Accidental habits are easy to form and hard to break.
No one means to leave the towel on the floor every morning. Only the cruel and heartless consciously keep the toilet seat up. It certainly doesn’t take much self-discipline to become obsessed with a cellphone. We can snooze the alarm clock in our sleep. Maybe the scariest of all, a lot of drivers can make it to and from work without even thinking. It doesn’t take much to develop a habit.
Of course, habits can be healthy, and some are harmless. But still other habits can birth negative consequences in ways we never imagined.
The same goes for our faith. Spiritual habits can be healthy, harmless or harmful. When these habits don’t engage our hearts and minds, they’ll never touch our souls.
This kind of aloofness happens most prominently with the practice of prayer.
Some prayers said from memory possess absolutely zero meaning to the person reciting it.
“God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food …”
“Now I lay me down to sleep …”
Other prayers are just for show, flashy displays of vocabulary and theology. (I’ve prayed my fair share of “impressive” prayers.)
And I think we can drop some prayers because they tend to be more habit than heart-engaging. These prayers aren’t bad in themselves, of course, but they often ask for what we already possess. Since prayer is often a reminder of what’s true about God and His relationship to us, maybe it’s time we rethought a few of our habitual prayers:
This is the common title for the prayer before a meal. The implication is that someone will say a prayer to bless the food, often including a Christianese phrase such as, “Bless this food to our bodies.”
This prayer must have originated around the time of the Bubonic Plague or some bad food poisoning. If food was making people sick it must be cursed. Might as well put a blessing on it just in case. While I’m all for thanking God before meals, there’s no need to “bless” the food, because it already is. When God created the universe, He called it all good—the edible and inedible. When God labels something as “good,” that’s all the blessing it needs. Fruits, veggies, meat and ice cream—all blessed.
Alternative Prayer: “God, thank you for your provision (and for my parents or spouse or roommate who bought it). Thank you for food, the means for food and the ability to eat and enjoy food.”
We don’t need to bless it, but we should say “thanks” for it.
‘Be With Us’
This is a well-meaning prayer. Who doesn’t want God to be with them? It’s just misinformed. As food is already blessed, God is already with us. There is no place that He is not. The Scriptures tell us that God will be wherever we go—to the heights or in the depths, in the light and in the shadows.
When someone prays, God, be with us, they’re praying for something that is already answered. As you read the Scriptures, you’ll see story after story of people who didn’t walk in and out of God’s presence, but woke up to the reality that God was with them the whole time.
Wherever we go, God is there.
Alternative Prayer: “God, I know you’re with me, open my eyes to see your activity within me, and all around me.”
We don’t need to ask God to show up, we just need to wake up to how He is walking with us.
‘Give Us Favor’
If The Blessing was for our food, this prayer is for our lives. This prayer is prayed to request God’s blessing.
There are at least two issues with this prayer: First, it assumes that we don’t currently possess God’s blessing, and second, It leads to a confusing understanding of what is and what isn’t a blessing from God.
Do we need to ask for God’s blessing, or do we already possess it? I tend to lean toward the latter for three reasons: Life, the cross and the Holy Spirit. Breath, blood and brainwaves are a blessing; The death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf is a blessing; And the energy and presence of God’s Spirit is a blessing. As Christians, these are already ours.
What qualifies as a blessing, and what doesn’t? Is an open parking space a blessing? A hot shower? A raise? A BOGO deal? Family? Electricity? Clean water? Education? You get my point. They’re all gifts.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that even the sun and rain are to be considered blessings from God. The book of James ascribes all the good gifts we receive in life as coming from God.
Whatever we have, it is a gift of God’s favor, therefore we are already blessed.
Alternative Prayer: “God, thank you for all you’ve given me. As I have received so many blessings from you, make me an extension of your blessing in someone else’s life.”
We don’t need to ask for God’s favor, we just need to accept it.
We don’t need to ask God to bless it, it already is.
We don’t need to ask God to be here, He already is.
We don’t need to ask God for His favor, we already have it.
Embracing these realities as a daily practice is a worthwhile habit.
Todd Lesher is a youth pastor from South Carolina and the author of Your College Choice: How To Go To College Without Leaving Your Faith Behind. He writes regularly on his blog at frenchpressedfridays.wordpress.com.