I'll be honest. Prayer is not something that comes naturally to me. I wouldn't say I live a busy life, but I have enough on my plate to keep me well distracted, which often presents a problem. Plus, I seem to have an issue with welcoming particular distractions with open arms and poised fingers (l'm talking about my computer here).
Of course, every day I set out to be prayerful, to spend more time focusing on the things of God instead of the things of Mandy, but failure comes easy. So how does one train her heart and mind to think on the things of God?
The spirit is truly willing, but the flesh is weak. Even though we love God, we may find it difficult to establish a routine, especially for those whose odd schedules (due to work or other factors) don't allow for much routine. How do we build the good, steady habits of prayer time and family devotions?
First of all, let us examine why we seem to be so easily distracted in the first place. Think about it. When you look around your home, there are plenty of things vying for your attention. "Mount Washmore" overflows the laundry basket (okay, plural baskets), a pile of clean clothes sits waiting to be folded and put away but you'll definitely have to do a lot of ironing, because they've cooled and wrinkled since you pulled them from the dryer several days ago. In fact, they probably need to be washed all over again since you're pretty sure that's where your toddler has been wiping his boogers, and your husband mistook it for the dirty bin and tossed in his greasy, sweaty clothes. The dishwasher needs to be emptied, a few pots and casserole dishes need a tough scrubbing, and well, the floor definitely needs a good mopping since you can see a trail of chalky munchkin foot prints and dirty little puppy tracks, not to mention smears of something you hope is chocolate. I suppose before you tackle that task, you'll have to send out a search party for the mop, so it might be quicker to get down on hands and knees and use some old fashioned elbow grease. Feel like SuperMom yet?
You really need to make lunch and consider what you're going to toss together for dinner tonight, and, oh, you'd better get that meat out of the freezer so it will be thawed in time. One look at the counter reminds you that you've got a stack of bills to pay, but first you'll have to buy postage stamps, and wait, what is your oldest child getting into?
All over your house you see reminders of things that need to be done. Toilets begged to be scrubbed. Just about every closet and cabinet needs a little reorganization. You have several books you'd like to finish and knitting that you dream of completing (but you know that's a fairytale, since it's taken you three months to get one-eighth of that scarf done). In between tending to your chores, duties, and hobbies, drinks are spilled, ouchies happen, and your baby takes his first steps and you forget about everything you have planned and focus the rest of the day on trying to get him to attempt such a fete again so you can capture it on video. And, let's not forget, you're doing all of this while homeschooling several young'ns.
So many things call out for your attention. Your eyes and thoughts are pulled in a thousand different directions by the sights, sounds, and, ew, even smells in your home. It is no wonder you forget to make time for God, but it is no excuse.
I know that we don't even have half as much going on in our household as compared to others who have their children involved in co-op activities, music lessons outside the home, sports, dance, and whatever other functions one can muster up, but I am well aware that we are a nation of busy, busy people. However, our busyness is our own doing. Maybe it should be worded as our busyness is our own undoing.
It seems to me that the devil does not have to do much work in my home. I am my own worst enemy. Could it be that we have become so worried about keeping up our house that we have failed to keep up God's home within us? The bible says that our bodies are the temple. The Holy Spirit lives within believers, but are we, as believers, spending as much time tending to the temple as we do tending to things that, in comparison, don't matter at all? Are we focused on feeding our children mentally, spiritually, and physically but are starving ourselves of much needed biblical bread?
So again, I present the question, how does one train her heart and mind to think on the things of God? You remember that whole situation of to-do's and distractions? Remember what I mentioned?
"So many things call out for your attention...."
Maybe it's time to change things around our home to keep us distracted by the things of God instead of from the things of God! What if we set out things that helped us regain our focus, reminded us to spend time with God, and made it easier for us to truly tune into the Spirit? God is calling for our attention, but the distractions around us drown Him out.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. [Deuteronomy 6:4-9, KJV]
We remain distracted by the things in our eyesight. One way to help bring things into perspective is to print out some of your favorite, encouraging, convicting, and directing bible verses or quotes. I have mounted several on scrapbook paper. You can tape them to cabinets or apply magnets to the back to display them on the fridge or on metal exterior doors. Post a bible verse as your screen saver, or tape one to the top of your laptop which encourages you to be a good steward of your time. Have one printed on your checks to remind you to be a good steward of your money! Write a few on business cards and keep them in your wallet or jacket pocket. Tuck a few in books as place markers or in drawers as sweet pick-me-ups. Write something on the mirror so you can consider it and memorize it as you comb your hair, brush your teeth, or do your make-up. Those verses from Deuteronomy remind me that I need to equip myself with the Word of God. Posting verses around my home will not only help me memorize them and put them to use, but will also help me teach them to my children.
Now, before I go on, I am not suggesting that we should build idols (definitely not!), but I am recommending that we set up visual reminders to keep us on track. You can find or make decorations for your home engraved or painted with simple words (like faith, hope, prayer or grace), verses, or quotes from people God used (like Martin Luther). Whatever you do, make sure you have things in your home that serve as reminders to pray, to praise, and to worship God.
Another helpful tool is music. I'm a little slow, so I didn't happen upon Christian music until a few years ago, and then I couldn't bring myself to listen to anything else! I can't tell you how encouraging and helpful it has been to hear music that lifts God above all else while I go about my daily duties. It keeps me in the right frame of mind. Every year, I buy the WOW hits and add a few more Christian tunes to my small collection. I also listen to (free) online playlists of some of my favorite hits and artists (like Aaron Shust, Casting Crowns, and Broken Vessels). We are fortunate to have a local Christian radio station as well (KSBJ) which also allows you to tune in on their website to listen.
Several years ago I established a habit of lighting a candle everytime I completed my "home blessings" (or chores) for the day. I always use good quality, well-scented candles which fill my home with delicious smells like spiced pumpkin or sugar cookie. After lighting the candle, I would plop on the couch, relax, and read my bible or a devotional. I wish I could say I still do this, but after a couple moves and adding another child to the mix, I've fallen out of this routine (although I may do it from to time, it's no longer a regular thing). Still, the candles, the smells, the flicker of the small flame reminds me of those peaceful moments. Because my candles are scented like baked goods, I am even reminded of these times when I am baking cookies, cakes, or bread.
In his book, Family Driven Faith, Voddie Baucham Jr. tells of his experience as a child living in a small apartment in Los Angeles. His mother was a Buddhist (but is now a Christian). He writes:
... I still remember her previous religious expressions vividly. Why? My mother's Buddhism engaged, stimulated, and made a lasting impression on every one of my five senses. That black box, the golden Buddha, the scroll, and the sight of my mother kneeling and bowing engaged my sense of sight. The sound of the bell, the beads, and the mantra engaged my sense of hearing. The incense engaged my sense of smell, the beads engaged my sense of touch, and the fruit in the box next to Buddha engaged my sense of taste [emphasis his].Something is going to call for our attention. Something is going to engage our senses. Why not make it things that point us to God? Why not make it easier on ourselves, on our children?
We can change things around our home so God can engage our senses, but ultimately, we need to change our routine. Maybe we are simply too busy. Maybe we have our children involved in too many things. Maybe we have taken on extra hobbies or jobs that have distracted us from our purpose. We will have to cut back on certain things to make time for God, but it is necessary, and it is worth it.
We may need to overcome addictions and bad habits, get rid of distractions that keep us from being productive around our home and rob us of time that we could be spending with God.
I was laying in bed the other night when it hit me for the millionth time. If I spent as much time with God as I spent on my computer, I would be a spiritually wealthy woman. Then I went on to think of all the blessings I have declined and passed up because I was being selfish with my time and effort. Sometimes I think, "I deserve this time. I have accomplished so much today and this is my reward."
What if we rewarded our accomplishments with prayer and praise to God? What if, instead of giving in to the temptations to turn to our hobbies and habits that are time wasters, we turned to God, to the bible, to prayer?
I decided that every time I wanted to get on my computer, I would spend time in prayer first. I cannot tell you how much time I have spent in prayer lately! (But I can tell you that it has been good for my children to see their mommy kneeling in prayer all over the house!) Many times, once I finished praying, I didn't feel like getting on the computer. I knew I had better things to do with my time.
That is not to say that the computer is bad. Most of my time on the computer is spent checking emails, reading Christian blogs and other Christian material, and talking to some of my most encouraging friends, but even so, that is no substitute for one-on-one time with God.
So, whatever you need to do to establish that time with God, do it. If you need to post sticky notes on every surface, do it. If you need to get rid of cable, do it. If you need to toss out books that go against the bible and replace them with books that encourage you in the Lord, do it. Ask your spouse to help you stay on track, to hold you responsible. Write out a routine and schedule in time to pray and read your bible. Keep bibles in every room. Set your bedside alarm or the one on your cellphone to go off a couple times a day, and when it does, stop what you are doing and read your bible or pray. Don't let yourself get out of bed without reading a verse or chapter.
When you walk into your room, whether it's to get into bed, to hang up clothes, or to go into the master bathroom, take the time to kneel beside your bed in prayer.
Sometimes at night I switch my wedding ring to the other hand to remind me to read my bible when I wake up. (This little switch idea is something I picked up from my husband. It's also served to remind me about doctor appointments or to make certain phone calls and various other things.)
As you begin to build a routine of personal time with God, expand to build a routine of family time with God. I cannot tell you how important and wonderful it is to pray with your spouse, or to sing hymns and songs with your children before reading a bible story.
It warms this mother's heart to hear my children sing lyrics from some of my favorite songs, even if they mix up the words or skip lines. So many times, when my mood has been sour or my day has been twisted out of focus, I hear a little voice softly singing, "Jesus, He can move the mountains. My God is mighty to save! He is mighty to save!"
As we establish time with God, we teach our children to establish time with Him as well. We teach our children about priorities, about not just being active, but being productive. The Proverbs 31 woman "looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness." [v. 27] I am sure this woman went beyond the natural provision. She went before God to gain strength for herself and her loved ones. Don't be idle in your spiritual life. You cannot teach your children how to be prayerful, God-seeking men and women if we are not prayerful, God-seeking mothers.
I have such a long way to go. I am no where near perfect. I don't have it all figured out. I don't have all the answers. But I know where to go, and I know where my time is best spent.
And while I need to be productive in my home, in doing the duties that the bible calls me to do as the keeper of our home [Titus 2:3-5], I must also make ample time for God. Too often my time for God is a short, hurried moment giving Him a list of demands, complaints and requests, but quality time includes being still and quiet, as well as time spent asking, crying, praying and repenting.
What blessings have I denied my family, my friends, and strangers because I have not prepared myself spiritually? Time spent with God is never wasted, time spent without Him is.
Read Heather's response to this post @ Untraditional Home
Read other posts on this blog regarding The Proverbs 31 Woman.