Cultivating a Habit of Prayer
by Emily Vanden Heuvel
Starting a new habit seems to fall into one of two categories: dropping something negative or picking up something healthy. How many times have you heard these resolutions? “I'm going to quit smoking.” “I am going to exercise every day.” “ I am going to read a new book each month.” Or “I am going to stop eating sugar.” These are all good things, but—in my experience—for a new habit to stick, it has to be easy to do and worth the effort.
It’s always a great time to deepen your prayer habits. Do you want to commit to spending more regular time in prayer? Do you want to pray with more focus? Prayer is easy to do, and it’s worth the effort.
Prayer is worth the effort
Prayer is easy to do, but making it a regular habit can be difficult. We sometimes have short attention spans, feel discouraged or exhausted, and wonder if it’s worth the effort. Mary Kate Morse addresses motivation to pray in Guidebook to Prayer:
If we pray because we should or because we need something, the motivation for a life of prayer is weak. However, if we pray to experience God and to grow, the motivation is stronger. Prayer can redirect anxiety to hope, bitterness to freedom, insecurity to courage, and stuck-ness to vision. We feel ourselves in the living water of Christ. We hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit guiding us. We know the presence of God (p. 17).
Putting prayer into practice could start with a simple short prayer first thing in the morning while you are getting yourself ready. Thank God for the safe space to sleep, a new fresh start, and ask him to guide you during your day. You could also spend a few extra minutes praying before each meal; praying for your co-workers and neighbors. The more intentional time you spend in prayer the easier it will be to make it a regular habit.
Devoting yourself to prayer
We have permission to speak directly to God. We can all pray; there is no wrong way to pray, we can do it anywhere, and we don’t need anything to do it. The apostle Paul challenges us to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2), and to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). When we pray, we enter into communion with our Savior, listen to his leading, and savor his grace.
Daniel, hero of prayer
Is prayer worth it? Yes, it is! Daniel was a hero of faith from the Old Testament, and he gave us a great example of what a habit of prayer looks like. Taken captive, he was forced to leave his home. When his captors noticed his intelligence, wisdom, and skill, he was conscripted to serve the foreign king. Others in the court became jealous of Daniel’s swift promotions, and they set a trap. They maneuvered the king into decreeing a new law that stated people in the land must pray only to the king—and to no one else. Anyone who broke the law would receive a death sentence. But Daniel was a man of prayer, and he continued to pray to God: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10).
Even when facing death, Daniel remained faithful in his prayers, “just as he had done before.” He was willing to give up his life rather than give up his prayer life. Prayer was worth it. (And—as we read later in Daniel 6—God miraculously delivered Daniel from the attempted execution in the lions’ den.)
Motivated to Pray
May you be motivated to make prayer a regular habit. Remember that God hears your prayers: “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). Forming new habits takes time, so start now, and create simple goals that will encourage you to keep going. Start with a short prayer of thanksgiving in the mornings or prayers before each meal. Carve out time before each meal, after your work day, or before you turn on your cell phone to spend some time in prayer. As you commit to increase your time in prayer you will find yourself craving the time with God and it will feel less like a chore and more like a habit. May you be encouraged to see that prayer is easy to do and is worth doing.