They say that to establish a pattern or practice of prayer (or any other spiritual discipline) that you need to set a routine. If you sit in the same chair, or start with the same music, or read the same scripture then the habit forms more easily. I know those things, and have practiced them from time to time, but it hit home in a new way recently.
I told you a couple of weeks ago that I was in an accountability group for exercise and was trying to be more regular in getting out to walk. Occasionally I run but with the same eagerness as usual (which is to say, not much). But then I found (as we continue to unpack) my iPod and took it on my walk with me. I wanted an easy day and intended only to walk. Only, when the music started, I almost couldn’t help myself. My muscle memory with those songs was to run, so I did. You see, it was the playlist from when I trained to run the half marathon. Those songs immediately reminded me of running with my friends from the Leukemia/Lymphoma society and then running at Disneyland for the Tinkerbell Run.
Even though I wasn’t trying for it, the devices I used to set my routine years ago helped me easily slip back into those patterns. Muscle memory formed and it becomes easier and easier to do what was initially quite challenging.
All of that reinforced for me the importance of having a pattern or ritual around my prayer time, and my scripture reading, and worship. It’s part of the value of using tradition and rituals in worship…they make it easier for us to fall into the mental and emotional space of praising God. Certain songs may make it easier for us to let go of the morning chaos. Others may help us really open our hearts to God. The familiar patterns or order of service give us muscle memory to make the act of worship a little easier.
If you’re looking to establish a practice of prayer or Bible study, I’d encourage you to set up some re-usable habits to go with it. Sit in the same comfortable spot. You might want your coffee or tea beside you, or a scented candle. You might choose a psalm to help set the tone. It could be any variety of things, but if want to create some spiritual muscle memory, it should be something you can repeat easily and often.
May God bless you,