I grew up in a Christian home (for which I am very thankful to God), with parents who insisted (rightly so) that we always pray before we eat. It is an in-grained habit (which is good) that makes it virtually impossible to start eating if I haven’t prayed. To borrow from the title of a recent book by David Mathis, it is a “habit of grace.” If you are wanting to improve or make 2017 better than 2016, if you have made New Year’s resolutions or want to change a particular habit, let me encourage you to BEGIN WITH PRAYER. Yes, pray about the changes you hope to see or implement, pray for wisdom and grace as you commit to your new resolution. But what I mainly mean is this: make sure as you begin this new year that you wholeheartedly and before God commit to personal and private prayer!
Habits of Grace should never become habitual in the sense of thoughtless or superficial.
Begin the Year with Prayer
It’s not too late to begin the year with prayer – many of us are still writing 2016 on our checks for goodness sake! Flipping the calendar page, realizing the march of time, and perhaps pausing in wonder that we’ve lived to see 2017–all these give us an opportunity to go to God in prayer with thanksgiv-ing for past mercies, petition for present needs, and confidence for future provision.
Have you taken time to review 2016 in light of God’s mercy? Don’t just look back at your accomplishments or think of things you wish had gone differently. Instead, spend time before God in prayer looking back through the year at the various ways God protected you physically and spiritually. Review with thanksgiving the blessed times of refreshing and the godly relationships He gave you. Remember that even in the midst of heartache and affliction, Jesus has been and promises to be with you, never to leave you or forsake you. If 2016 was an especially difficult year, bring that to the Lord and declare your trust that He knows what He is doing. Acknowledge His sustaining grace and plead that the promise of Lamentations 3:22-24 would be known to be true, a solid foundation for life in a fallen, miserable world.
Have you taken time to preview 2017 with an eye to God’s providence? Don’t just look ahead and make your plans! Pray, and say–to yourself and others–“if the Lord wills . . .” (See James 4:13-17). As you look ahead, recognize that God has placed you in a particular place for His good purposes! Have you asked yourself, ‘What opportunities
has the Lord given me this year to be salt and light where I am?’ Are you looking for and seeking opportunities to disciple someone else? To be discipled? Will you think about, pray about, and be intentional in your witnessing this year? Have you previewed opportunities to further build relationships with your non-Christian family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Are you praying about how those relationships and the time spent with those people can better show your trust and confidence in Christ? Can allow you to testify more clearly to the transforming grace of the Gospel? And finally, as you look ahead to 2017, are you prayfully considering the dangers (spiritually) that are ahead? Do your resolutions include avoiding particular areas (places, things, people, situations) of temptation? Especially if you’ve fallen recently?
Begin Each Day with Prayer
- Find a Quiet Place
- Schedule Quiet Time
- Seek a Quiet Heart*
Jesus says (right before he gives us the Lord’s Prayer), “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NIV).
Personal prayer, getting alone with God in private is essential. Are you pouring out your heart to God in secret? Do you know what that looks like or why that’s so important? There are so many good books on prayer it’s hard to know where to begin, but let me heartily commend this short one that is excellent: The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-Blood of the Christian by David McIntyre.
Praying with other Christians is such a blessing (and a great privilege as well as a duty), corporate prayer in our Lord’s Day worship is a foretaste of heaven as we unite our hearts and voices in prayer and praise. Family prayer is a blessed chance to school our children in the faith and bring our loved ones before the throne of grace. Prayer meetings are so important for the work of the church as we intercede on behalf of others and petition for God’s blessing–apart from which we can do nothing! Praying one-on-one is a sweet time which can also be agonizing as we transparently wrestle against sin and bear one another’s burdens. But these times together with other believers cannot become a substitute for personal, daily, secret prayer. Let me ask you to think about what you can’t imagine not doing at the beginning of each day . . . how long is your list? Surely we can’t imagine starting our day without spending some time on our personal hygiene–brushing our teeth, taking a shower, putting on clean clothes. What about breakfast or at least a cup of coffee? Does the day just not feel right if you haven’t watched the news or weather forecast or checked Facebook or your email? What does you daily routine look like? Do you feel the same way about private prayer? Do you urgently miss it if you don’t begin your day with prayer?
If this is a new habit of grace that you’d like to start, or a discipline that has lapsed that you’re ready to renew, please tell someone and ask for accountability. Reading a new book about prayer will certainly (by God’s grace) be helpful. But above all, let me encourage you to just BEGIN!
May God bless us all in this new year,
*See David McIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer, pages 36-47