7 Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life

It happens to the best of us.  We are in love with God, but the busy schedules we set for ourselves intrude.  The next thing we know, it has been weeks since we sat down to pray.  Time has the ability to slip away from us.  Here are seven ways to improve your prayer life over the next week.

Day 1

tablet, technology

Put down the technology.  I am a techno-junkie to end all techno-junkies.  I usually have my iPhone, iPad, and laptop all within arm’s reach at any given moment.  I work online, socialize online, shop online, and learn online.  And there are positives to that.  But it also means I’m dividing my time and attention 10 different ways at once.  And recently, it has become clear that multi-tasking does not help us at all.  This means putting aside the tablet, and sitting at the table of our Father in Heaven, if we really want to improve our prayer life.  Challenge yourself on day 1 to find a quiet place far from any technology to spend a little time praying.  At first, your information addicted brain may get a little bored, but let the quiet was over your soul.  And let God speak right to your heart.

Day 2

TIME

Get rid of the clock.  We live by our clocks and watches.  Every second of every day seems, sometimes, to be scheduled.  And having your time organized and allotted can be good.  But, not for your prayer life.  Rather than sitting through your prayer time glancing at your watch every 5 seconds, go in with mindset that you’ll stay without a thought to time.  Move your focus from how long this will take, to how much God you really want.

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A History of Lent & Why It Still Matters

Yesterday was Mardi Gras, for those of you that are not in the know.  Fat Tuesday.  Which means today is Ash Wednesday.  For some, this is a given.  But I grew up in a world where the liturgical calendar did not play into church life.  I still go to a church like that.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the point in some of these traditions.

Maybe you were like me, the first time my college friends walked around with ash on their foreheads.  What is Lent?  Why should I care?

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian May [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian May [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Brief History of Lent

Lent, or Lenten, actually simply means “spring” in the original Anglo-Saxon from which the term began.  It is also one of the oldest traditions in the Church.  It began shortly after the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the same council that established that Jesus was, indeed, co-equal with God.  This council also separated out the holiday of Easter and also established the first concept of a 40 day fast prior to Easter.  Though not many details exist as to the purpose of the fast, or whether it was meant for everyone, soon the entire Church was observing the fast as a part of their annual calendar.

There was also an absence of any guidelines.  This meant Eastern Christians only observed it on weekdays whereas the Western Christians observed on Saturdays but also had one week less of Lent.  Soon, Lent was moved from starting on a Sunday to a Wednesday, hence the observance of Ash Wednesday.  After the 7th century, Gregory the Great, a leading authority in the church, moved it and also began marking the foreheads of repentant Christians with the ash cross as a sign of their repentance.

By the Providence Lithograph Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By the Providence Lithograph Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So What?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  Matthew 4:1-2 NIV

Have you ever been hungry?  Days-without-food-ravenous hungry?  Where your stomach feels like a sinking pit of disgruntled pain.  Spiritually, I think we have all been there.  So desperate for something to fill us that we don’t really care what it is.  And so, we gladly take whatever can stop the emptiness, even if it doesn’t satisfy.  And yet, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into just such a circumstance to be tested.  To show that the Son of God could indeed be the perfect and spotless Lamb.  That He could fulfill His mission on earth.  And it made Him hungry, empty.

I am so guilty of satisfying the hunger with whatever junk is lying around.  Trash and garbage pile up until my own soul reeks.  But, Jesus didn’t do this.  He filled His hunger with the word, and the word, a flashing sword, cut the enemy down to size.

We still need Lent in the church today.  This is about so much more than what you eat or don’t, what you do, what services you attend.  Look past all of that and it comes down to repentance.  Cleansing.  Sweeping clean all the junk that has accumulated in the corners of our souls until it looks like a hoarder lives there.

Forty days of preparation.  Of tilling the hardened soil of our hearts and planting His word over and over and over until it takes root.  Maybe this is why Lent actually means Spring.  Because it is meant to be a time when we can see His word start to bud.  See the dead come to life.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.  Isaiah 44: 3-4 NIV

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I don’t mean a religious, going-through-the-motions act to attempt to please God.  If that’s all it is, go on and gorge yourself.  I mean a real, deep uncovering of the hidden places.  A laying bare and uncovering the dark so that we can shine as bright as the One we were meant to reflect.  A dirty mirror casts no light.

So, join me.  Join me in this time of preparation and repentance.  I am not necessarily giving up something and grasping onto the One thing I need.  Time with Jesus, deep, personal, and real.  Are you ready?

Beginning is Easy . . .

Finishing Can be Hard

By Jim Thurston [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jim Thurston [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hopefully, through the months of January and February, you’ve not only started making a few life changes, but it is possible you’re starting to see some progress as well.  And, right now, you are working under the adrenaline and excitement of something new and shiny.  We all love new and shiny!

But the big question?  How do you finish?  What happens when you wake up one morning, and for the one thousandth time you tie your shoes and go for that run first thing?  You’ve seen the scenery before, you’ve done this before.  In fact, it is getting harder and harder to get out of bed.  Or, you have consistently lost about a pound a week and those pants are getting really loose.  But then you have a two week stretch where you gain weight.  Henry David Thoreau!  You stare at the scale, wondering if all the work was worth it.

How do you keep yourself going when everything in you is ready to quit?

Willpower

First, I want to talk about willpower.  That part of our soul that gets us to do what we need to do, even if we don’t want to do it.  Official definition:

: the ability to control yourself : strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as to lose weight or quit smoking)

And no matter what you may believe about it, studies have shown that doing many tasks that require self-control will deplete your willpower.  You will become more and more likely to give into temptation.  So, with limited willpower to actually accomplish your fitness and nutrition goals, how do you actually do it?

This comes down to smart choices, in my opinion.  There has been many a time that I have given in to half a cookie at work, so that I could have the willpower to workout later that day.  Is this something I do all the time?  No.  But, I have to weigh how a decision will affect my other decisions later on.  It is also why I don’t like diets as the answer to weight loss.  Simply put, it is a plan that relies on an infinite amount of something that you have in limited supply, willpower.  There is no way you will keep it up indefinitely, which means at some point, you will fail.  Check out this awesome video from TED Talks:

Motivation vs. Inspiration
(And how to make them both work for you)

I know, I know.  That sounds like the title of a cheesy, self-help novel.  But, there is a difference between the two, even if both can help you keep going.

Motivation:  This can be anything from a picture, a song, a quote.  Anything that motivates you to keep going.  If you want to lose 50 lbs, a picture of someone 50 lbs slimmer than you might help motivate you to keep going when you hit a plateau.  Need to get out of bed every morning?  Maybe you ask a close friend that’s up then anyways to call you to make sure you’re up.  A friend of mine has to pay her buddy $1 every time she doesn’t work out.  Financial loss is always a strong motivator.

Inspiration: Usually, I find my inspiration amongst people I know or average people I read about that do amazing things.  Whether it’s a friend that has lost weight, or another that is getting in shape for the first time in their lives, it can inspire me to realize that I can do it, too.  And while it can be tempting to look up to your favorite celebs, realize that the time, money, and clout they can throw around may not be realistic for you.  If you don’t have $2000 to drop on a personal trainer to come to your house and make you exercise, reading how the Kardashian’s lost all their baby weight in 3 weeks may inspire and then defeat you when you can’t do the same.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Finally, realize that you can’t be perfect 24/7.  In fact, that kind of expectation will set you up for failure the first time you lose willpower or skip a workout.  Stuff happens.  All.  The.  Time.

So, I think this is the last crucial bit to keep in mind as you work towards your health goals.  You have to give yourself a break.  Make sure your goal is also reasonable.  Surprise!  You cannot lose 100 lbs in 4 weeks.  And expecting that is a setup for failure.  Leave room in your plan for mistakes, because they will happen.  And when they do, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

What is something that motivates you?  Who is someone that inspires you?  Leave a comment with your answers!