“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6, NKJV)
All of us know that eating right and exercising regularly are good for us. They contribute to physical health and mental well-being. We fully believe that. Perhaps we have even experienced the benefits, maybe through weight loss or greater stamina. Then why don’t we stick to it?
The same is true of prayer. We believe that God wants us to pray. We’ve read Christ’s teaching on prayer and its importance. We’ve seen His example. We’ve told ourselves that if Jesus needed to pray then certainly we need to pray. Paul’s letters overflow with prayer. We’ve read them and are convicted to pray. When we have devoted ourselves to pray we have emerged from the time energized. But it doesn’t stick. We return to our routine of dabbling in prayer.
I saw this throughout my pastoral ministry. I would preach on prayer and people would eat it up. But it often did not translate into action. If it did, it looked like a New Year’s resolution – decided, dedicated, determined, derailed.
Programs for church revitalization invariably emphasize the necessity for prayer and feature prayer training. We can’t turn things around in our own strength. God needs to do it. We need to pray. Trainers come into the church to get prayer groups going and they start with a bang. Before long, though, they fizzle out like a sparkler on the fourth of July.
How can we make praying stick? Let me suggest four things to help.
Make Room. When I was in seminary I had a full slate of classes, a three-plus hour commute every day, worked part-time as a hospital chaplain, and taught twice weekly in my local church. I was also a husband and father of two kids. Can you guess which responsibility suffered? The most important one – the home front. I was a terrible dad. I know that because my wife told me. She was right. I listened to her and took the step of blocking out a segment of time every day to be present with my family. I actually wrote it in my Day Timer, the first entry in my week’s planning. Not just be resident but be present with my attention. If I got a B, so be it.
We need to do the same for our time with God. Free-range prayer is great. We are told, after all, to pray without ceasing. But we need to block out some amount of time regularly to spend with God. That’s what Jesus means when He says to “go into your room and shut the door” (Mt. 6:6). We see that example with Daniel (Dan. 6:10) and with the psalmist (Psa. 55:17) – scheduled prayer, meeting each day with blocks for prayer already filled in, doing our best to show up to meet with God as planned.
In our next blog, we’ll look at three other ways to help make prayer stick.
Digging Deeper: If Jesus were to bring you in for a quarterly review of your prayer life, what would He say?
Lord Jesus, disciple me to pray.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.