Healthy Christian Habits: The Bible and Prayer – Bethel Church and Ministries

Healthy Christian Habits: The Bible and Prayer

 

In conjunction with the beginning of 2021, and for what many hoped to be a fresh start from what will simply be known as “2020,” the Bethel Staff started a month-long blog series on the need for healthy Christian life habits last week. In the first blog, we unpacked the need to commit ourselves to forming new habits, as well as what it takes for these activities to transform from mundane to second nature. In the second blog, we were challenged to retreat from the noise of culture and the “fast-food gospel” available in our tech-saturated world, and instead prioritize the basics of Christian growth, and form a plan to grow in them.

This submission is set to build on those blogs by leaning into some of those basics in great detail. I want to highlight the two, primary Christian habits that promise to enhance both your spiritual and practical lives: Bible intake and prayer.

In the past, when I have shared not just biblical need, but biblical imperative, for these habits and how they are among the most significant things that are required for the health of a Christian life, I am generally met with many responses. The ones I receive most consistently are questions like these:

  • “How can reading a book thousands of years old really help me in 2021? It’s been like…2,000 years.”
  • “Does prayer really matter? I get it in church, but when I am by myself, it seems like I am just talking to the air. It feels weird.”

I understand these sentiments. It can be difficult to think of these ancient practices as being relevant and practical more than 2,000 years after being written about. Further, too often, what I suspect occurs is we treat Bible intake and prayer in three ways: (1) as a chore or a “spiritual to-do” (it’s a box we check and move on); (2) impractical, if not a little out of touch, and thereby unhelpful; and (3) as things that only truly spiritual people do; something that’s only required on Sundays, at a Bible study, small group, or in a church-appropriate place.

What these thoughts reveal is a fundamental misunderstanding of what God says about Bible study and prayer. And if you start from a place of misunderstanding about the significance of a thing, it is all but certain that you will not utilize it either effectively or the way it was designed. Further, given that we are talking about the means by which we both know and communicate with God, we need to correct this misunderstanding. Pointedly, it is important that we recognize that these specific Christian life habits are among the most significant things that believers can do in our whole lives.

Consider a few passages of Scripture…

John 1:1 (ESV): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Matthew 4:4: “But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for…”

Truthfully, this is the tip of the iceberg. And yet these passages highlight the point perfectly: The Bible is literally the thoughts and words of God, as well as the means by which we know God at all! Consider Romans 10:14-15: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” The common denominator of each component of that passage is that the Bible is the thing preached, the thing heard, the thing that people are sent to share, and the means by which we call on God.

That is all very motivational. But let’s consider this from a more negative perspective. Consider these thoughts by the theologian J. I. Packer:

“If I were the devil…one of my first aims would be to stop folk from digging into the Bible. Knowing that it is the Word of God, teaching people to know and love and serve the God of the Word, I should do all I could to surround it with the spiritual equivalent of pits, thorn hedges, and man traps, to frighten people off… At all costs I should want to keep them from using their minds in a disciplined way to get the measure of its message.”[1]

Having considered this from a few angles, I believe we can safely summarize this way: Bible intake must be of highest priority for us! 

Likewise, albeit more briefly, the Bible outlines the significance of prayer in ample detail in passages such Luke 18:1, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, and 1 Thessalonians 5:17!

As I’ve counseled many people, I have come to believe that the reason people do not pray more, despite the fact that the Bible makes it abundantly clear that it is direct communication with God, is that they believe nothing will actually happen, even if they do pray. While I genuinely believe that there is a large component of faithlessness to this as well, I am not fully convinced that it is willful or intentional. Quite frankly, modern church culture does a poor job emphasizing prayer in many churches. And as such, it is difficult to expect people to value and prioritize something that is not commonplace in (church) culture.

I also believe there is a secondary factor pertaining to instant gratification. We live in a world where information is available to us within fractions of seconds; where the notion of praying for wisdom seems archaic when with a simple search engine, we can have access to enough information to help inform whatever decision for which we might pray for wisdom.

Finally, as Packer notes above relating to Bible study, if we extend his logic to prayer—it should not surprise us that the enemy would want to do anything he can to prevent us from even having the desire to have direct communication with God.

Realizing all of this, I would submit to you, dear reader, that we must be positively motivated to form solid Christian life habits. They are essential to having the type of relationship with God that he desires to have with us. As such, with the severity of this acknowledged, what should the Christian, looking to actually form new Christian life habits, do? I propose simple solutions.

Because I am a pastor, here is an alliterated set of four P’s to help:

Prioritize: schedule a reasonable Bible time, commensurate to your spiritual maturity.

I think a good starting time is 15 minutes. Spend 10 minutes reading or listening to the Bible and then 5 minutes praying. You will be surprised how quickly this time goes by!

Plan: don’t haphazardly open to a random place in Scripture and start reading or listening. Have a plan.

If purpose determines what you focus on, and what you focus on determines your personal direction (it does), you need to approach Bible reading with a purpose and a plan. This will help you not be discouraged and instead, stay focused on growing in your relationship with Jesus.

Sample Plan: Choose to listen or read[2]the Bible chronologically (starting in Genesis), or plan to read or listen to the New Testament in its entirety, as well as a Proverb a day.

Practice: from your time of reading or listening to the Bible, pick one point of application and think about where it is you intend to apply it that day.

This takes your study and brings it to life.

Pray: Here’s an easy formula for prayer at the end of your Bible time:

  • Praise a character attribute of God (goodness, holiness, patience)
  • Confess your sin (1 John 1:9)
  • Make requests of God (such as for the courage to practice your application point)
  • Thank God for his work in your life.

These simple steps, in and of themselves, are the building blocks to fundamentally change the trajectory of your spiritual life. They are among the best steps to take to ensure 2021 is a year of better spiritual health.


[1] J.I. Packer, in the Forward to “Knowing Scripture” by R.C. Sproul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 9-10.

[2]  You’ll note my repeated use of the phrase “read or listen.” This is because I recognize reading can be difficult. I have found that use of the free BIBLE APP, which provides free audio Bibles, is a tremendous resource. So, if reading is a challenge or discouragement for you, I cannot encourage you enough to make ample use of an audio Bible.