When Gretchen the Cheetah escaped from a Nebraska zoo last March she wasn’t hard to catch. Fortunately, the fastest land animal on earth isn’t fast for long. Cheetahs take breaks. Gretchen laid down behind a barrier and was caught without incident.
It could have been worse. A Cheetah, the carnivorous African big cat, can sprint up to 70 miles per hour—but only for about 6 blocks.
Our prayer lives might be similar to a Cheetah in one way. We make commitments to pray more and we forge on impressively at first, only to flame out after a few days. In too many important areas of life, including our prayer lives, we start out passionately and cool off way too quickly. In fact, almost no one is very satisfied with their prayer life. So how can we make prayer an unbreakable habit?
BUILD A HABIT OF PRAYER
Maintaining a passionate devotional life never occurs by accident. Our spiritual mothers and fathers “devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). The very word “devotion” implies that we’ve chosen a lifestyle of spiritual consistency and we’ve adopted a willingness to pay a price for spiritual growth. A powerful prayer life always occurs in the context of a daily habit—a truth made clear when Jesus instructed us to pray for our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Jesus obviously expects us to seek God daily for more than our meal plan. He calls us to pray daily about everything.
The Apostle Paul is as equally direct about the habit and consistency of prayer when he encourages us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Biblical prayer is always daily prayer.
Christian leaders have often observed, however, that our intensity in prayer tends to wane. Billy Graham, for instance, knew that prayer could not be offered irregularly and simultaneously be as meaningful as God intends. The evangelist advocated for habitual prayer in the Christian life. “True prayer is a way of life,” he said, “not just for use in case of emergency. Make it a habit, and when the need arises you will be in practice.”
While appearing counterintuitive, it’s actually the habit of prayer that helps increase the passion for prayer. Rather than an instance when “familiarity breeds contempt,” the habit of prayer increases the success rate of your prayer life. As Craig Groeschel recently observed about the power of habits in the lives of exceptional leaders, “…’fanatical consistency’ leads to the success of the best of the best. These leaders are successful because of their dogged zealousness of doing the same (usually small) right things over and over.”
DECIDE TO PRAY EVERYDAY
Have you decided to pray daily? Deciding to do it is the single most important step in maintaining your passion for prayer because nothing can be improved until it’s started. The habit of prayer stokes the heat of prayer. As Charles Spurgeon said about those who pray, “He who prays much will pray more, and he who prays little will pray less.”
START SMALL BUT KEEP GOING
We love the sermons that challenge us with the stories of Jesus spending all night in prayer, Martin Luther needing 3 hours a day in prayer to get the victory, David Brainerd praying for 12 hours in the snow, or Leonard Ravenhill urging pastors to spend two hours in prayer or be counted as “not worth their salt.”
We honor the Lord and His praying champions, but it’s hard to imagine most people starting out with two hours a day in prayer. Still, we can’t improve until we start. Spending longer periods in daily prayer is a good goal, but it’s ok to start small and grow.
The key in developing the habit of prayer is consistency. In other words, in the beginning it’s not about how much time you pray every day, it is praying every day for some time that matters. We are what we repeatedly do. For instance, if your boss drops by your desk one afternoon and casually says, “Meet me in my office at 8:30 tomorrow morning,” would you be there? Most of us wouldn’t dare be late. But Almighty God says, “Seek Me and you will find Me…” and we have a tendency to consider our options, as if a meeting with God is less important than our other commitments or even other interests. What you believe about God will determine what you believe about prayer, and what you believe about prayer will ultimately determine your schedule.
In other words, your desire to pray more will never change the fact that there are still only 1,440 minutes in every 24 hour day. When you decide to make prayer a priority, therefore, you will have to choose prayer over something else that already matters to you. Praying has to replace entertainment, working, fellowship, sleep, or something else. Since good habits are hard to make, and bad habits are hard to break, your best option is to schedule your prayer time with a relentless commitment to keep your appointment with God. Put God on your calendar and keep your appointment every day for a month and you may develop a habit you won’t break.
Since prayer is fellowship with God you’re always prioritizing eternal things over temporary things when you spend time in prayer. As the 18th century British theologian William Law reminds us, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.” We will never regret giving our lives to the habit of prayer.