It happens every time the leader of your Bible study asks you to pray out loud. You say you will, you do and say amen—and then you keep your head down a little longer than everybody else, hoping they won’t see that your face is flushed. The rest of the women in the room have no idea that you have a single thought running through your head:
I should be better at this by now.
You don’t know why prayer doesn’t feel natural to you. You’ve been in church your whole life. You’ve been sitting in worship services since you were a little girl bouncing into Sunday school classes with bows and braids.
Since then, you’ve made several attempts to develop a prayer habit, but the momentum you’ve found following weekend retreats and conference events has always fizzled out. You would never say it out loud, but if you’re honest, you wonder if it’s too late for you to develop your prayer life, learn to pray consistently, or confidently turn to the Lord with your requests.
You’re not the only one.
When I spoke with Asheritah Ciuciu about her new book, Prayers of REST, I asked her what she would say to the woman who feels shame because she doesn’t have the prayer life she feels like she should have. Here’s what she would tell you:
You're not alone. Your struggle is the struggle of pretty much every person who's sitting in church today—but it’s not a struggle without hope. Jesus invites us to come to Him right where we are.
I like to imagine Him looking at a crowd made up of men and women, who are much like us: anxious and worried about how to pay the bills, about what to make for dinner, about losing jobs and dealing with in-laws and all of the things that are part of life. I picture Jesus looking at this crowd of people and extending His hands and saying, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
That's Jesus' invitation to you. In those times when you feel like you can't pray because of the guilt and shame, or you can't pray because you feel too busy, or you can't pray because there's too much going on—those are the exact times that you need prayer most. And Jesus invites you to come to Him.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be human. He knows what it’s like to be pulled in fifty different directions. He knows what it’s like to wake up early and to make time to be with the Father. He knows. We have a great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).
In Romans 8:34, Scripture says that Jesus lives to intercede for us. Not only is He opening His arms and saying, “Come to me”—He is praying for you right now. Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, praying for you by name. He invites you: come approach the throne of grace with boldness to find help and mercy and grace in your time of need.
There's no place for shame and guilt in your prayer life. Those are the shackles of the enemy. Guilt and shame are the tactics he uses to keep us away from what we need most: time with God, time in His presence, and transformation by Him. That happens in prayer.
You don't have to become a prayer warrior tomorrow. Start with small manageable, tiny prayer habits—those little habits can grow throughout the course of your lifetime. Accept Jesus’ invitation to come to Him, and know that He is with you as you begin.
Ready to get started with your first habit of prayer? I asked Asheritah if she would give advice on how to begin, and she shared these five steps that you can apply today:
Whether we’re making New Year's resolutions or walking out of a conference, we get caught up in the event and start telling ourselves, “I'm going to spend an hour in prayer every day.” But for most of us, that's not sustainable.
What I've learned is that it's easier to form habits when we start with habits that are less than ninety seconds. That timeframe lowers our brain's perceived difficulty. We know that we are able to do something if it’s only ninety seconds. We may think, “I don’t want to get out of bed at 6 a.m. and pray for an hour, but praying for ninety seconds? I can do that.”
When you start small, you'll be more likely to remain consistent, even on the days when motivation isn't there or you don't feel like praying. It's a shortcut to habit formation.
Be encouraged! God tells us that He doesn’t despise small beginnings (Zech. 4:10). It’s better to faithfully build a tiny habit every day than to make a big splash in the beginning but ultimately abandon your commitment to grow in this area.
Link Your Habit
When I coach women on prayer habit formation, I tell them: “You’re going to pray for ninety seconds while your coffee maker is brewing or when you brush your teeth in the morning.” The key is to link your new habit to something you're already doing, something that is automated.
By linking these actions, you build momentum, which makes it easier to move from the action to your prayer habit. It also makes it more difficult to forget: by linking, you have a built-in reminder during your day.
When our brains feel good, we want to repeat that pattern. That’s why eating M&M’s can be so addicting. They taste good at the moment, and then you want to go back and keep eating them—it releases the feel-good hormone. When you celebrate growth, it does the same thing in your brain.
If you make it your goal to pray for ninety seconds and at the end of the week you did it four times out of seven, you might beat yourself up thinking, “I can't believe I failed. I can't even pray for ninety seconds.” But that’s the opposite of effective. The guilt and shame the enemy uses to enslave us and ensnare us produces serotonin in our brain. That's the bad feeling hormone. We decide we’re not even going to try again because we're focused on how we failed.
Instead, focus on the fact that you prayed four times. Respond by saying something like, “God, You are making me into a new creation, so I choose to trust that Your goodness is at work. I do want to get better at praying every day, so Lord, would you help me in that? I trust that You're going to continue the good work that You started in me” (Phil. 1:6).
In celebrating growth and God's faithfulness, you’re reinforcing this positive habit. It doesn't have to be a long or complicated celebration—but it's such a key component to establishing new habits, and it’s one we often miss.
Personalize Your Habit
Comparison is the thief of joy. God created each of us uniquely, and He delights in our expressions of creativity in prayer—He is a creative God!
Think about your specific learning style:
- If you're a visual learner, try writing out your prayers or writing and doodling something in the margin.
- If you’re an auditory learner, try praying out loud or listening to prayers—such as by using the Prayers of REST podcast.
- If you're a kinesthetic learner, walk while you're praying or try different postures of prayer.
If something's not working with your prayer habit, don't give up. Be curious about it. Ask yourself, “Why am I still struggling with this?” Ask God to give you wisdom about how to personalize your prayer habit for your life. Scripture tells us that God loves to answer those prayers—when we ask for wisdom, He gives it to us (James 1:5).
Build Your Habit
Once you’re at the point where ninety seconds of prayer has become automatic, add another prayer habit to your day. You could start praying while you're meal prepping or while you're putting on your shoes. You could also lengthen your original time of prayer. Once it’s established, keep building until you reach five minutes, then ten minutes—up to whatever you’re able to sustain.
Our seasons of life are always changing. What worked in one season won't work in another season. What works for you when your kids are in school might not work during the summer, so you’ll need to change and adapt. Don't beat yourself up over that. Accept the grace that God extends to you, and partner with the Spirit and what He is doing in your life.
Sometimes, you may have to start all over again with a tiny prayer habit. If you’re traveling or moving or in a period of transition, go back to step one and start all over again. In every season, Jesus will be right there with His arms open, saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Ready to develop your habit of prayer? Set a timer for ninety seconds and start today! Once you’ve finished this small step of faithfulness, order a copy of Asheritah Ciuciu’s brand new book, Prayer of REST. Her practical advice will help you as you continue to form new habits, and her guided prayers will lead you into the genuine rest of time spent in God’s loving presence.