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Like many of us, I like to use the dawn of a New Year as an opportunity for some self-reflection and goal setting. Some of us do New Year Resolutions, some prefer setting goals for the year, some of us just know of a couple of areas that we’d like to see get better in 2021. The trouble is that the math isn’t on our side. A recent report in Forbes Magazine article found that 80% of New Year Resolutions don’t make it to February, and only 8% of people achieve their New Year Resolutions. That’s stunning.
And yet somehow it makes perfect sense. Because anyone can start, it’s the finishing that’s the challenge. This is why it’s so difficult for us to unlock the blessing of God. Because the key to accessing God’s best for us is found in making a proactive decision to continually place God first in every area of our lives starting with the habit of prayer.
The key to accessing God’s best for us is found in making a proactive decision to continually place God first in every area of our lives starting with the habit of prayer.
The trouble with this is, of course, the word continually.
We have to place Him first over and over again or else we will begin to drift. And we never seem to drift towards healthy decisions. When it comes to our diet for instance, no one drifts towards a kale salad, we drift towards Krispy Kreme! The same is true for us spiritually. There is power in persistence.
But the process of developing the habit is where too many of us get frustrated with prayer. Because let’s be real: prayer is not amazing all the time.
Prayer is never bad, but sometimes those moments seem ordinary. Maybe we find it hard to concentrate, we don’t hear an audible voice from heaven, or we grow tired of praying for the same things over and over again. We want to experience the power of God, but we chafe under the mundanity and discipline required to cultivate a life of prayer. And too often we simply settle for rote platitudes and a half-engaged mind when we pray because we know prayer is something we’re supposed to do, if we even stick with the process at all.
This is common frustration, but it stems from a skewed perspective many of us have about what prayer actually is. Prayer is a conversation with God. It is a foundational element of our relationship with the Creator of the universe specifically because it is a relational interaction. The theologian Edmond Clowney says of prayer, “The Bible does not present an art of prayer, it presents the God of prayer.” Prayer is primarily about developing our relationship with God.
Where did we develop this notion that prayer was different than any other relationship? Is every interaction you have with your spouse, your children, or your friends mind-blowing? Of course not. But it is the consistency and regularity of your investment into those relationships that makes them meaningful. That’s why prayer is so powerful. It is not the answer that makes prayer great, it is the presence of the God who answers that makes prayer great.
The true value of persistent prayer comes from the health that develops in our souls when we connect with the glorious God of the universe and grow in our relationship with him. And just like any other intimate relationship, growing requires intentionality, consistency and persistence.
The true value of persistent prayer comes from the health that develops in our souls when we connect with the glorious God of the universe and grow in our relationship with him.
No one knew this more than Jesus, who believed so completely in this idea that He decided to model it for those of us who take the call to follow Him seriously. One of the most astounding verses to me in the entire Bible is Luke 22:39, “Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives,” (emphasis added). And at the Mount of Olives, Jesus did what He usually did there, He prayed. God incarnate modeling to His followers the power of persistent prayer on the night before He would go to the cross to pay for humanity’s sins.
Too many of us want the power without the patterns. We want to see God do the supernatural, but we are not willing to invest in growing our relationship with the God of the supernatural. But Jesus knows that your life will chase your usual. So, as you lean into prayer during 2021, when developing the habit of prayer becomes challenging, frustrating, or just mundane, remember that your persistence is laying the foundation of your intimacy with your Heavenly Father. And the rewards found in intimacy are so much greater than simply an answered prayer.
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