Day 12: Prayer as a Habit


Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear from Gary Haugen, the president of the International Justice Mission (IJM) headquartered in Washington, D.C. IJM is an organization of Christian attorneys who have as their vision statement, “To rescue thousands, protect millions, and prove that justice for the poor is possible.” It’s a huge organization with a budget of over $30 million per year. IJM boasts fifteen field offices around the world on every continent and a senior leadership team of fourteen executives with hundreds of employees. They have a robust lobbying wing that meets with political leaders around the world to wake them up to the plight of the poor.

In his speech, Haugen explained that at the center of their workday is a policy that is followed at their headquarters and every field office around the world. That policy is that every day 11:00 a.m., every office shuts down, not for lunch, but for prayer.

Mr. Haugen said, “There is no way we can fulfill our mission on our own. It’s too hard. We’re convinced that the mission is so hard that we can’t succeed without praying.” And he asked the question that hit me between the eyes, “Are the challenges that you are taking on in life big enough that you have to pray?”

Are the challenges that you are taking on in life big enough that you have to pray?

The answer, of course, is yes. Yet so often the prayer-sized challenges of life do not align with an ongoing habit of prayer. Yet we must not make prayer as habit exclusive from prayer as a need.

In her award-winning book, Girl Meets God, Laura Winner recounts her journey from growing up as an orthodox Jew to becoming a practicing Christian. She describes the habit of praying the traditional prayers of Christian history in terms of habit:

Habit and obligation have both become bad words. That prayer becomes a habit must mean that it is impersonal, unfeeling, something of a rouse. If you do something because you are obligated to, it doesn’t count, at least not as much as if you’d done it of your own free will; like the child who says thank you because his parents tell him to, it doesn’t count. Sometimes, often, prayer feels that way to me, impersonal and unfeeling and not something I’ve chosen to do. I wish it felt inspired and on fire and like a real, love-conversation all the time, or even just more of the time. It is a great gift when God gives me a stirring, a feeling, a something-at-all in prayer. But work is being done whether I feel it or not. Sediment is being laid. Words of praise to God are becoming the most basic words in my head. They are becoming the fallback words, drowning out advertising jingle and professors’ lectures and sometimes even my own interior monologue.

It is through the habit of prayer, the long-term doing of it, that we find the strength to meet the challenges of life.

Written by Dr. Joshua Rice, Instructor of Biblical Studies