As the New Year approaches many of us will pledge ourselves to numerous “New Year’s Resolutions” –typically these involve such goals as losing weight or exercising more. If we’re really feeling inspired we may pledge to visit the Tabernacle every day or even read the entire Bible cover to cover.
Unfortunately, as with most New Year’s Resolutions, our spiritual stamina only lasts for about a week and we find ourselves right back where we started, feeling like failures and wondering “Is it possible to commit to praying more in the New Year? Should I just give up now and get it over with?”
Incorporating more time for prayer is not easy task, so to help you get closer to your spiritual goals, here are five practical tips that can give you a head-start on making 2017 your best spiritual year ever:
1) Believe in your goal and in God
This first step might sound obvious, but we usually miss it. Often when we think about getting “serious” about prayer, we say something like “I know I will fail. I could never do it. I will never be holy enough.” In all honesty, these thoughts come straight from the Deceiver, who will do everything he can to dissuade you from starting a program of prayer. He will try to convince you that you are “not holy enough,” or “too busy,” or someone who “never follows through.” Satan is hell-bent on preventing you from praying every day and will fill your mind with numerous lies that all revolve on the idea that “you don’t have what it takes.” Don’t listen to him!
You are a son or daughter of God and he is with you at your side. You can do it! If we open ourselves to God, he will guide us and give us the strength we need. We need to have faith that God will be there for us and that we can do the impossible. Above all else, faith is a gift given by God. So like all gifts, ask for it! Ask God to increase your devotional fervor.
“For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.” (Matthew 17:19)
2) Recall what has worked and what hasn’t
In the spiritual life, there are bound to be highs and lows; times when you felt fully alive and times when you felt dead in the water. Look back at the past and see what worked and when you felt “fully alive.” You may notice some patterns that may be useful or that you may want to replicate in the present.
Additionally, we all have different habits. This could be the way we get ready in the morning to the particular way we fold our laundry. Prayer also needs to be a habit. When thinking about the other habits you engage in, what is a common thread? Most likely it is something you learned when you were little and continued to do every day of your life. It then became ingrained into your life and you barely think about it. Making prayer a habit is extremely important if you want to add more prayer in the New Year.
And don’t be afraid to start small. Even as small as beginning and ending the day with a Sign of the Cross and a “Glory Be.” Of such small beginnings, have saints arisen.
3) Are you a “rooster” or an “owl?”
For most Americans, life between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. is uncontrollable. Whether we commute to an office, stay at home with the kids, or have been retired for 10 years, the daylight hours are typically filled to capacity.
This gives us two primary options for an extended amount of prayer time: morning or evening. These two blocks of time are often “blank slates” and we typically have complete control over what happens. We may have to take one of our kids to his basketball game, eat dinner, and take out the garbage, but every day we have the choice of what to do after the kids are in bed and all the chores are done. Do we look at Facebook until 1:00 in the morning, or do we shut everything off and pray?
On the other hand, we may have much more time in the morning and would gladly wake up at 5:00 a.m. to pray for a half hour. The main point is that we are either “morning persons” or “night persons,” “roosters” or “owls,” and that self-knowledge will help us understand which part of our day will be the most successful for carving out more time for prayer.
4) Think “minutes” not “hours”
Author Gary Jansen wrote a book recently entitled The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life, and in it he wrote:
“Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in a day? It’s true. I did the math. Did you also know that one percent of all that time is 14 minutes and 24 seconds? What would happen if you made a conscious decision, every day, to exercise your soul by giving roughly 15 minutes of your time over to God? Just one tiny percent of your life. Would your life change? Mine did.”
Often we have lofty goals of making a holy hour each day and when we fail, we think we are miserable persons. Instead of shooting high and failing, we should first try to take “baby steps.” If we can schedule 15 minutes of prayer every day and do that consistently, we can then add to it over time and slowly conquer the smaller goals to reach loftier heights later on.
5) Write it down!
Our minds are so full of information that it is extremely easy to forget what we “promised” to do. That is why we must be deliberate and write down our daily schedule and make prayer officially part of it. We must block out a specific time frame every day when the only thing we do is pray. Write it down in BIG BOLD LETTERS to help solidify it in your memory. If you have a smartphone, put it in your Reminders app. Take advantage of Siri or whatever type of digital assistant you use for a personal secretary. In summary, we must be deliberate about putting more prayer into our everyday life and give it the importance it deserves.
In the end, fulfilling your spiritual goals in the New Year is not going to be easy and it never will. Marriage is never easy either, but we make a deliberate choice to stay with our partner “’till death do us part.” What we need to do is make a choice and do so understanding what is involved and fight with all of our might to ensure its success.