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How to establish a daily habit of prayer
Installment #1 of the spiritual disciplines series
Like millions of others in the U.S. and around the world, the Phillips household was captivated by the U.S. Open this year.
We started watching during the round of 16 and spent the rest of the week cheering for our favorites and planning our social activities around the matches we wanted to watch.
By the time the women’s final rolled around on Saturday afternoon, we were completely bought in, watching with excitement as Coco Gauff, at only 19 years old, became the youngest American to win the U.S. Open women’s title since Serena Williams in 1999.
There was a substantial amount of downtime between the last point and the award ceremony, but Gauff didn’t get a break—she was continually on camera as she celebrated with her family and coaches, spoke with her brother on the phone, and soaked in her moment.
But the cameras caught something else, too. Amid the flurry of activity swirling around her, Gauff knelt at her bench and prayed.
I can’t speak for Gauff’s spiritual life—I only really became aware of her two weeks ago—but I think that the humility that she exemplified in that moment was more impactful than she may have realized at the time. It wasn’t a musician throwing lip service to God before rattling off their list of producers and collaborators after winning a Grammy, or a star receiver pointing to the sky after catching a game-winning touchdown. It was a quiet moment of thanksgiving that happened to be caught on camera.
Later, as commentators reflected on the match and Gauff’s performance, they couldn’t help but revisit that moment. One even went so far as to nearly suggest that Gauff’s success and her family’s spiritual devotion may be related.
Again, I won’t speculate on that claim—it flirts a bit too much with the prosperity gospel for my comfort—but I was intrigued by their interest in her personal moment of communion with God.
What is prayer?
If you grew up in or around Christianity, the concept of prayer, or the act of communicating with God, is likely not new to you.
Likewise, there’s no shortage of scripture that refers to prayer.
In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul instructs his readers, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The book of James concludes not only with examples of when an individual should pray, but also when one should ask others to intercede for him:
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Often (or at least in my experience), when we think of prayer, we think of these kinds of circumstantial supplications: Appeals to God regarding a specific situation. But since we’re focusing on spiritual disciplines, or repeated rituals that enrich the Christian life, I want to zoom out a bit and talk about some ways you can integrate prayer into your daily routine, regardless of what is going on in your life.
How to pray: Two Biblical examples
The Lord’s Prayer
“Pray then like this:
Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The first time that someone suggested using the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of scaffolding for my own prayers, it blew my mind. It seems so simple that it’s almost obvious—Jesus literally prefaces the prayer by saying “This is how you should pray.”
I was raised (and remain) protestant, so repeating and memorizing prayers and other liturgies just wasn’t the norm for me. As I get older, though, I’ve been able to see the wisdom in these ritual acts of worship and the comfort and confidence that they provide.
Specifically, I think that having a non-negotiable routine that’s unchanged by the obligations of everyday life is a beautiful way to remain focused on the things of God rather than the things of the world. It’s something that I’d like to implement more in my own life.
Here are two different ways that you can use the Lord’s Prayer in your personal worship:
Recite it daily. This is the simplest way to integrate worship-centric prayer into your day-to-day life. If you’d like, you can add the doxology at the end: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Use it as a guide. If you’re seeking guidance in your prayer life, you can use the formula of the Lord’s Prayer to present your requests before God. By repeating (or rewriting) the prayer in your own words, you’ll be able to engage in the activity of prayer in a new and intentional way.
Praying the Psalms
We often think of the book of Psalms as a book of songs, and it certainly is—but these songs are also prayers. Through the Psalms, readers gain a transparent, unadulterated view of the human heart.
The Psalms also provide a great jumping off point for personal prayers. You’re likely familiar with the Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”), a prayer of praise and comfort. Personally, I’m particularly fond of Psalm 139, which reminds me how deeply and intimately I’m known by the Creator.
I can’t tell you which Psalm will be the most impactful for you, but I can challenge you to find it for yourself. Spend some time with the book and pay attention to how your heart responds as you read. Take note of your favorites, and revisit them often. Don’t neglect the rest of the book, either—the beautiful thing about the Bible is that there’s a new discovery to be made with each encounter. But now we’re getting into next week’s content. 😉
Establishing a habit
And now, my challenge for you: If you haven’t already, dedicate yourself to establishing a habit of prayer. Choose one of the options listed above, or find another prayer that you can repeat every day. (The Valley of Vision is one of my favorite resources for this.) Say it while you shower, or brush your teeth, or drive to work, or make your coffee, or whatever works for you; bundling habits is a great hack to help things stick.
Do this in addition to the more in-the-moment prayers of supplication you may already be offering throughout the day. Again, the point of a spiritual discipline is to create a ritual that points you toward God, emphasizing his glory and goodness above all else.
Try it for two weeks, and pay attention to how it changes you. I’ll be doing the same thing alongside you and looking forward to hearing about your experiences!
Do you have a favorite Psalm or other prayer that you repeat regularly? Share it in the comments—you never know who needs that encouragement right now!
And a recommendation:
This talk from Tim Keller provides not only the how, but also the why of prayer. You won’t regret listening!