Have you ever found it difficult to sustain your daily commitment to personal prayer and devotion? I know I have, and I know, from the majority of Christians that I have spoken to, that I’m not alone in this struggle. I have always found it astounding – how I go through these bouts of prayer-less days till one day I find myself stressed out by life and wondering what went wrong. Each time our gracious and merciful Holy Spirit guides me back to my prayer corner and restores my strength by feeding me His word. It always starts with that subtle slip, that excuse that lacks conviction, that fatal postponing to ‘tomorrow’. Whatever the situation, over the years I’ve understood that I can always classify the cause of that first slip into one of two broad categories,
- Laziness – It is a curse dressed in gift’s clothing, if you know what I mean, and it is a fountainhead of excuses. Not only are we prone to be lazy, we are keen to justify it. Laziness offers for us the option to relax and be free of worries for some time, while we distract ourselves from our many responsibilities. It tempts us to take a break that, at the time, seems justifiable. I’m sure that most of us can relate to this. But the truth is, all that really happens is that your work load piles up, and you end up wasting that God-given time – almost always on useless things. Now, there is a time and place for godly rest and retreat which is a responsibility in itself. However, with laziness, what seems a good gift of rest ends up being a curse that stresses us out even more in the end, and in today’s world, distraction is often a luxury we must fight to resist, almost daily. I like how Tim Challies sums it up in his book on productivity, “…it could be that today’s world offers more ways of lazily procrastinating than ever before. When you ought to be working on your computer, you are only ever one or two clicks away from checking out your friends on Facebook or welcoming a few minutes of mindless entertainment on YouTube. Text messages provide a welcome distraction from deep thinking, and binge watching the latest series on Netflix can set you back a week. You are surrounded by temptations to laziness and may succumb far more often than you think. It could be that laziness is what stands between you and true productivity.”
- Busyness – Now, some of you may jump in protest at this point, because you are sure that this, at least, is surely justifiable. Believe me, I can relate to that. But I assure you that it simply isn’t true. You see, the fundamental question that needs to be answered is whether we would have the audacity to stand before God, on the day of judgment, when He comes in all His glory, and say, “I was too busy for you”. My friends, God created us for His glory and the primary purpose of our lives is that. In fact, it is the only purpose that matters. When we allow other things to keep us busy from doing the one thing that matters, it isn’t justifiable. My mom is always sharp to pick up on the status of my prayer life, and whenever I give the excuse of being busy, she says, “Busy with what? Your job? It doesn’t matter if they fire you, you must not fail to pray.” It was Martin Luther who said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Three hours? I’m sure he would have had more work to do than a majority of us today. Busyness is the trickier of the two categories and probably has the greater danger of being deceptive because we believe that it is a justifiable excuse when it simply isn’t. It is our unfaithfulness to prioritise what matters most. Borrowing from Challies again, “Busyness may make you feel good about yourself and give the illusion of getting things done, but it probably just means that you are directing too little attention in too many directions, that you are prioritizing all the wrong things, and that your productivity is suffering.”
Keeping in the mind these two categories of why we fall prey to the temptation of postponing what matters most – our daily time of prayer and devotion to the Lord our God – here are a few practical things that I’ve started adding to my daily routine to help keep my mind focussed in order to fulfil my commitment to pray.
DISCIPLINES TO HELP
I want to first remind you that nothing in the Christian faith is producible through a formula. None of those ‘7 steps to this’ or ‘3 steps to that’ will effect lasting change in us. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). We are the workmanship of Christ (Ephesians 2:10) and are changed only by the powerful work of His Spirit in our lives (Philippians 2:13 & Zachariah 4:6). However, these disciplines or formulas are meant to help facilitate a joyful and diligent effort on our part to pursue and obey God. So, let us keep in mind that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Having said that, there are 7 disciplines that I follow, and I would like to share this list with you in hopes that it may encourage and help you in your own walk with God. I don’t claim that these points are the definitive answer to overcoming this struggle. However, each discipline is undergirded by the truth of scripture, and I pray that these points will better help you think through what might strengthen you in your own situation.
- Aim for the morning
I know that people prefer to schedule their prayer time as it best suits their daily activities. Some prefer to pray in the night and others in the morning. One discipline here that has helped me is to not schedule my prayer time based on all that I have to get done in a day but instead, schedule all of those other things based on the time I’ve set to pray. For me, that’s prioritising prayer. I’ve often heard people either say that praying in the morning is not possible with all that confusion of morning chores and duties, or that praying in the night doesn’t happen because they’re often too tired after a long day at work. I’ve even said it myself. I believe that this happens because we’ve got our priories upside down. Whether we decide to pray in the morning or in the night, we must spend that time with the Lord and schedule all the other activities accordingly. Now, this is not an excuse for not fulfilling your daily responsibilities. Let me put it a different way: If you schedule your morning tasks and find that you don’t have enough time to pray, then you’re doing it wrong. When prayer is your primary priority, then, while scheduling your tasks, you can only find that you don’t have enough time for your other duties. You may then decide to wake up earlier and make the time. And if you wake up earlier, it should not be so that you can find time to pray, but so that you can find time for your other activities. I hope that makes sense. What that means is simply that prayer is the absolute in that timetable, and everything else is planned and timed accordingly.
I always recommend that early morning time slot, because it really makes a difference when you start the day in prayer. Set it as the first thing to do in the day. In my own home, I spend the morning in personal prayer, and the night is the time for our family devotion. I like to follow David’s footsteps, “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” (Psalm 5:3) If my daily routines are secondary to my first priority of prayer, then it makes most sense to me that it be the first thing I do in a day.
- Avoid all electronic devices
Many people, especially in my generation, have gotten accustomed to using the Bibles on their hand-held devices. This is not a bad thing in itself but in this situation, it brings with it the plethora of distractions that almost always succeed in kidnapping your attention. I find myself so often succumb to the meaningless gesture of opening my browser and logging in to Facebook every time I open my laptop. I often have no reason to be there but it’s almost like muscle memory. My fingers are just so used to going there whether on my laptop or on my mobile. I have found it just the wiser to keep all electronic devices to avoid the hassle of having to fight the temptations that it brings to keep me from praying.
- Freshen up
If I succeed in overcoming the first two obstacles, I am then taunted by a sudden, insatiable urge to fall asleep. I open my Bible, begin reading and half-way through, I find myself slowly dozing off to fourth heaven. By the time I’m done, I would have spent a whole sleepy hour on what I could have normally done in 10 minutes. So, I make it a point to brush my teeth, wash my face and maybe even have a cup of coffee on my table. Sometimes I still find myself a little drowsy, in which case I walk up and down my study as I pour my heart out to the Lord.
- Look to the sky
Now, this may sound a little weird at first, but I assure you that this is a discipline that spurs our desire to pray. I get this from Psalm 19:1-2; The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. This means that every day when we look at the sky, it is speaking to us and imparting knowledge to us of the glory of God. We can look at the beautify of God’s creation and it reminds us that He is indeed glorious beyond all that we can imagine. So, I use Psalm 19 and look to the sky and it reminds me of God’s glory and this helps me pray eagerly.
- Read the bible and pray
In the end, there is no escaping the ‘work’ involved in opening your bible, reading and meditating on it, listening to what He teaches you and spending that time praying and laying your cares one by one at His feet. I know that there are some who would succeed in keeping a consistent time of prayer but would hardly manage to do any praying. Remember, this is not something we do out of duty. It isn’t a formula to Christian living. It is a time of deep and intimate communion with God and that is no ritual, it is the great privilege of His children.
- Sing a song
We have so many precious prayers that we can read in the book of Psalms and they are all songs offered to the Lord in prayer. Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting (Psalm 147:1). He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; (Psalm 40:3). I find it very gratifying to sing a song of praise. For me, it enhances and ‘completes’ the whole experience of spending time with Him.
We all know of the famous passage in scripture where Jesus was taken by the enemy to be tempted. Every time the enemy tempted Him, He used the scripture to fight the temptation. We know this story. It has been taught to most of us since our Sunday-school days. But is it not amazing that very few of us know the Bible or use it well enough to fight our own temptations with it. We rarely follow the example that Christ showed us. I believe that we, as faithful servants, must follow our master and make it a point to memorise verses in the Bible that would help us fight the lure of the enemy. This memorisation especially helps in keeping our daily devotion because whenever we are tempted to look away, the word of God itself would rise to our defence by being on the tip of our tongue reminding us and encouraging us to persevere. The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth, who guides us into all truth, will He not surely help us in this effort to hold fast to God’s word in memory to be effective stewards of His grace?
- Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity – Tim Challies
- Crazy Busy – Kevin DeYoung
*scripture quotation have been taken from the NASB and the ESV versions
 Challies, Tim. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity (pp. 20-21). Challies. Kindle Edition.
 Challies, Tim. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity (p. 21). Challies. Kindle Edition.