Following are some words of wisdom regarding starting your prayer effectively, from René de Maumigny, in his book, The Practice of Mental Prayer, vol. 1.
Prayer is a Divine work, and therefore the Holy Spirit is the most perfect teacher of how it may be well made.
Nevertheless, God demands the cooperation of the soul, whose first care must be to prepare itself for this great act. By omitting the preparation, or by making it in a careless manner, the soul tempts God. As the Book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) says: “Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God” (Ecclus. 18:23 DRV).
A good preparation consists, first, in purifying the intention and disregarding the presence or absence of spiritual consolation — which will be lacking, perhaps, even in spite of a solid preparation. What does it matter? Meditation is not made in order that the joys of heaven may be found in it, but because it is a means of glorifying God and sanctifying our soul. This view of it will prevent deception, which is disastrous to progress in prayer and virtue alike, and draw down God’s blessings in abundance on our prayer.
This reminds me of what a Saint said (I don’t remember whether it was St Augustine or St Francis d Sales or someone else) that one sholuld not pay so much attention to the gifts of the Giver, but to the Giver of the gifts. Something like that. 😉
Nevertheless, God demands the cooperation of the soul, whose first care must be to prepare itself for this great act.
What does preparation mean here? What would it look like in practical terms?
By omitting the preparation, or by making it in a careless manner, the soul tempts God. As the Book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) says: “Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God” (Ecclus. 18:23 DRV).
Preparation for meditative prayer (the subject of the book cited) involves deciding on the text or subject matter, then reviewing it prior to praying over it so that you understand it. Another necessary step is the selection of a suitable environment, where distractions are not present, where the mind is at ease and divine grace can easily enter in. Then, as a prelude to actual prayer, your immediate preparation should always be to place yourself in the presence of God, so that you are able to connect with Him, as person to Person.
Tempting God is a moral term, referring to the sin of testing an attribute of God, such as His love, power or wisdom. The classic example is that of the atheist who demands that, “if there is a God,” He perform a miracle to prove it, right then and there. One can also tempt God by risking his life in a daredevil manner, implicitly demanding that God protect him (compare Satan’s temptation of Christ, where he dares him to “throw yourself down” from the parapet of the Temple, trusting that God’s angels will rescue him from harm), or refusing medical aid in an emergency because “God will heal me.”