Prayer is hard work. It’s not something that comes naturally.
We go about our days, engaged in the home or workplace, distracted by good things that would keep us from prayer if we let them. Our hearts are prone to wander from God in self-reliance toward temporary pleasures, rather than running to him in dependence for the lasting joy and satisfaction only he can provide.
No relationship will flourish without intention—and this takes work! Perhaps you feel your need for communion with God, and you want to grow in forming a habit of prayer, but you don’t know where to start…
Five Keys for Making Prayer a Habit
Maybe prayer seems daunting, like a high mountain to climb; or perhaps the pace of your day doesn’t seem to allow for this time. Yet, the growth of any relationship won’t fall into our laps; we need to be intentional, trusting God will meet and help us in this time of sought communion.
So here’s a start! The following are five keys to help you form a habit of prayer:
1. Choose it.
Forming any habit requires action. Unless I choose to rebuild my strength through physical therapy exercises, it won’t happen. Unless I choose to show up on time by leaving early, it won’t happen. Similarly, we won’t pray unless we choose to pray, despite the obstacles (and there are always obstacles!).
So choose to pray. Choose a location. Choose a time of day that works best. Choose a context that will become familiar over time. Our living room couch is my chosen, consistent spot, the place I go each morning to read my Bible and pray.
Of course, certain times require flexibility in our communion with God—and there’s grace for these seasons! A newborn baby, a relocation, a new job and schedule, a decline in health—these circumstances may change our context for prayer, but they needn’t change our choice to pray. We press on, no matter the season, and we choose prayer by the strength God supplies.
2. Ask God for help.
Because prayer doesn’t come naturally, our hearts are wayward, and our circumstances change, we desperately need God to help us pray—and this means we need him to transform our hearts, the seat of our deepest desires. If prayer is merely something we add to our “spiritual checklist,” a joyless obligation, then we’ll pray for all the wrong reasons and never be transformed. But if God were to change our hearts, then we’d yearn for prayer because we first and foremost desire him.
So we ask God for help! We ask him to change our fickle, self-interested, apathetic, and easily distracted hearts. John Piper says,
Too many of us are passive when it comes to our spiritual affections. We are practical atheists. We think there is nothing we can do….This is not the way the psalmists thought or acted. It is not the way the great saints of church history have acted either. Life is war. And the main battles are fought at the level of desires, not deeds.
If you’ve been discouraged by your apathy toward prayer, hear this good news: Jesus lived and died and resurrected so your heart would be made new and your desires changed! He gave his life for your apathy and wayward desires, bearing your sin, and now he lives to intercede for you when you ask God to change your heart. So ask for his help today. He delights to give it.
3. Read your Bible.
God has graciously spoken to us through his precious Word, and we can open our Bibles to hear from him each day. What an incredible thing, to hear from the God of the universe through words and phrases and sentences and chapters and books! What a wonder that the almighty, holy God would speak to undeserving, sinful humans like us.
If prayer is responding to God’s words (he speaks; we listen, consider, and respond), then before prayer can become a habit, we need Scripture reading to become a habit. As in the last point, we can ask God for his help where Bible reading is concerned: God, give me the desire to hear from you in your Word!
Our prayers will also be more focused and clear when they’re rooted in biblical truths we know we can trust because God, himself, has said so. The more we read our Bibles, the more inclined our hearts will be to pray in response (Psalm 119:36).
4. Establish a pattern.
Prayer can feel overwhelming. How do I know where to begin?, we ask. Choosing patterns for prayer has helped me pray more consistently and with greater intentionality.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (ACTS)
- The Lord’s Prayer (see Matthew 6:9-13)
- Word-centered prayer (pray through a Scripture passage, verse by verse)
- Concentric circles (start with self and move outward to family, friends, church, local, global, etc.)
- Daily themes (eg. Ministry on Mondays, Unbelievers on Tuesdays, Friends on Wednesdays, Missions/Evangelism on Thursdays, Work/Coworkers on Fridays, etc.)
- John Piper’s I.O.U.S. (a helpful prayer pattern for Bible reading)
- Small group prayer
- Family prayer
- Church/corporate prayer
5. Ask for accountability.
Is anyone currently asking you about your prayer life? If you want to make prayer a habit, ask a trusted, believing friend to hold you accountable by checking in with you on a weekly basis: “How has your prayer time been? How can I pray for you in that regard?” See if you might hold them accountable as well.
You’re Never Too Late
At this point, some of you might be feeling discouraged because you haven’t sought to make a habit of prayer. Friends, because of Christ, you can lift your drooping heads and strengthen your weak knees—it’s never too late to start! God delights to provide for us the desire, motivation, and ability to commune with him in prayer, and he has secured this high privilege for you to draw near through the sacrifice of his Son.
You’re never too late, nor is God ever too far away. Prayer is a gift and, through his strength, it can become a habit for you.