Prayer: Holy Habit
Good habits are hard to come by. They require effort. They involve intention and perseverance. If I want to begin an exercise program, I must exercise for a couple of months in order to establish a good habit. But even good habits are hard to maintain when they are young. So last year we began praying as a family each night for fifteen to thirty minutes, sometimes longer. It was a time to come together as a family before bed and pray formally. It was a wonderful discipline that we maintained for about a year, and then I began to let it slip. Doing nothing is so much easier than doing something. Now, maybe, we pray once a week or once every other week. And I hate that I have begun to let go of such a good thing. It is a discipline I must reestablish for my sake and theirs. It is a good habit, a good discipline that not only benefits my children but also me, and strengthens our communion with Christ and one another. But it is hard to do when I have another thing I must be doing. It is hard to be consistent in a good work such as prayer when an issue suddenly arises in the family, when there is disruption, or when some other responsibility is laid upon me. In other words, it is difficult to be faithful to this kind of holy discipline precisely when I most need it. It may become more difficult because I am simply tired. And yet it is in this weariness that such a holy discipline can be an anchor for me and my family, or a lifesaver for us to grab when we are lost at sea. It is certainly not at these times that it is wise to abandon such disciplines in our lives. In fact, it is at these times that we need them the most. It is for such times as these that we establish these good disciplines, so that they become so ingrained in us that they are present when we need them in desperate times.
Perhaps you have been negligent in some discipline you have undertaken. Perhaps you have neglected your prayers or your time in the Scriptures. Do not give up. Begin again. Schedule time for them. These holy disciplines are necessary for us. Our strength is tested most when we most need refreshment, whether it is sleep or water or prayer. When we are being challenged emotionally or spiritually—if someone in our family is sick or has fallen into sin—this is when we need these regular times of spiritual nourishment the most. In such times, we should not abandon those activities which are good for our spiritual health but rely on them all the more, depending on these good habits to nourish us.
Because we are human, there is an overlap here between the material and the immaterial. If I am in a spiritual battle or under emotional duress, then I need proper physical nourishment and more sleep than I normally might allow myself. And I must not abandon the spiritual example that our Lord gave us, who regularly “withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5:16, NLT
; see also Mark 1:35
). Let us look to his example and learn from him. Let us encourage one another to do so. And let us pray for one another.