Spiritual Discipline: Creating a Habit of Prayer
by Emily Vanden Heuvel
Prayer is Hard Work
Spiritual disciplines are practices or habits that help deepen our faith and build spiritual strength. Spiritual disciplines include worship, the study of God’s Word, fasting, and prayer. And they take discipline—attention and dedication—to challenge ourselves to stay committed in order to grow in our knowledge and love for God.
Discipline in any activity is hard work. Personally, exercising regularly. I'm not very athletic, I don't even like to exercise, and I'm not very coordinated. I feel awkward and clumsy when I try a new workout routine. Often I have to force myself to exercise, but I’ve found that strength training several times a week and cardio workouts boost my health, help me sleep better, and give me the energy to handle stress. I always feel better after a good workout. Put briefly, it’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
In my role as Prayer Coordinator, people often share with me that their prayer lives feel sporadic and inconsistent. My response is—like any activity that is important to us—it gets easier with practice. Prayer can be hard work at times, but it’s worth the effort. It builds spiritual health and strength because when we spend dedicated time in prayer we are spending quality time with God.
We Need to Pray
It is important for us to remember that prayer or any other spiritual discipline, for that matter,does not earn us a place in God’s kingdom. We can't work our way into God’s grace. Instead, God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-24) works its way into our lives. Grace motivates us to respond with a thankful heart. Prayer is one of the best ways for us to respond in gratitude to God.
Jesus called his first disciples to follow him; we are his followers too. As a result, we follow Jesus’ example of his commitment to prayer as a way to spend time with our Father in heaven. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). We see many examples of Jesus dedicating time away to pray (including Luke 11:1, Luke 9:28, and Luke 5:16).
Engaging with God
In A Guidebook to Prayer, Mary Kate Morse writes, “Prayer is not a skill leading to better and better results because one is praying rightly. Prayer is the simplest and most elegant of spiritual disciplines. Nothing is needed. It is the primal avenue for reaching out and engaging with God and then being strengthened and directed in our mission in the world. Everyone can pray, anytime, anywhere, and in lots of ways” (p. 18, emphasis added).
Prayer as a spiritual discipline will deepen your faith. As Pastor Tim Keller writes, “Conversation with God leads to an encounter with God. Prayer is not only the way we learn what Jesus has done for us but also is the way we ‘daily receive God’s benefits.’ Prayer turns theology into the experience. Through it we sense his presence and receive his joy, his love, his peace and confidence, and thereby we are changed in attitude, behavior, and character” (p. 80, emphasis added).