How weird is it when you sit down to eat and you forget to say grace?
Something feels missing. It seems out of place. Not quite right.
I've been alive 12,104 days. Providentially I was blessed with Christian parents, they taught me to thank God at every main meal. So then, with some back-of-the-napkin math... roughly, 34,000 prayers of thankfulness for food, life and blessing.
That's an awful lot of prayer when you think about it! A little habit of thankful prayer before eating adds up fast!
This is the power of habitual holiness.
To be sure, there are times when prayers are said in haste, or without real regard for the LORD himself, but most of them are genuine prayers. Most of them are also the same formula, offered over and over again, in genuine thankfulness.
This holy habit is intensely ingrained in my life. So much so that I remember as kids we would accidentally start saying grace when dessert was served up, because it was kinda like starting another meal!
God made us creatures with malleable brains. We can adapt to all kinds of situations and we can learn all kinds of responses to different stimuli. This can be used for good or evil! Have you noticed the way that you, almost without thinking, react a certain way in some circumstances? We have made pathways in our brains that we follow naturally.
What happens when those "natural" reactions are ungodly? We have to learn to see our sin for what it is and practice godly responses. We need to retrain our brains.
We want holy practices to be so natural to us that we do it without even thinking; for it to be so normal and natural that it is not even on our radar to do anything else; to feel odd and weird when we sin, rather than it being the same-old thing.
Spontaneity is not a marker of holiness. In my opinion the modern church is far too interested in what is new, spontaneous and how it makes us feel. This is obvious in prayer; many of us would look down on people who seem to have a rigid Christianity with dedicated times of prayer throughout the day, or pray certain forms, or follow a church calendar. But you know what? At least they are praying! Many of us would sneer at the idea of formulaic prayer practices, and yet are practically prayer-less in our own lives. You know what's better than no prayer? Some prayer!
To be sure, if prayer traditions are given as legalistic burdens there is a problem! But when it's not legalistic, if it can be an opportunity to grow in righteousness, then why not take advantage of it?
After all, grace before a meal is practically the same thing. While sometimes you don't "feel it," it is still good practice. It has enough structure to be regular but also freedom to go above and beyond when the mood strikes!
We do what we love. And so that sometimes means we have to learn to love something by doing it. It is not till the musician has pushed through the drudgery of many dreary days of practice that they can learn to play glorious music on their instrument. After they submit to the formulaic structure they are free to enjoy and express their heartfelt music!
We are called to "Make every effort... to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14), and in that holiness we are called to "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Th 5:16–18). Let me offer to you some inspiration on how you could start to integrate prayer into your life such that it becomes habitual response. What can start out as a formula, can end in a life filled with prayer.
When you wake up in the morning thank God for sustaining you through the night and for the rising of the Son from the dead as the sun rises in the sky as if from the depths of the earth.
When I shower I often confess my sin and ask God to cleanse me of all unrighteousness; "wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin" (Ps 51:2).
Set alarms on your phone to remind you to pray during the day.
But these little habits can be used for things other than prayer. I have a current habit of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, and I will almost never miss that cup of coffee, but you know what I might skip? Spending time listening to God from the Scriptures! It's easy to get lost in doing pressing things. So I'm practicing only drinking my coffee while I read the scriptures. This is training me to prioritise the practice of scripture reading. One day I might be able to uncouple coffee from Bible reading, but for now it is a habit I'm leveraging to grow in godliness.
When you look up at the rainbow, remember the covenant promises to Noah.
When you look up at the night sky, remember the covenant promises to Abraham.
When you look at the Lord's Table, remember the covenant promises in Christ.
"These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" (Dt 6:4–9).
Your life could be one continuous worshipful prayer to God. And I don't mean that you never think about things like the footy or work or dishes in the sink. But I do mean that in Christ we are freed from slavery to sin, and we are invited to replace that sin with beautiful holiness as ones devoted to God. We grow in godliness, practicing living for God and giving over our lives as spiritual offerings to Him. One day we will be so fully transformed into that holiness that we will never sin again, so lets start training for that day right now.
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate a the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Co 3:17–18).
Inspiration for this article was from The Christian's Daily Walk in Holy Security and Peace by Henry D. Scudder, 1627.