“Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed, a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty.” – E. M. Bounds
Not only is prayer a command to Christians (see Ephesians 6:18), but it is also a gift that allows us to develop godly character (see James 5:16), be comforted in relationship with our Creator (see Psalm 145:18), and grow in wisdom (see James 1:5). But for many Christ-followers, prayer can feel more like a chore that we “must” do before meals and before bed.
So how do we set up a life of prayer that is not driven by guilt or duty but instead by the pursuit of a vibrant relationship with a loving God?
Jesus himself modeled a life marked by daily prayers of thanksgiving, worship, and requests. As we look to create a daily prayer habit, we can learn from the model of Jesus in Scripture.
- Find a quiet place to pray.
“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:15–16 NIV)”
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he pulled away from the crowd to find a quiet place to pray. Even at the height of his popularity, when he was literally sought out by crowds, he prioritized withdrawing to spend time with the Father in prayer. In today’s culture, it’s easy to find your day filled with people, noises, and tasks. While it can be tempting to think, “I have too much to do,” Jesus’ model encourages us to find space to pray away from what might distract us from our connection with God. Consider going on an early morning walk, finding a quiet room in your home (even a closet does nicely in a pinch), or getting out in nature around your neighborhood. Quieting the rush of the world will help us to focus on connecting with God.
- Pray continually.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. (John 12:27–28a ESV)”
In the middle of a conversation with his disciples and a crowd of Greek worshipers, Jesus pauses for this brief prayer. Scripture is full of examples of Jesus praying simple, in-the-moment prayers for wisdom and strength and for those around him. Since prayer is a conversation with God, we are invited to pick it up at any moment. In moments of grief, joy, surprise, or fear, we can call out to God. Inviting the Holy Spirit into the ups and downs of our day is a sure way to transform our perspective.
- Set aside time to pray.
“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12 ESV)”
Jesus demonstrates that both continual prayer and extended prayer should be a regular part of our lives. As fully divine and fully man, he perfectly understood the importance of intentional communion with the Father. Much like extended time with friends or a spouse helps to build relational connection more than a quick text message sent in haste, we should schedule in extended times to connect with God. This is not something that just happens: we will need to create the space in our busy schedules. Extended time in your calendar could include getting up early in the morning, paying for a babysitter so that you can spend a day in nature, or even scheduling a weekend retreat.
- Pray with those around you.
Jesus spent most of his days surrounded by his disciples, and he regularly prayed with them. Mathew 26:26 and Luke 24:30 show Jesus blessing their meals. In Matthew 11:25–26, Jesus is teaching his disciples, and he stops to thank God. And shortly before he is arrested, Jesus cries out to God in an eloquent prayer with his disciples standing nearby (John 17). Throughout Scripture, we are reminded of the importance of community, something Jesus valued in his prayer life as well. Pray for your meal—but also pray for those sitting around your table or those God has placed on your hearts. Take time at night to say a prayer of gratitude and worship with your family. Or take it a step further and find a prayer partner with whom you can regularly pray.
- Make it easy to remember.
Our human nature can be fickle and shortsighted, so, unlike Jesus, we need reminders to help us to refocus on the long-term benefits of regular prayer. You could put a pebble in your pocket that reminds you to pray for those in need each time you feel it. You can add a Post-It to your computer monitor that tells you to pray for your job and coworkers. Write a Bible verse in dry-erase marker on your bathroom mirror or kitchen window that reminds you to thank God for his character and provision. Set an alarm on your phone to pray for one specific person at 1 p.m. each day.
As you develop your daily prayer habit, your fallen nature can lead you to believe the lie that your only options are a legalistically rigid prayer habit or an inconsistent and shallow prayer life. The truth is that prayer is a way of growing in our relationship with God, and this habit will look different for each person. Cling to the truth found in Scripture that you should “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV).
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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.