The Power of Prayer Habits
The common thought is it takes 21 days to form a habit. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this through high school youth groups to parenting training. If you can just stick with something for 21 days you will form a habit, then everything will be easier.
While it is true that repetition creates momentum, habits cannot form if we don’t really want them. I recently read a review of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg that simplified the process down to three steps.
In this post, we will look at these three steps and how to use them to make prayer habits. If we can make prayer a habit, then many of our Christian disciplines flow more easily.
The Three Steps to a Habit
“In order to build a habit you need to create a Cue, a Routine, and a Reward.”
– Charles Duhigg
The cue is the thing to remind you to do something. For instance if you want to start exercising, you may place your running shoes by the bed so it reminds you when you wake up to go for a run. Or, you can set up an appointment with a buddy to meet at the gym. The cue is the thing to be that personal reminder to do the habit you want to create.
The routine is the habit itself. This can be any habit you want to create. To be more precise, the routine is what you do in order to accomplish the habit you want to create.
The reward is what you want to get out of the habit. Using the exercise example, maybe the reward is a new pair of pants or running in a certain event. The reward is the motivation for creating the habit.
Creating a Habit Example
The book tells the story of how in the early 1900’s Pepsodent was trying to get people to brush their teeth (all marketing is trying to get you to do something they want you to do). The cue they created was to get people to realize the film on their teeth when they wake up. The routine was the brushing with Pepsodent. The reward was the fresh, clean feeling of your mouth. This campaign was especially successful since teeth cleaning was not a daily habit as it is today.
Understanding of how to form a habit can help you also break bad habits. If you have a problem drinking too much alcohol, you can think through these habit steps. The cue may be you are feeling sad. The routine is you drink. The reward is you forget your troubles. If this is your cycle, then figure out what is causing you to feel said and find another way to deal with it is the path to recovery.
As Christians we believe Jesus can heal alcoholism, but if the habit is formed too deeply, you may not really know what is causing you pain. You may feel the sadness internally and quickly deaden it through drinking before it hits your conscious awareness. Jesus will have a hard time healing what you are trying so hard to ignore. If you don’t address the pain, attacking the habit will only at best trade off to another bad habit.
How to Make a Habit of Prayer – Come Up with a Plan
What will be your cue to remember your prayer habit? What will work for you? You can…
- set an alarm to wake you up earlier.
- create an extra appointment in your calendar to meet with God.
- put a dot on your watch to remind you to thank God every time you see it.
The cue is not to make you pray, it is only to remind you of what you want to accomplish. As you are building a habit of prayer, what is something you can do that will stand out as a reminder for you?
What will be your routine in prayer? Do you want to follow a prayer list, go through the ACTS of prayer, journal, etc.? The goal is spend time with God, but this can look so many ways. You are your own person, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Test out a few prayer routines and match them to your personality. Find out what will be most meaningful to you before making it your prayer habit.
What will be your reward? Think through this before overly spiritualizing the answer. Spending time with God should be reward enough, but for most people this is not a concrete reward. What are some of the side benefits for spending time with God which you can hold on. Is it peace? Confidence? Lightness of heart? Direction? Will you hold off on something you want, like breakfast, until your pray? The right reward can help you with your prayer habits.
Steps to Make Prayer a Habit
Do you want to create some prayer habits? Think through these 3 steps and test them out. If you find that one of them is not working, change it. Does the cue remind you to pray, but you are still not motivated? Think about how you can change the routine or reward. Ask God for help in this process. He wants you to spend time with Him, so you can expect His help. If the steps work for a awhile and then stop, it could be God taking you into a new season. Be flexible and adjust to His direction as you learn how to make prayer a habit.
What are some of the ways that helped you make a habit of prayer? Leave a comment below to help others grow in their relationship with God.
- Pick up a prayer journal to help with your journey in building a habit of prayer. Many people have like this Draw the Circle Prayer Journal: A 40-Day Experiment from Mark Batterson
image of Luke Sankey in prayer
Great article, Kevin!
I love the idea of giving my prayer time a fixed appointment in my schedule. I’ve thought of that before but somehow always felt it wasn’t “appropriate” and should be more of a passion than a discipline… well that didn’t work out so well for me lately haha I do have times throughout the da y in which I enjoy His presence, but don’t have a lot of set-apart time.
Since I run several projects by myself (self-employed), I constantly have the feeling of never being done with work. When I try to take time for prayer, I often end up thinking more about my urgent tasks and feel inefficient just “waiting for Him”. I can imagine that scheduling the time with God will help remove that feeling, because I’ll technically still be “on schedule” 😉
Your post motivated me to give it a try, thanks!
I guess my reward will be to feel fully prepared for the challenges of the day!
What’s your cue and reward for time with God?
Thanks for your comments. I understand the feeling of always having something to do. It is a challenge to always make God our prime objective.
Personally, my cue is when the clock start 5. I don’t set an alarm in the morning, mainly not to wake Allison. But when I see that it is after 5:00, I get up and spend time with God. I have until 7:00 before the kids get up – plenty of time to take a slow start to my day. My routine is frequently different. The last couple days God has woke me up with a song in my head that I dwell on for awhile and let it take me into prayer. My reward is having a cup of coffee and being alert (and kind) to get the kids ready. I try to spend time with God throughout my day, but these morning times are my habit.
I will be at the business prayer today. Hope to see you there.
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