Devoting Yourself to Prayer

All good Christians know they should practice devotions–that is, they should devote themselves to the reading and contemplation of God’s Holy Word at certain deliberate times every day. In a world obsessed with and built around convenience, we can easily schedule, connect, and read in just a few minutes’ time what we know we should do and remember and cherish. And yet we don’t.

Habits are self-reinforcing, and the habit of daily devotions comes like that of most healthy practices: repetition, repetition, repetition. For instance, I brush my teeth every night before I go to sleep. Every tool I need, from the brush to the paste to the floss, is in the same predictable place in my bathroom, so I don’t need to perform a search and rescue just to get the job done. I also brush just prior to sleep because it’s been part of my regular routine for most of my life (thanks, Mom!), and I can do it without even thinking much about it.  And precisely because teeth-brushing happens regularly, I dislike the feeling of my unbrushed teeth on the rare occasion I skip the bristles. The lack of the habit automatically becomes uncomfortable.

So how can devotions become habitual? One of the best tools we’ve discovered in the last several years is the excellent Treasury of Daily Prayer published by Concordia Publishing House (CPH). Every day’s readings contain a Psalm, an Old Testament and New Testament excerpt, a writing from a Church Father, a hymn verse, and a prayer of the day. On feast or festival days, extra information about saints or holidays are included. Orders for daily prayer, as well as Luther’s Small Catechism, the entire Psalter, preparation for confession and absolution and the Lord’s Supper, as well as other prayers and schedules, are also included. It’s truly a magnificent resource for a well-rounded, all-in-one devotion. We don’t have to scramble or try to put together multiple sources for devotions. We don’t even have to figure out what Bible passages to read–and the Treasury follows the church year, so the readings always fit the liturgical season. It’s truly been a game-changer in our habits.

Also, the Treasury been a wonderful tool for me in writing for Portals of Prayer, a daily devotional long published by CPH and written by lay Lutherans and church workers. This July, you can read my devotions (and a few prayers) in Portals, either in print or digital form (there’s even an app!). I have followed the Treasury closely in writing for Portals, so if you prefer to use both, you’ll find them complimentary–and other writers often do the same thing.

Another simple part of regular devotions is where they take place. Since we invariably join together for breakfast at the same time every day, the kitchen table is the best spot for our Treasury, in particular, to sit. It’s a visible reminder of what we need to do. Yes, it has been sprinkled with cereal and soaked in spilled milk (thank goodness for leather covers!), but having the book sitting on the table makes it much, much easier for us to hear the Word. I’d rather move the book to wipe off the table than to place it somewhere we can easily overlook it.

And prayer before meals is a habit we’ve long practiced. So while we might not often make time for all of the suggested daily readings together, we always have time for a Psalm. The kids can even take turns reading it. It’s literally a minute or two of time, and it gives us reminders of God’s steadfast love that we can carry with us all day long. Again, we don’t always do this. But we should, and you should. It’s a habit worth making and keeping. So what are you waiting for?

 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

~ Psalm 51:1-9

The Psalmody for July 2 in the Treasury of Daily Prayer

Update: There’s an app for the TDP, too (at least for you Apple users)! You can find the PrayNow app here.