Four ways to make a habit of prayer
As a pastor, praying for God’s people is an essential part of my job description. Helping God’s people to pray themselves is, too.
So if it seems that I talk a lot about prayer, devotional life, etc., know that it’s because I feel a particular burden to equip Christians to live as Jesus’ disciples each day—the old “teach-them-to-fish” thing.
In this spirit (or Spirit), today I wanted to give you four practical directions that will help you to make a regular habit of personal devotion and prayer, if you haven’t already.
Note: I use the word “pray” as shorthand for your time of not only prayer, but also Scripture reading and whatever else may be part of your personal devotional practice (journaling, etc.).
1. Determine a time to pray, and put it in your calendar.
I’ll just say it: if personal devotion is not made a priority in your schedule it will not happen. Just as you need to make a budget for your finances, so you need to make a budget for your time.
Expecting there to be a few minutes here and there won’t do it; nor will waiting for the Spirit to move you. When He does, great! But a regular discipline ensures that those moments of inspiration aren’t few and far between.
If you’re the kind of person who keeps a calendar—be it the old-fashioned paper variety (my preference) or on some sort of device—take the next step and write it in. “7 a.m.—meeting with Jesus.” Is it cheesy? Of course! But it helps.
And if somebody tries to horn in on that time you can say in all honesty, “Sorry, I already have a meeting scheduled.”
2. Choose a place to pray, and nest there.
We are creatures of not only time but also space. Our spaces are important to us. And what is more, our bodies begin to associate certain spaces with certain activities. You get sleepy around your bed and hungry at the grocery store.
You can leverage this physiological phenomenon for your life of prayer.
Pick a spot where you will pray, and stick to it. Nest there. By that I mean, put your devotional materials there, your blanket, your coaster for the coffee mug. Make it one of your favorite places around the home.
Then, you’ll be all the more likely to return. And like when your belly grumbles at Trader Joe’s, your soul will start to get in the right mode for prayer.
3. Pick a devotional resource, and stick to it.
I don’t know about you, but I have multiple bookshelves worth of devotional books. Some are gifts, some are remnants of past failed attempts at a regular devotional practice.
There are so many devotional resources that it’s overwhelming. And don’t get me started on all the “niche” Bibles (the green Bible, the emoji Bible, the Duck Dynasty faith-and-family Bible). So here’s my recommendation: find one that works for you and stick to it.
There is no silver bullet, save for the Word of God itself. The diamond of God’s Word is always radiant; our various and sundry settings, not so much.
So pick a resource that you like well enough and that puts the focus on the diamond. I recommend The Treasury of Daily Prayer. It has a daily selection from both the Old and New Testaments, a psalm, a devotional writing (such as from Luther or one of the Church Fathers), and more.
Whatever you use, though, stick to it!
4. Decide how long you plan to pray, and be conservative.
The common mistake for those who are beginning, or renewing, a devotional habit is to overdo it at the beginning. The same thing happens with personal fitness: the zealous novice will go way too hard at first and not be able to keep it up.
Here’s my recommendation: start with 15 minutes. Don’t go longer than that at first. Just get in the habit of reading some Scripture and saying the Lord’s Prayer and perhaps another few petitions.
As you build up your prayer-muscles and the habit is engrained, by all means means extend the time. But take to heart the wise counsel of Henri Nouwen, who wrote, “It is better to have a daily practice of ten minutes solitude than to have a whole hour once in a while.”
These are just some simple directions for developing your life of prayer. Your mileage will of course vary; whatever is of use, keep, and whatever isn’t, pitch. And if something has helped you personally, please share!