Many of these tips will apply to practicing any virtue (or any habit in general), but I’m going to focus on how they help us create a daily prayer life since this is the foundation upon which all the other virtues stand. Through prayer, we learn to put God first and to always rely on Him.
Here are my 7 tips to make prayer a daily priority:
1. Decide to Put God First
I recently saw a video in which a pastor presented a powerful metaphor about how to make room for God in our lives (you can watch it here). In front of him he had some pebbles, some large rocks, and an empty jar. If he filled the jar with the small pebbles first (representing all the small, less important tasks that fill up our lives), then there was not enough room to fit the big rocks (the most important things like prayer, service, and community). However, when he put the large rocks in first—all the other little pebbles fit in the jar around them! The point here: If we put God first, all the other parts of our lives will fall into place.
As Christ tells us in the book of Matthew:
“But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”Matthew 6:33 (NABRE)
If we make Christ truly the center of our life, so that all we do serves Him, everything else will follow. The Lord will take care of those who are faithful to Him. And our work, talents, and hobbies will point us back to Him, rather than become like idols as they do when we try to find satisfaction in those little things alone. Everything becomes a way to serve Him, know Him, and love Him and His children.
2. Make a Plan
Prayer, like all virtue, doesn’t just happen. Because God gave us free will, we won’t just magically become virtuous just because we asked God to make us so. Virtue is, by definition, the habit of doing good, and habits have to be formed intentionally. Thus, our prayer life must be developed not only through grace received in prayer, but through intentional actions to make it a habit in our lives. I have found that many of the following tips for forming habits are very helpful when it comes to developing our prayer life.
First of all, we need to make an intentional plan and schedule it in our calendar or planner. We must schedule a specific time for prayer, or oftentimes it is likely to not even happen (I’ve experienced this many times myself). This scheduled time does not cheapen our time with God, but in fact is vital to growing in relationship with Him. We schedule time for activities with our friends, family, and significant other—our relationship with God isn’t any different. In fact, it is most important to schedule this time because He should be the most important relationship in our lives.
I would advise scheduling prayer time first thing in the morning, in order to put God literally first in our day. And, more practically, this way we don’t allow ourselves to put it off until later when we’ll just end up forgetting. However, the key is to choose the time when you’re most likely to do it.
Then, make a plan for what exactly you’re going to do—are you going to start reading the Gospels? Sing some praise and worship? Sit in silent prayer for 10 minutes? Whatever it is, make a plan, or else you may end up floundering about what exactly to do and not end up doing anything. See the next tip about choosing a form of prayer.
3. Find What Works for You (But Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New)
There are many forms of prayer that move some people more than others, depending on their personality, situation, and season of life. Maybe you really enjoy praise and worship, or you love to speak to God freely in your own words, but structured prayers just doesn’t move you (or vice versa). Whatever the case may be, understand that there are many forms of prayer that may appeal to you more than others, but don’t be afraid to try something new and move on if it really isn’t working for you.
If you’re just starting out, I suggest trying a few different forms of prayer and find what works best for you. If in the beginning you find silent prayer too difficult, maybe start with reading a passage from Scripture to meditate on (perhaps read the Church’s daily readings, or just start from the beginning of the gospels). Also, if you have trouble trying to pray in your own words, you may find a more structured prayer like the Rosary could help guide you.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been trying to set up a prayer life for a while but just keep falling out of it, maybe it’s because you’re bored of doing the same thing every day. Perhaps try a different form of prayer, even one you’ve never done before.
Finally, you may find that you enjoy sticking to the same type of prayer every day, or you may want to switch it up every few days or weeks. Some people like to have the same routine every day, while others find doing the same thing to be monotonous, so experiment and find what works best for you.
4. Take Baby Steps
Whatever type of prayer you choose to do, it’s important to make the time and amount manageable. If you set your daily goals too high, you might make great progress in the beginning but just end up burning out partway through. For example, you may be excited to get going and read the entire Bible from start to finish, but make sure you assign yourself small sections that you can easily keep up with every single day. Consistency is much more important than quantity. As you develop the habit and start to find your prayer time more enjoyable, you can then challenge yourself to pray for a few minutes longer or read just a little more each day.
5. Make it Accessible
Lay out your Bible, Rosary, prayer card, cross, or whatever else you’re going to use the night before. This reduces the steps you have to do in the morning and the resistance you might feel to get up to start your prayer time. It will seem a little easier to get started if everything is already out in front of you.
6. Rely on Grace
Don’t just rely on your own strength, but pray and ask God for perseverance to continue in daily prayer, and prudence to discern how to pray. Maybe even take some of your prayer time to journal about how God wants you to spend your time, what virtues He may want you to focus on growing, and practical ways you can do so.
7. Pray Without Ceasing
In the first letter to the Thessalonians, it says:
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
What does it mean to “Pray without ceasing?” It does not mean that every moment of your day should be spent in meditation or reading the Bible; rather, it means that, even after our scheduled prayer time is over, we can continue to invite God into every part of our day. We can ask him for help to persevere in our work or study, pray that He grant us prudence in how to act and use your time, and ask Him to show us how He is working in our life and the lives of those around us. And we can offer every little suffering and small act of love to Him in union with His cross for the conversion of souls.
As it says in the first letter to the Corinthians:
“whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”1 Corinthians 10:31
With God, not a single moment has to be wasted time; all of the mundane moments become little ways to see God’s love for us and love Him and His children in return. Thus, we can “Rejoice always” and “In all circumstances give thanks.”
God bless and keep you,