As I begin to pray, I let out a sigh. It feels good to do this, I think. I try to remember the last time I prayed.
Yesterday? No, I was busy getting the house ready for company. The day before? No, my husband was home and we were rushing around trying to get house projects done.
Finally, I come to the conclusion that it has been four days since I've gotten to my quiet time with God. Four days!
How did this happen? I think. Well, you've been really busy, I think. But wait a minute! Too busy to pray? What is going on?
I grew up in the Church, and my parents set a wonderful example of daily prayer and Bible study. It has always been something that I knew I should be doing. But growing up, through high school and college, I never got into the habit. I was always "too busy." But deep down I always knew I needed to improve in this area!
Even when I got married, I thought things would improve because I would have my husband there guiding me. But the truth is, your spiritual life remains your responsibility even after marriage.
After the birth of our child, I began to realize that soon my actions would be my child's textbook on how to love God. And I didn't think I was doing a very good job. I have always loved God and wanted to please Him, but my devotion has always been in "spurts," with periods where I would stay connected to God and periods where I would not do very well at all.
Since I have begun to really focus on making prayer time a habit, I have learned a lot. I would like to share with you some of the ideas that have helped me.
All or Nothing
One thing that I have realized is that I am an "all or nothing" kind of person. Okay, I'll say it, I can be a perfectionist. I like to be successful at what I do. So when I fail at something, it embarrasses me and I want to avoid even thinking about it!
I realized this was what was happening in my prayer life. I would pray consistently for a while, but when I got off track, I would feel ashamed and embarrassed. I think I didn't want to apologize to God! (This was illogical because He already knew exactly what was going on.) So instead of praying again as soon as possible, I would just avoid God and avoid prayer for long periods of time, all the while feeling more and more guilty!
Would that I had realized that God was never waiting to "punish" me for not praying. He just wanted a relationship with me. And if I missed a day of talking to Him, it didn't mean He would never want me again. He just wanted me to come back, repent and talk to Him again. Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences. A conscious realization of what I was doing has helped me immensely to overcome this barrier in my prayer life.
The Only Way to Bear Fruit
The second idea that has really changed my perspective on prayer was John 15:5 John 15:5I am the vine, you are the branches: He that stays in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
American King James Version×. Here Jesus says: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (New International Version, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus tells us to remain in Him. What does this mean? It reminds me of how it felt when I first met my husband. He was on my mind constantly and we were in constant communication. Even though we lived several states away from one another, it was as if he was with me throughout the day because my mind seemed to dwell on him! We remained in each other's hearts even though we were physically separated.
In order to remain in Christ and have Him remain in us, we must also stay in constant communication with Him. This is only accomplished through regular prayer and Bible study.
In the second part of the verse Jesus says that when we remain in Him, we will bear fruit, but if not we can do nothing. For a task-driven person such as me, that was a wake-up call. I realized that even though I could be checking things off on my list faster if I skipped prayer and Bible study, the truth was I wasn't really accomplishing anything worthwhile. I wasn't bearing fruit and all of the results of my hard work often seemed hollow.
There did not seem to be satisfaction in getting things done and, worst of all, my relationships with others were often filled with problems. I was also taking an entirely self-focused approach. Instead of trusting God that I would be able to accomplish what needed to be done, I was thinking in physical terms and relying completely on myself to finish the things on my list.
The Bible says that we are to put God first in our lives and He will give us everything we need (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×). This includes putting our commitment to spending daily time with God as our top priority even during busy and difficult times in our lives. It is a step of faith to take an hour to pray and do Bible study when you have 24 hours of work to accomplish in 12 hours! But the amazing thing is that when you do it, things in your life start to work together in what can only be called miraculous ways.
Even if you don't complete everything on your list, you are still at peace because you have kept your priorities in order and realize that in the end, it's your relationship with God that will outlast your daily to-do list.
My Prayer Plan
After I began to understand these concepts I realized that a daily prayer time was a necessity. This is much harder to do than it sounds. For me, I had to develop a specific prayer plan that was tailored for my personality.
The most vital key to changing our habits in this area is asking God for help in our prayer lives. If you admit that you have a problem and you show God through determined effort that you are willing to strive to improve, the results can be amazing. Making physical changes to your prayer atmosphere can also make a difference.
It's important to evaluate your prayer life to see what areas need improvement and then make the necessary changes. Based on my past experiences I knew that praying silently in my bedroom led to nothing but daydreaming and sleepiness. While it is the quintessential picture of prayer to see someone kneeling by his or her bed, it just did not work for me. So I made a radical move to take my prayer time to the kitchen table (with its hard wooden chairs!) during a part of the day when I could be alone.
I also began to write down my prayers in a journal, forcing myself to be specific with my thoughts and feelings instead of making generalizations. Writing down my prayers helps me immensely to focus on what I am talking to God about. In the past, I would pray for a bit and then start daydreaming and completely lose my focus. For some people, simply praying out loud may be the trick that keeps their prayers focused.
I also put together a "prayer basket" that I keep in a place that I see regularly. Just seeing it is a physical reminder of my commitment to prayer. In it, I keep my Bible, my prayer notebook, any church materials I have been studying as well as cards and stamps if I need to send someone a card. I also keep a second notebook in which I list the people I am praying for as well as their needs in pencil. This makes it easy to add to or change the needs by erasing.
Take some time to think about how you can improve your prayer environment. Be creative in finding a solution to your limitations. Sometimes we have to be hard on ourselves in order to make the necessary changes. Trust me, this is an area that's worth it!
An Appointment With God
Once you have developed a specific prayer plan, the hard part begins—sticking to it! We need to pray and study the Bible every single day. We need to make a commitment to God to put Him first in our lives each and every day. This is a very hard thing to do.
They say that a new habit takes six weeks to solidify, but sometimes I think it can take longer! I struggle with this and I want to admit that to you because there may be other people out there who are struggling as well. It's okay because we can struggle together and maybe we can help each other out. Try to think of some things that you can do to help you stay on track with your prayer time.
For me, it helps to think of my prayer time as an actual appointment with God. This includes having a specific time and place to meet Him. Oh, how hard this can be sometimes, when I have a million things to do...to just stop and take an hour to do prayer and Bible study. The only way I could get myself to do this at first was to absolutely force myself. I would even sit still in a chair for a few minutes just breathing deeply to try to get my mind to stop reviewing my to-do list over and over! However, after several weeks of this difficult experience, I began to actually look forward to my prayer time each day, and it was not so hard to stop thinking about my to-do list.
Your prayer time could be at any point during the day when you have uninterrupted time. I have heard of all kinds of times and ways to pray. What is important is that you are consistently spending time in respectful communication with God.
I also have found that disruptions to my normal daily schedule tend to throw me off track. This can include things like having houseguests, going on a trip or having an illness in the family. I have found that writing out a plan of when and where I am going to pray in advance of situations like this helps me.
I can't stress enough how important God's help is in this area. In looking back over my written prayers from the past year, I notice that so many of them are prayers for God to help me to be consistent in prayer and to grow closer to Him. He is helping me, but I think he also wants me to make a strong effort so that my relationship with Him will be of value to me.
Embarrassed to Talk About Prayer?
One final thought about prayer is that we don't need to be embarrassed of prayer. God tells us to do our prayer in a solitary manner and to not try to "show off" by praying. I think sometimes this has led me to feel embarrassed to even mention praying with other people in the Church. For a long time, I was too embarrassed to tell my husband that I wanted to go and pray on a day when we were both home. Sometimes I wouldn't pray at all, because of this embarrassed feeling.
While we do need to guard against trying to look "superspiritual," we also need to realize that God comes first. Husbands and wives will need to discuss making time for prayer in a frank and honest manner, as will roommates or anyone who lives together in close quarters with other people. This can be hard, but it's necessary. Ask God for the strength and the right words to express your needs without seeming like you are trying to show off. We should support one another as we each strive in humility to have a healthy relationship with God.
As I have worked on this area of my life, the results have been tremendous. It has been hard work, work that I still have to push myself to accomplish. But I truly feel like I am beginning to grow spiritually. I thank God for helping me to get this far, and I realize that without the gift of His Holy Spirit I would probably never even want to try and certainly would have never been able to get this far.
If you have trouble staying committed to your prayer time with God, please know that you are not alone! God wants to talk with you and He knows what you are going through, whether it is a lack of time or other limiting factors on your prayer life. However, He expects you to make the changes necessary to get in touch with Him and remain in Him! He will help you, but you must discipline yourself to overcome any prayer barriers you may have. And every time we miss a day, we must repent and start as soon as possible to get back into the prayer habit.
Now is the time to stop making excuses. I personally am quite acquainted with all of those excuses. Sometimes we may even think that God understands when we cut corners in our prayer and Bible study because of all of the pressures and stresses that make our lives busier than they should be. But the truth is, God doesn't understand when we don't put Him first. This is because even though He knows how hard our circumstances are—He also has unlimited power to help us through them.
If you commit to a daily prayer time with God, He will help you to get everything else done. Believe it and make a commitment to daily prayer today! UN