to the business at hand—prayer—again and again. (- loc. 711)
  • Just turn away from distractions. Don’t give them the time of day. (loc. )714
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas says, wisely, that the only way to drive out a bad passion is by a stronger good passion. The same is true of thoughts as of - passions. (loc. 721)
  • First, we must expect them and be patient with ourselves. Second, we must simply ignore them and “get back on the horse” over and over again. And third, - it is the will that gets the mind back on the horse. (loc. 723)

12 SINS—Moral Obstacles to Prayer

  • Which cells in the body hate the good surgeon? Cancer cells. What is there in - me that finds God its enemy? Only one thing: sin. (loc. 731)
  • There are two parts to the forgiveness of sins: God’s giving it and our receiving it. Forgiveness is a gift, and like any gift it must be both freely given and freely received. God always gives it. But we do not always receive it. Our receiving it is dependent on our (1) repentance, (2) confession, and - (3) faith. (loc. 738)
  • One way we close our hand to receiving his forgiveness is by closing our hand - to giving forgiveness to others. (loc. 741)
  • We must turn from sin in order to turn to prayer. (loc. 743)
  • the habit of prayer is our strongest protection against sin. (loc. 744)
  • Repentance, confession, and faith do not add to God’s forgiveness; they let it - in. (loc. 747)
  • if you think you are too great a sinner for Christ’s blood to be sufficient for full forgiveness, you are insulting not yourself but God, for you are telling the Great Physician that his medicine is not strong enough and that - you have to add to it by concocting some of your own. (loc. 750)
  • The penances we do, we do because we have been forgiven, not in order to be - forgiven. (loc. 762)
  • We must keep our eyes on Christ, not on ourselves. (loc. 765)

13 SIMPLICITY—Prayer as Saint-Making

  • For the rest of the book, we will explore this deeper problem of taming the - will, (loc. 769)
  • Prayer does not exist for its own sake; it exists to transform us into saints. - (loc. 785)
  • Brother Lawrence answers: “Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own. It is lamentable to see how many people mistake the means for the end, - addicting themselves to certain works” (Conversation 4). (loc. 790)
  • we must continue this “morning offering” right through till evening and till - death. (loc. 838)

14 RENUNCIATION—The Necessity of the Negative

  • First, of course, it means renouncing sin, (loc. 845)
  • we are also called to renounce everything we are aware does not lead to God: - things innocent in themselves but that function as distractions (loc. 850)
  • It is also called “detachment”—like (loc. 879)
  • Everything in this world is a Between, a relativity. It is relative to God and to us. Everything except God and us is such a Between, for it is between God - and us. (loc. 891)

15 SUFFERINGS—How to Transform Bitterness into Sweetness

  • prayer, which is the practice of his presence, is the most practical and - powerful answer to suffering. (loc. 897)
  • Suffering comes from sin, both actual sins and Original Sin. But God uses - suffering for our good, our sanctification, and thus our eventual joy. (loc. 909)
  • Christ has promised to all his disciples both parts of this “package deal”, both the sufferings and the sweetness: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow - will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20). (loc. 915)
  • He trains us to rely on faith instead of feelings. And here is where faith is - most crucial: in suffering. (loc. 934)
  • Not everything that happens is good in itself, of course, but everything that - happens “works for” our good. (loc. 970)
  • but if we renounce sweetness and accept sufferings for him, we will find sweetness in the very suffering that we faithfully accept.

16 PATIENCE—Forgiving Ourselves for Failure

  • One does not become holy all at once” (Letter 9). (loc. 1000)
  • We cannot “go faster than grace”. (loc. 1016)
  • Not to be sensible of them, or not to confess them, is the road to pride. But - to be discouraged by them is the road to despair. (loc. 1035)
  • It does not really matter what our attitude is toward ourselves, whether it is positive or negative, except insofar as that helps or harms our relationship - with God. (loc. 1043)
  • Brother Giles in The Little Flowers of Saint Francis: “Who, think you, is the - readier: God to give grace or we to receive it?” (loc. 1057)
  • Because grace perfects nature, the more our choices are God’s, the more they - are ours. (loc. 1060)

17 GRACE—What Everything Is

  • Realism means knowing reality and living accordingly. Realism means conforming our subjective reality to objective reality. The objective reality here is our - total dependence on God’s grace, (loc. 1081)
  • Prayer is not some interior technology, or self-manipulation, or spiritual - button-pushing. It is simply standing in the light of objective reality. (loc. 1085)
  • Trusting God’s grace means trusting God’s love for us rather than our love for - God. (loc. 1096)
  • Since the Spirit blows also in our sea of sleep, we must prepare to catch this gale by evening prayers. Since sleep is like death, we should prepare for sleep as we prepare for death, by giving God eager permission to enter the - sleeping sea-depths of our souls. (loc. 1109)

18 PERSEVERANCE—The Realistic Fanaticism

  • God is both humble and ambitious, “easy to please but hard to satisfy”. He is simultaneously patient and persevering, gentle and persistent, like water - wearing away rock. (loc. 1119)
  • Surfers can make progress paddling out to sea only during the troughs between waves. We can make progress in the daily and hourly paddle out to God’s depths - only if we make efforts during our spiritual troughs. (loc. 1130)
  • I think there are three exaggerated new fears that in our modern culture deter us from perseverance, and thus from holiness: the fear of violence, the fear - of losing time, and the fear of fanaticism. (loc. 1140)
  • “At first one often thinks it lost time. But you must go on, and resolve to persevere in it to death” (Letter 6). For our relationship to God is the whole - meaning and point of all our time. (loc. 1146)
  • “I have so little time today that I can’t afford not to pray”, (loc. 1151)
  • What the world calls fanaticism, the saints call fidelity.

Created: 2021-02-05
Updated: 2023-01-23-Mon