Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;Colossians 4:2 (KJV)
For too many Christians, myself included, prayer is a matter of much guilt.
We know we ought to pray. Not only is it repeatedly encouraged and commanded in Scripture, but it is a key way the people of God seek and know Him and there are great benefits and joys that come from a habit of prayer.
Yet for one reason or another – be it busyness, distraction, laziness, or fear – we don’t pray nearly as often as we should.
This is a struggle I face in my own life and I know I am not alone.
So here are four practical tips I’ve found helpful in building a more regular habit of prayer.
1) Think Smaller
Has it ever happened to you where you’re praying for one thing, which reminds you of another thing that needs prayer, and suddenly you realize that every person and situation in the whole world needs prayer and there’s no way you’ll ever be able to pray for it all?
That happens to me all the time and it’s demoralizing. Worse still, that feeling can keep me from starting to pray at all.
I feel overwhelmed by the need in the world and want to throw up my hands and give up completely.“If it feels too big to pray for anything and everything, then put everything back into God’s hands and just pick a few things to focus on.”
That reaction is really me trying to take control over all the problems in the world, as if God can’t or won’t help if I don’t pray for each individually.
We don’t have to pray for everyone or everything. In Matthew 6:8, Jesus tells His disciples, “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
God knows all the needs in the world and is full of compassion for those needs – far more than you or I ever could be.
If it feels too big to pray for anything and everything, then put everything back into God’s hands and just pick a few things to focus on.
I find it helpful to pick a topic (like unbelievers in my life or the top things that are worrying me) or to make a list of the top five or ten things on my mind to pray over.
Sure, I’ll miss some things, but better I pray for only one thing than not pray at all.
And sometimes all it takes is starting and I’ll find myself praying for more than I’d planned!
2) Dress Down
When I’m not feeling overwhelmed by how many things there are to pray for, I’m feeling pressure to make sure my prayers are “right.”
This can mean a lot of things: that I’m using the right words, taking the right approach, using the right style…you get the picture.
I find myself worrying that if I don’t pray “right” then God won’t listen to me.
But here’s the truth: God doesn’t care about the style of our prayers, He cares about the attitude of our hearts.
He promises to listen to our prayers and He will keep His promises.
1 John 5:14 says, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.”“But here’s the truth: God doesn’t care about the style of our prayers, He cares about the attitude of our hearts.”
Our prayers don’t need to be perfect. God doesn’t need, nor is He particularly impressed by, our eloquence or style.
It doesn’t matter if we leave something out or stumble with our words. What God wants is our hearts, our attention, and our faith.
Bold in this knowledge, let’s put down our own high self-expectations and just speak honestly with the Father who loves us.
3) Think Bigger
Sometimes, I’m just too bogged down in life to want to pray. It’s easier to stumble through my day, taking the wins, absorbing the losses, and falling into bed at night.
Worries, distractions, disappointments, and doubts all form like sludge around my ankles, sucking me down and dragging my eyes away from Christ.
There are times when we just need to push through these things. Sometimes choosing to pray anyway is the solution.
But often what I need is to realign my heart and spend some time thinking on why I should or want to pray at all.
Hebrews 12:1-3 says…
1) Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2) Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3) For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.Hebrews 12:1-3 (KJV)
If you’re bogged down by the cares of life and can’t find it in your heart to pray, then look up.
Instead of trying to push through prayer like a checklist, or putting it off like a chore, fix your eyes on Jesus.
Spend some time meditating on Christ. Dwell on who God is, on what He has done, on why that matters to you.
You may find that remembering inspires you to want to pray. And if not, then you’ve spent your time well in considering all that is good in Christ.
4) Dress Up
By far the most practical way to build a prayer habit is to just…build the habit.
There are countless resources available for people looking to build habits in all areas of life and those tricks are just as helpful for building a prayer habit as they are for anything else.
For me, having a set time and place that I use for prayer has made a tremendous difference.
I have a window nook in my bedroom set up with pillows and my Bible laid out. Now, when I see that nook, I think of prayer and Bible reading.
My normal evening routine was to brush my teeth in the bathroom, go to my room, put on my PJs, and climb into bed, so I added prayer in my window nook in between going to my room and putting on my PJs.
Now every night when I enter my room, seeing the window nook reminds me of prayer and the rhythm of my routine carries me the rest of the way.
Often, that combination is enough that I still pray even on nights when I had already decided I was too tired (or had some other excuse).
Are there times and places in your life where you could habituate prayer?
Do some research into habit-building and see if any of that advice could work for you.
Prayer isn’t something we do just because we should, but building a particular habit around it can grease the tracks and make it easier to say “yes” to prayer when you might otherwise say “no.”
In all of this, we carry the mantle of grace. There is no rule for how much or how often we should pray.
More is certainly better than less, but God isn’t sitting over us with a timer and a checklist. Christ is our righteousness.
We can let go of our guilt and in joy come before the Lord, sharing our burdens and cares with a loving God and Father and finding rest in His truth and love.
I hope that these tips can help you like they’ve helped me as we build lives in regular communion with God, free of guilt and rich in the blessings He gives those who seek Him.
17) The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.
18) The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.
19) He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.
20) The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.
21) My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.Psalm 145:17-21 (KJV)
Soli Deo gloria!
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Orchard (1865-1869) by Charles-François Daubigny. A. van Wezel Bequest, Amsterdam. Bequest Apr-1922. SK-A-2885. The Rijksmuseum.