It’s only mid January, and I’m already a failure (according the goals I set just a couple weeks ago).
My resolution to try to consistently eat at home has become one colossal miss. I know my family needs to stop our habit of driving through the most convenient fast food place every night. I know we would all feel better if we ate better. But my family is so busy! I can’t seem to even get to the grocery store . . . let alone prepare the food. Thankfully, I still have another eleven months in 2016!
Are you struggling to find your groove and develop habits, like healthier eating or career goals, to set yourself up for success? One area I think is most important to set as a goal for yourself is spiritual habits. There are quite a few spiritual disciplines that would bring us closer to God. Like my “healthier eating goal,” though, spiritual habits need to be developed over time, and you need to take steps to ensure that you don’t derail before you even leave the station.
So what is the best “first habit” to set for yourself spiritually? I believe it’s prayer.
Set a time every day to pray and put it on the calendar! For me, prayer time is first thing in the morning. I give myself 10-20 minutes alone. I like to sit at my kitchen table and look out the window into the backyard. The sky, trees, and birds help focus my time with God.
After setting a time and a place, we need to come up with a prayer strategy. Decide what to pray. Do you stick with generalities like “Bless them and watch over them?” Those are great prayers, but when I started praying specific bold prayers for my family and friends, amazing things started happening. Now I’m strategic, and I try to circle all parts of our lives in prayer. The Bible is full of passages that remind us how much God loves it when we communicate with him.
James 5:16 tells us: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
How do we harness that power of prayer? First, we have to believe and trust in God ourselves. Next, we need to expect God to answer and thank him when he does. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful,” (Colossians 4:2).
Start a journal
One way to form a prayer habit is journaling. It’s my favorite way to pray. It is so fun for me to look back at my prayers over the years and make notes about how God answered them. For example, the angst I experienced when my youngest was born with a heart defect is no longer something I dwell on or even think about very often. Seeing the pages and pages of answered prayers helps me to trust God to answer my new prayers.
How do you start a journal? You can get a beautiful book with inspirational verses, or make your own using a binder. My very favorite prayer journal is the one I did in 2002-2003. I used dividers to make sections for my kids, nieces, and nephews, and taped in their current pictures. I wrote down some basic information about each one, along with any requests regarding each child. It is absolutely hilarious to look back at the adorable toddlers and realize I am still praying for very similar things for them now when they are teenagers!
I’m not so good at printing pictures anymore, so my journaling is different now. These days, I tend to pick a verse, pull out categories, and pray those themes for a period of time. Here’s one I wrote on an index card and put on my refrigerator with the kids’ names at the top:
“So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in him. May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 15:13).
The topics in the verse prompt my prayer: happiness, peace, belief, hope, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Another method I’ve used to categorize my prayers for my kids is using what Luke 2:52 says about Jesus as a template.
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
I make columns labeled Wisdom, Stature, Favor with God, and Favor with People. Just these categories alone could keep a mom praying all year! They include academics, decisions, physical growth, health, relationships, and walking with God. What more important prayers could you pray over your family?
For Good Instead of Evil
Another major way I pray for my family, friends, and co-workers is for them to use the gifts God has given them in appropriate ways. My middle child has a ridiculous ability to influence people to see things her way. While there are obvious ways this gift will help her in life, I am constantly praying (and pleading with her) she use her gifts for good instead of evil. The strength called “woo” can also be the sin of self-serving manipulation. Are there people in your life who need the prompting of the Holy Spirit in order to channel their gifts and strengths? Start praying consistently for them.
Once you’ve gotten yourself on a consistent prayer “habit,” think of other spiritual habits you can incorporate throughout the year (and over the years to come). Maybe you’ve always wanted to read through the Bible. Or maybe you’d like to see yourself faithfully attend a small group study with members of your church. No matter what your ultimate spiritual habit wish list contains, give yourself grace to set a plan and keep your goals attainable. Spiritual habits shouldn’t be a source of stress in your life, but rather a source of joy. Open your heart to what God would have for you to do and know that He will help you see your goals to completion!