Over the past several weeks we’ve been looking at the spiritual disciplines – or the Healthy Habits – that Christians have been practicing for centuries in order to help them develop and maintain a close relationship with God. Things like Bible reading, prayer, worship, fasting, times of silence and solitude, giving, serving – all those that we do (not because they earn us salvation or forgiveness or favour with God) but because these are the things that help us know God and to hear his voice and to become more like His Son Jesus. In other words, these are the things that help us remain in Him and He, in us – like it says in John 15:5…
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. ” John 15:5
All of these spiritual disciplines or as we’ve called them – these “Healthy Habits” – are tools that help us remain in Him. They help us stay close to and connected with Jesus – who is the source of our life, our joy, our peace, our love – everything. Apart from Him, we’d have none of that. We’d be like a branch that has been broken off from the tree, that just withers up and becomes dry and brittle. We don’t want to be like that. We want to have His life flowing through us so that we can produce fruit and lots of it!
And so these healthy habits are exactly how we do that.
Last week we talked about the purpose of prayer. And we discovered that praying really isn’t about getting answers to our prayers. Prayer isn’t like popping coins into a cosmic vending machine – where we put the prayers in and expect the answers out.
Prayer doesn’t work that way – and if you expect it to – you’ll undoubtedly be disappointed in prayer. Prayer isn’t so much about changing your situation – it’s more about changing you.
Now God certainly may change your situation – but at the same time, He may not. But when we go to God in prayer, and we tell him our concerns and our issues and we make our requests – and then when we leave that all with Him and just trust Him to do whatever it is that He knows is best, that changes us. It grows our faith and our trust in Him. As we see how He answers (either yes or no), we learn to see things from His perspective. We see his goodness and his faithfulness and his wisdom and his sovereignty. And as we see all that, God works within us to change us from the inside out. Richard Foster writes…
“To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue that God uses to transform us…. In prayer we learn to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to do the things He wills.”
Richard Foster ~ Celebration of Disciplines.
That’s the purpose of prayer. It’s not just a way of giving God our grocery list of things we want Him to do for us, but it’s how God changes us to become more like His Son, Jesus Christ.
A great example of this I think, is King David. Probably most of you know how the Bible describes King David as a man after God’s own heart. Well, these past couple of weeks as I’ve been studying up on prayer, I’ve come to the conclusion that David’s prayer life probably had everything to do with that!
As I read through the Psalms and as I read through the story of David’s life – I can’t help but notice how David was always praying! And if this statement by Richard Foster is true, then it’s no wonder that David was known as a man after God’s own heart – because if prayer had taught him to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things God desires, to love the things God loves, to do the things God wills – well, that sure sounds like the definition of a “man after God’s own heart”, doesn’t it?
So today, I want to share with you just a quick example from the life of David of how he made prayer his healthy habit – how his relationship with God was shaped by prayer – how through that, He himself was shaped by prayer. And hopefully, along the way, I can point out a few practical tidbits of how we can develop this lifestyle of prayer as well.
So to start off, I want to look at 1 Samuel 23. And the background to this story is that David is not yet King at this point. Right now, he’s got his ragtag group of followers and he’s being chased around by King Saul. David is actually one of Saul’s finest army commanders, but Saul has become insanely jealous of David and his success and wants to kill him, so David is on the run with his group of about 600 men. And so that’s when our story takes place. 1 Samuel 23 – verse 1.
One day news came to David that the Philistines were at Keilah stealing grain from the threshing floors. 2 David asked the Lord, “Should I go and attack them?” 1 Samuel 23:1-2
We’ll pause here for a minute. Notice first of all, that prayer is the very first thing that David does in this situation. It’s his first response. He hears that the Philistines are stealing grain from his fellow Israelites and so the first thing David does is to talk to God about it. Prayer wasn’t just something that he did first thing in the morning or just before bed at night – David had developed a lifestyle of prayer so that in every situation, his first response was always to go to God.
In Psalm 86, which is a prayer of David’s – he talks about how he prays constantly! Look at this:
1 Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer;
answer me, for I need your help.
2 Protect me, for I am devoted to you.
Save me, for I serve you and trust you.
You are my God.
3 Be merciful to me, O Lord,
for I am calling on you constantly.
The NIV puts that last part like this: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long.”
It sounds like David is doing exactly what Paul exhorts us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 which is to….
“Pray Continually.” NIV
“Constantly pray.” NET
“Never stop praying.” NLT
“Pray without ceasing.” ESV
1 Thessalonians 5:17
However you want to say it, the idea is the same. We are to develop the same lifestyle of prayer that David had – in that we are constantly going to God in prayer. That should be our first response in every situation.
- When your day is going great – talk to God about it. Thank Him for his goodness.
- When your day is going lousy – talk to God about it. Ask Him for patience or a new perspective.
- When the baby keeps you up all night – talk to God about it. Tell God your frustrations and ask Him for mercy!
- When your kids require discipline – talk to God about it. Ask Him for wisdom and grace.
In every situation, our first response should always be to talk to God about it. But I’ll tell you, that’s not going to happen unless we intentionally develop a lifestyle of prayer. Remember: prayer is a spiritual discipline – that means, like any good habit, it takes work and effort to develop. It doesn’t just happen all on its own.
Last week, we compared praying with exercising. We all know it’s good for us and we really should do it more – but very few of us actually put in the effort necessary to make it a central part of our life.
In my fairly recent quest to live a healthier lifestyle, I’ve thought a little bit about running. I used to enjoy that when I was a teenager. I remember doing that quite a bit in school. So this summer, I went for a quick run – and I tell ya, it was not really that enjoyable. It was good for the first 30 seconds or so, but it sure didn’t take long for for my legs to grow tired and my lungs to start hurting. That was the worst part of it all. When I was done, my chest felt like it was on fire for about the next hour…. I’m pretty sure I was doing something wrong…
And I thought, Man! How in the world do people do this on a regular basis?! And enjoy it too!? But that’s the thing – when you first start running, it’s going to be hard and painful. It may not be much fun. But as you develop that habit, as your muscles and lungs develop that capacity, it becomes easier and easier. You can actually enjoy it! Instead of feeling wiped out at the end – you can actually feel energized and pumped up.
And I think that’s what can happen with prayer too. When we hear a sermon on prayer or for whatever reason, we decide “I’m going to start praying more.” And so we give it a try. And for some of us, if we haven’t already developed that habit of prayer, it can be pretty painful at first. We don’t know what to pray for. We run out of things to say in 3 minutes. It feels awkward and forced. How in the world did some of the saints of old pray for 3 hours each morning!
At Justified we’ve been going through church history and we just last week we talked about Martin Luther – and one of his most famous quotes goes something like this: He would say, “I have so much to do today, that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Wow! Another guy that I think we’re going to talk about before too long in our church history was John Wesley. It was his practice to get up at four in the morning each day and pray for two hours before he did anything else. Every day!
How did they do that! That’s crazy!
No, it’s not crazy. It’s just that they’ve developed that habit of prayer. They’ve practiced for years. I imagine it didn’t come automatically for them either. They probably started off with a few painful, pitiful prayers of their own. But they stuck with it and over time, prayer became much easier. In fact, it became almost automatic. It became necessary!
They found themselves praying constantly. Prayer become their first response in every situation, just like it did for David – and just like it can for you.
And speaking of David, I guess we should get back to our story. We got a little bit sidetracked there… Let’s take it from the top again in case you got lost along the way. 1 Samuel 23….
One day news came to David that the Philistines were at Keilah stealing grain from the threshing floors. 2 David asked the Lord, “Should I go and attack them?”
“Yes, go and save Keilah,” the Lord told him.
3 But David’s men said, “We’re afraid even here in Judah. We certainly don’t want to go to Keilah to fight the whole Philistine army!” 1 Samuel 23:1-3
And you can certainly understand their concerns! Remember, they’re just that ragtag army of misfits that are hanging out with David as he tries to keep one step ahead of Saul. So if they are living in fear of their own king Saul, they certainly don’t want to go fight the whole army of the Philistines! But look what David does again!
4 So David asked the Lord again, and again the Lord replied, “Go down to Keilah, for I will help you conquer the Philistines.” 1 Samuel 23:4
David doesn’t change his strategy. His first response was prayer and his second response was prayer. He’s praying about everything in every situation…. You have to wonder if Paul was thinking about David when we wrote that verse we looked at last week in Philippians 4:6:
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
That’s exactly what David’s doing! He is going to God in every situation, through prayer and petition – He makes his requests known to God, and as a result, he has that peace in his heart and mind, that God is completely trustworthy and that He knows exactly what He’s doing! And so we read in verse 5.
5 So David and his men went to Keilah. They slaughtered the Philistines and took all their livestock and rescued the people of Keilah.
1 Samuel 23:4-5
So here’s a question: Do you think this impacted David’s prayer life? Do you think it impacted his relationship with God? And also, do you think this impacted his men’s relationship with God?
Absolutely! I think certainly David and his men would have all the more faith and trust in God. Through prayer, they’ve just experienced God’s goodness, God’s wisdom, God’s faithfulness, God’s power.
That had to have made an impact on their lives!
And the same thing will happen with us when we pray. When God answers our prayers (And He will answer – it’s not always the answer we’re hoping for, but He will answer.) And when He does, we experience God’s goodness, God’s wisdom, God’s faithfulness, and God’s power. As a result, our faith and trust in God grows exponentially. Our relationship with Him deepens.
And what’s more – prayer becomes our natural response next time.
We don’t have time to read the next story, but just after this, Saul hears that David is nearby and he quickly rallys his army to besiege him. Well, David finds out that Saul is making plans to capture him and guess what David does? He prays!
Of course He does! What else would he do?
When we see how God answers our prayer, we’re much more inclined to pray the next time. It’s a wonderful snowball effect! Praying becomes even easier and more automatic! The more we pray, the more we experience God’s goodness. The more we experience God’s goodness, the more we pray.
And through all this, we become like those seasoned runners who can run marathons. Their perseverance through the painful, difficult times at the start, result in a rich, rewarding lifestyle that keeps them healthy and fit.
Perseverance in prayer has similar results. As we practice a lifestyle of prayer, prayer becomes no longer so difficult and painful – it becomes a natural, central part of our lives. We pray continually. We pray in every situation. And the result is a rich, rewarding relationship with God. Through this lifestyle of prayer, we stay spiritually healthy and fit as we remain in Him and He remains in us.
I think that’s what we see in the life of David. That’s what we see in the lives of those saints of old – those heroes of the faith that we admire so much – like Martin Luther and John Welsey.
And so my question for you today is, Is that what people see in you? Do your children see you as an example of how to pray continually in every situation? Do your grandchildren see the results of a lifetime and lifestyle of prayer? Do your co-workers and your neighbors – do they see the deep, meaningful relationship that you have with God because of this healthy habit of prayer?
And if they don’t yet – be encouraged, because there is still time. You can still develop this healthy habit of a lifestyle of prayer. It doesn’t have to be the 4:00am two-hour prayers, but you can develop a prayer life that fits you. You can have a prayer life that transforms you into a man or woman after God’s own heart.
The hardest part of this is all, is just getting started. It’s initially developing that habit of prayer. So before we close today, I just want to give you a few practical suggestions for what might work for you as you begin to develop this healthy habit!
One of the things that has really helped me in developing healthy habits has been this…. my phone! We live in a world with amazing technology – instead of using it to waste away our time playing angry birds or watching Netflix, why don’t we put it to good use and use it to develop these healthy habits.
I think I told you when were we talking about the Bible that my Bible reading app has really helped me develop the habit of reading my Bible. But there are a couple other features that my phone has that can probably help me develop my habit of prayer too.
First of all, my phone has an alarm – I imagine yours does too! Perhaps, as you start to develop this habit of prayer, you want to set an alarm once or twice or three times a day to remind you to stop and pray for a few moments. Daniel prayed three times a day – and he didn’t even have a phone to remind him, so we’ve got no excuse! Set your phone to remind you every day to pray. Find a time or times that work for you, and set that alarm. Maybe you want to take some time first thing in the morning, or maybe after the kids have gone off to school, maybe during your lunch break at work, maybe mid-affternoon works for you, or maybe after the kids have gone to bed at night, or whatever. But find a time that works fairly consistently and set that alarm.
You also might want to give yourself a target time for how long to pray. Maybe you find it hard to pray for more than a few minutes at a time. That’s ok. Maybe start with three minutes of prayer – set the timer on your phone for 3 minutes and pray until it goes off. And then, with a bit of practice, as that gets easier to do, bump it up a little bit. Go for 5 minutes next. Then after that becomes easy, go to 10. After that 15…. And after a while, who knows when you’ll stop. Maybe you’ll find that Luther wasn’t that crazy after all to pray for three hours! But if you give yourself an achievable target at first, I think you’ll have a much better chance at success.
And if you have a hard time thinking of things to pray for, start making a list. Keep it on your phone or if you’re more old-school, write it out on paper and keep it in your Bible. But have it handy and add things to it as you think of them or as situations come up.
And there are all kinds of things you can pray for. I think we’ll actually take one of the next messages in this series to talk about how to pray and what kind of things we should pray for, so I don’t want to spoil that surprise. But you can pray about anything. Pray for provision – the things you need, pray for your family, pray for the difficult situations that you know about, pray for the salvation of friends and neighbors and relatives – pray for your church and your pastor, pray for missionaries, pray for camp – there are all kinds of things that you can pray for. So make a list. Then each time you pray, you can pray through your list. I’m sure your list will grow and grow over time (and likely with that, so will the time you spend praying!)
One of the greatest pray-ers that I know of was George Mueller (some of you have heard of him) and he was a major prayer list maker. Not only did he have a prayer list, but he also kept track of all the answers to his prayers and when the were answered. At the end of his life, his prayer journals had over 50,000 specific answers to prayer. That’s amazing! I don’t know if your prayer list will ever grow that long – but who knows, maybe they will. But you’ve got to start somewhere. So make a list!
The last practical suggestion I’d give you is to find someone to help you develop this habit. Anytime you want to start a new habit, having an accountability partner will make all the difference – and with our ability to instantly communicate through text message or Facebook or whatever, accountability has become really easy. So what I would suggest, if you’re serious about developing this habit of prayer, is to find someone who will do it with you, and then keep each other accountable. Every day, you can fire off a quick text message – “Did you pray today?” How easy is that? But how effective would that be? Not only do you have your phone alarm reminding you to pray, but now you’ve got your buddy checking in on you, holding you accountable. I think that could be a really encouraging thing for both of you. You could even setup a weekly time to pray together. That would be awesome!
And of course, these are just my suggestions… Hopefully some will work good for you – and if they don’t, find what works for you so that you can begin to develop this habit of a lifestyle of prayer.
Take the time and make the effort to pray continually. To pray in every situation. It may not be easy or natural at first, but it’ll come.
And as we learn to pray, God will transform us. Through prayer, we learn to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to do the things He wills, and as a result, we become more and more like that man or woman after God’s own heart. And I think that’s what all of us want. So let’s pray.
Table of contents for Healthy Habits
- The Purpose of the Disciplines
- Observing & Contemplating God through His Creation
- The Purpose of the Bible
- Transformed by God’s Word
- Bible Reading Plans for Kids (or Adults!)
- Accurately Understanding the Bible
- The Purpose of Prayer
- A Lifestyle of Prayer
- The Invitation of Prayer
- An Introduction to Fasting
- Fasting with Eternity in Mind
- The Humbling Element of Fasting
- Defining Worship
- Changing Diapers for the Glory of God
- Worship in Song
- Silence & Solitude