How to Cultivate a Habit of Daily Prayer
One of our axioms at Gravity Leadership is that whatever God does THROUGH you he also does IN you.
There is a holistic and organic connection between your work as a leader and the health and growth of your own soul. You can’t lead others through skill alone, in other words. To open space for others to encounter God’s transforming presence we must be open to God’s presence ourselves.
If this is true, it seems to me that cultivating a habit of daily prayer ought to be a priority for every leader.
Why cultivating daily prayer is so important
The witness of the church through the ages speaks to why it’s so important for every Christian to cultivate a habit of daily prayer.
From C.S. Lewis:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
In other words, don’t try for a “minimum viable faith.” Dive in to the whole thing! Christ is the life of the world. Knowing God is eternal life, and it’s available to us through the incarnate Son and poured-out Holy Spirit. So go get it! How to do that? Here’s St. Augustine (emphasis mine):
Let us always desire the happy life from the Lord God and always pray for it. But for this very reason we turn our mind to the task of prayer at appointed hours, since that desire grows lukewarm, so to speak, from our involvement in other concerns and occupations. We remind ourselves through the words of prayer to focus our attention on the object of our desire; otherwise, the desire that began to grow lukewarm may grow chill altogether and may be totally extinguished unless it is repeatedly stirred into flame.
A few more words from St. Augustine:
Why we should pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it), but rather wants us to exercise our desires through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us… His gifts are very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it… The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed.
We cultivate a habit of daily prayer, then, so that our desire for God doesn’t grow cold. We need to learn to aim the deepest desires of our hearts at God so we can truly live in God and share God’s life. And we learn to do this in prayer. As we pray, our capacity to dwell in God and receive God’s gifts expands. We become “bigger” spiritually.
We must learn how to pray
We learn to pray not by looking into our hearts and trusting whatever desires or words happen to be there, but by looking to the Scriptures and the church as the repository of true wisdom. Thus we allow the prayers of others to guide our prayers.
There are lots of other ways to do this. The Book of Common Prayer has been immensely helpful for me in this regard, and I’ve written before on some of what I’ve learned about prayer from following set prayers.
As I’ve engaged in the practice of daily prayer, several profound shifts have happened for me. For example, I used to think of prayer as something I do for my benefit alone. It was my quiet time, and it was for my spiritual growth. So when my life seemed to be going “fine,” I found it difficult to pray.
But I now think of daily prayer as something I’m doing with the church, so it’s taken on a new significance for me. When I pray the Daily Office, the church joins me in prayer, and I join the church in prayer. I feel that I rely on the Church to pray for me and that the Church is relying on my prayers as well.
How to cultivate a habit of daily prayer
It can be difficult to start a rhythm of daily prayer, but if you’d like to do it, here’s what I recommend:
1) Pray first thing in the morning
For me, there is something irreplaceable about praying in the morning before I get into each day’s tasks. I recommend setting aside at least 15 minutes each morning for prayer.
Make whatever arrangements you need to make (I need to walk by dog and make coffee before I pray, e.g.), and leave yourself enough time to move through a prayer liturgy gently and without hurry.
Speaking of liturgy…
2) Select a liturgy to follow
Don’t go into daily prayer without a plan of how you are going to pray. Cultivating a habit of daily prayer is different from a “quiet time” where you just read some Scripture, journal, and pray whatever pops into your head to pray about.
To develop a long-term habit of prayer that can withstand the ebbs and flows of our moods and circumstances, we need to follow a set plan. Having liturgy gives us words to pray, and this is key to making daily prayer into a habit for the long haul.
I would encourage you to start with something simple, like Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, or Pray Daily, or the Venite app, which simplifies the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer by assembling all the options into a single liturgy.
3) Share your daily prayer habit with others
When Covid first hit, our church held Zoom gatherings for morning and evening prayer where we prayed the Daily Office together. Now, I mostly pray by myself in the mornings, but it’s meaningful to know that others are following the same liturgy and reading the same Scriptures each day.
If it’s not possible to actually pray with others, it’s a good idea to at least share with a few people the details of your new habit of daily prayer, and ask them to support you in it in whatever way they can.
Final thoughts on cultivating a habit of daily prayer
Don’t expect fireworks and heavenly visions when you start a new habit of daily prayer! If you’re like me, it will often feel like nothing much is happening, and you’ll be tempted to give up after a few days.
It’s helpful for me to remember that the goal of cultivating a habit of daily prayer isn’t to achieve some sort of measurable “result” in my life. The goal is simply to open myself a little more each day to the reality that I already live in God, and through the flesh of Jesus I am irrevocably connected in communion with God, and through God with all other humans, and indeed with all creation.
Finally, here are some helpful ideas on how to grow in prayer from Rich Villodas:
- Befriend silence.
- Normalize boredom.
- Embrace the truth that prayer is not something we master, but an act that forms us.
- Pray the words of others who have gone before us.
- Trust that God is always waiting for you with open arms.
I especially love that final thought: remember that prayer is an encounter with the living God! Whatever time you manage to carve out this week for daily prayer, know that God is not upset with you or disappointed in you. God delights in you and will meet you with grace and mercy whenever and however you come to prayer.
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