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Developing Daily Prayer: Why Discipline Won't Help You Rely on God

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Daily prayer. How hard can it be? I do plenty of things daily… I eat daily. I sleep daily. I talk daily. I look at my phone daily. I exercise (almost) daily. I eat junk food (twice) daily.  

So why is daily prayer so hard?

Those who believe daily habits are created by discipline tell me that is what I’m lacking when it comes to daily prayer. If I were more disciplined, I’d pray more frequently.

Maybe. But I’m not convinced.

I’m not disparaging discipline. If there’s ever a banquet to honor self-discipline, expect me to be on the list of speakers. I’m a big fan. But I’m not sure that more discipline equals more praying. At least that’s not how it’s worked in my life.

I’ve read stories of Christians in centuries past who rose well before dawn to start their days with hours in prayer. I admire them, but I fail to live like them.

I’ve come to believe that, while there is a place for discipline in the Christian life, it shouldn’t drive the Christian life. One reason is that little word that you often find before “discipline”—“self.”

Self-discipline may help you be physically fit, get good grades, and save for retirement, but it won’t help you rely on God.

This is because self-discipline causes you to rely on…wait for it…yourself. Prayer, however, is all about trading in self-reliance for God-reliance.

Jesus prayed frequently because he remains the least self-reliant and most God-reliant person to ever live. In John 5 Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son of Man can do nothing by himself.” Later in the same chapter he returns to the point again saying, “By myself I can do nothing.”

Really? Jesus can do nothing by himself?

Here’s my takeaway that I urge you to consider: you’ll pray when you realize that you can’t do life on your own. But the opposite is also true. You will not pray if you think you can handle life without God.

Prayerlessness is not due to a lack of discipline but to an abundance of self-reliant pride.

What if we prayed only when we had a real reason to pray?

If you pray when you have needs, you will do more than pray daily. You’ll pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

When you wake up in the morning which kind of self-talk is more likely to lead you to pray?

“Self, I am determined to discipline myself to say my daily prayers whether I feel like it or not.”

Or...

“Self, I am poor and needy. I desperately need Jesus. I can do nothing apart from him.

Let your needs drive you to your knees.


Looking for a place to start with your daily prayer life? Check out the Prayer of Examen and learn how it might be your secret guide to gratitude in your time with God.

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