“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6
In an article in Forbes, author Dan Diamond says that more than 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Yet, according to a study done by the University of Scranton, only about 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve those goals that they set. The reason that experts give for this colossal number of failures is that “the average person has so many competing priorities that this type of approach is doomed to failure.”
Take a moment to tally up the priorities on your daily to-do list. Get up, get the kids up, make breakfast, make lunches, get the kids off to school, eat your own breakfast, shower, get dressed, get to work, work for eight hours, pick up kids, do laundry, scrub the pile of dishes in the sink, dirty more dishes making dinner, eat dinner, put dinner away, sweep the floor, help the kids with homework, get the youngest kid to bed, snag twenty minutes of television, get the rest of the kids to bed, read a novel for a few minutes, brush your teeth, remove your makeup, change into jammies, and crawl into bed.
The day of an average American seems to be shrinking. We fill our daily calendars with more and more commitments through kids, through extra-curriculars, through church obligations, family obligations, work obligations, and social obligations.
There just is no time for prayer anymore!
Studies have shown that the average Christian prays 15 to 30 minutes every week. That’s between two-and-a-half to a little over four minutes each day. I’d wager a guess also that those numbers are a bit skewed by those who enjoy a much stronger prayer life than the average.
This is a far cry from the directive that Paul gives the Thessalonians to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), or his words to the Colossians: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). He tells the Philippians in 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
The list of reasons that people give goes beyond troubles with time. Some simply don’t know how to pray because they’ve never been taught. Their pastors pray during church. They recite the same prayer at meal-time. Others just brush off prayer because “God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do.” I know this because I often struggle with the same exact problems.
But when we consider what the Bible says about prayer, it starts to seem a bit silly that we don’t make more of an effort to improve our prayer lives. First, God invites us as his redeemed children to cry out to him as Jesus did, “Abba, Father,” in the fashion of little kids for their dads. God uses prayer to help us resist temptation. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). We know that prayer has impact. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). We know that God gives according to his good will to the asker. John writes in his first epistle: “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (5:13-15). Finally, through prayer we are reminded that we aren’t going through our troubles alone—rather, that God carries us through them. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
God doesn’t tell us to pray as though he needed my prayers. God tells us to pray because we need to talk to our Father.
How, again, don’t I have time for this? How do I make the excuse that I just don’t know how to do it very well? That there are more important aspects to my day—like the hour of Netflix that I watch before bed, or the extra-long shower I take in the morning?
I could go on about the benefits of prayer—how couples that pray together are far more likely not to get divorced, how it improves mental health. But perhaps it is just best for you to be the judge of that in your own life. Try adding some time spent in prayer. Make it a New Year’s resolution. See if your God will not bless you abundantly in this!
But it’s good to have a plan. Concerning all of those failed New Year’s resolutions, psychologist Lynn Bufka says that it’s more sensible for people to set “small, attainable goals throughout the year, rather than a singular, overwhelming goal.” If your goal is to lose weight, instead of saying, “Become regular at the gym,” which is a very general goal, a person is far more likely to find success in joining certain programs, making certain schedules, and going on certain food diets for a specific length of time.
So instead of resolving to “pray a bunch more,” set those small, attainable, and specific goals for yourself. Try to make it thirty days in a row. If you miss a day, restart that thirty to form a habitual, healthy routine. For example, you might say that you will wake up fifteen minutes earlier each day. Spend ten of those minutes reading the Bible and five of them praying. Instead of your morning shower being a time of self-pity that you have to be awake to go work, make it a time to say one prayer each of thanksgiving, praise, repentance, and petition. If you find yourself at a loss for what you should pray about, consider a small notebook that you keep convenient (or use the OneNote app on your smartphone!) on which you write people or situations or struggles that need prayer. Use five minutes of your lunch-break for prayer. Share your goal with family and friends. If you’re married, you have a live-in accountability partner. Better yet, say your prayers aloud together!
Whatever you decide for yourself, stick to it! As busy as you may feel, no activity is worth sacrificing your talks with God. Make prayer, like the hope of the previous post, a resolution for your new year—and by the grace of God (and prayer!), you will find yourself among that small 8% who achieve their goal!
God’s blessings as you become—or grow as—people devoted to prayer in the coming year.