Making Prayer a Habit
How can prayer be a habit in my life? Good habits demand, first of all, the desire to do them. Early in Isaiah’s prophecy we find inspiration and incentive. The Lord’s comprehensive diagnosis in chapter one might have us wondering if there is any hope for these with so much sickness and weakness. But in verse 17 they are counseled to wash away, put away, and cease all the evil. Then, as verse 18 begins the list of things to incorporate into their lives, He starts with these words: Learn to do well.
From any distance or depth, the Lord is always accepting students in His school. Thank God! It will take times of instruction and discipline, but we can improve spiritually by learning to do well. Starting small is often recommended when trying to incorporate anything. A woman desirous of getting exercise into her schedule began by getting up early, putting on her running shoes, and then jumping back into bed. This went on for days. While this sounds uncomfortable and unsuccessful, she was accomplishing something. Eventually she managed to stay up after putting on her shoes, and then progressed on to actually running, which was her goal. She mastered small goals to reach her ultimate goal of forming a habit to run.
Our Lord and Daniel often come to mind when considering prayer as a habit. Also, the frequent altars of Abraham, Jacob’s pillars, and the psalms of David are all evidences of the development of communing with God. How was this habit and discipline of prayer maintained in all these men? They all had a specific time, a place or means, and an exercise to pray. Putting it in other terms: there was a priority, a place, and a purpose for prayer. These three common traits of men and women of prayer are helpful in establishing and maintaining the discipline of prayer.
In a crisis, quick prayers are given priority, as we find throughout Nehemiah. But is it possible in the routine of life to find time to set aside exclusively for prayer? Most would say “absolutely,” and yet, for some of us, something else always seems to take priority. Again and again we are reminded by ministering brethren or even book titles that we will not find the time, but must make the time for the great priority of prayer. Luther is credited with saying, “Work, work, work — from early till late. In fact I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Is there any place in the schedule where time could be allotted for prayer? New habits are often easier to form when incorporated or triggered by another event already in our routine – like putting running shoes at the side of your bed so that you step on them when getting up. Perhaps a chore or event in your daily program could be slightly adjusted to not only provide time but also the reminder to pray. If prayer is ever going to be a habit it must be given time, regular and repeated.
Matthew 6 contains our Lord’s first recorded instructions for prayer. Emphasized is the personal, secret place where one is alone with God. This personal place is vital to habitual prayer. “Prayer is not learned in a classroom but in the closet,” said E. M. Bounds. Prayer is never as fulfilling as when one lifts his praise or pours out a burden uninhibitedly to the Father in heaven. You will notice we are told in Matthew 6 that the Father sees in secret: He is the One Who is looking at, or looking on, not just listening. He has an interest in the activity of this place given to prayer. What is totally unappreciated by everyone else, is fully appreciated by the One with Whom we commune. The principle of having a meeting place with God runs throughout Scripture. This is God’s ideal for His people, collectively and personally. Do you have a place to meet with God?
What happens when priority and place come together, but the mind is reeling and running everywhere outside of the closet? Or how about when the solitude and silence of the study encourages us in another favorite activity – sleeping? Disciples of every age find their willing spirit overpowered by a tired body. We must have purpose and power to engage in prayer.
Joy from help given, burden over unsaved relatives, uncertainty about God’s will and other situations all give purpose and exercise to pray. The thoughts may be a burst of praise or a groan from an almost inexpressible burden. Within the closed door of the closet is the place where we can be free to cry out or lay out our highest praise or deepest grief. Focus, burden, and energy must be brought into the closet and nearly everything else left out.
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man has power. Written or typed thoughts for prayer help maintain focus when silence, sleep, or schedules attempt to distract us. Many of David’s psalms are personal prayers written down during specific circumstances of his life. Hezekiah, we know, brought a letter with him and spread it out before the Lord. We can learn much from the content of the prayers found throughout our Bible, and the fact that they have been recorded for us shows the priority, place, and purpose God has given to the prayers of men. We can pray with purpose knowing God sees and cares.
While we have been focusing on the personal habit of prayer, the apostle Paul makes it clear in 1 Timothy 2 that prayers of various forms should be a common characteristic of believers when gathered together. The discipline of prayer is not just a good habit, but invaluable moments communing with the Almighty.