Our prayers can be hindered for a variety of reasons including Satan messing with them (Daniel 10:1-13), our own sin, selfishness and pride (James 4:1-3), a struggling or broken home life (1 Peter 3:7) and our unwillingness to forgive others (Mark 11:25).
As I checked my life in each of these areas and as I assessed the status of my prayer life, the Holy Spirit brought to mind an area in which my prayer life lingers dangerously close to only being lip service. For this reason, considering the danger of routine & habit needed to happen in order for renewal and growth to take place.
Honesty & Sincerity
Routines and habits allow us to stay in shape and to be healthy. They help us maintain balanced budgets and they keep our relationships healthy. The danger comes when routines and habits are accompanied by a lukewarm and indifferent heart. To phrase it another way, routines can lead to feelings of only “going through the motions.” Consider Isaiah 29:13, 14.
“Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men with be concealed.”
In other words, the people were going through religious motions and neglecting giving God their honest and sincere love and devotion. They claimed to be close to God, but they lived disobedient lives. When our routines and habits create a prayer life of going through motions but lacking emotion, we start down a slippery path that can lead to outright disobedience. The result, as verse 14 says, is judgment from God and removal of wisdom and discernment.
Stuck in a Rut
Routines and habits provide a great foundationfor many areas of our lives, including our prayer lives. Having routines and habits within our prayer lives not only helps us remember to pray but also provides consistency with which we ask for God’s help, guidance and protection in our lives. When kids are young, teaching them the habit of daily prayer at bedtime and mealtimes is essential to their spiritual growth. But just like I can drive to places I’ve been numerous times and not remember the drive, so to can I go through my prayer time and fail to connect with the One to whom I am praying. If routine and habit are ALL that we do and we refuse to ever venture outside of them, we then allow them to limit rather than strengthen us.
Renew and Refresh
Using routines and habits to provide a base is sound practice. However, if you feel like you are “stuck in a rut,” consider that perhaps your routines and habits need renewed and refreshed. Doing so can often bring a much needed perspective change and renewed enthusiasm.
First, pray in faith (Mark 11:24), in fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) and in accordance with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15). Second, break up the routine. For me, this means praying more out loud instead of only journal praying. It means spending more time in silence on my knees than drinking coffee comfortably in a chair. It also means praying in the spirit more. Third, keep what works. Spending a ½ hour each morning praying backed up with time in the word works well for me. Then, throughout the day, I include additional time in the word (such as when I’m eating lunch) as well as silent time in God’s presence (sitting on the deck/porch or taking a walk).
No, by the grace of God, I’m not to the point that Isaiah describes. Deliberate and intentional assessment of one’s prayer life can prevent this extreme state, and doing so is a lot easier when the rut is only a light footpath rather than a deep chasm.
DISCUSSION: Are you stuck in a rut with your prayer life? What habits do you need to keep, and what changes do you need to make? Is your flesh resisting change like mine is?
Note: Inspired by the June 3, 2012 sermon by Pastor Steve Miller of New Hope Assembly of God.