According to USA Today, most new year’s resolutions fail by January 17. As hectic schedules barge in to sabotage idealized morning routines, that mid-January slump can be a real problem, especially if your resolution is to spend more time in Bible reading and prayer.
Because I’m prone to an “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to habits, one tiny setback can knock me off track entirely. When it comes to spending time with God, I often feel like there’s no point in prayer if I can’t devote a full half-hour in a completely quiet setting, or that Bible study is only useful if I go into a deep textual analysis. Social media doesn’t help matters much. I see those attractive hashtag-coffee-and-jesus posts and think that my rushed prayers at my desk can’t possibly be valid.
One shift in thinking that has helped me to combat my own perfectionism and self-sabotage is to work with my flaws instead of using them as an excuse. That means I have a back-up plan for when life throws me off-course. If I know I will be rushed for time, I listen to an audio version of scripture on the way to work. If I know that I just want to spend a few minutes in bed drinking my coffee, I find an online or app-based version of the day’s readings. Even though my ideal habit is to get out of bed early and enjoy my coffee with Bible and beautiful prayer book in hand, fully focused on God, those other ways of praying and reading serve as “placeholder habits” so that I don’t lose momentum and fall off track altogether.
Here are some tools that may help you maintain your habit scripture reading and prayer when your crazy life makes those devotional practices difficult.
If you already use a planner as part of your daily routine, you will love this beautiful, liturgy-based planner. Part ordinary planner, part scripture guide, and part personal growth and goal-tracker, this planner will help you integrate your scripture and prayer time into the time you already spend planning your day. This option is pricey, but true planner connoisseurs already spend a lot on these things. If you need a more affordable option, you can purchase a pdf copy to print on your own or use digitally.
The daily office from Mission St. Clare is my favorite web-based prayer and scripture tool. They follow the book of common prayer, and include immersive content like recordings of songs and prayers. They also have a simple, useful app for android and apple that keeps your readings just a groggy touch away.
I’ve been using the book version of this prayer guide for a while now, and only recently discovered that they also have all their readings online. As the name suggests, this prayer and scripture guide is based on the book of common prayer, but unlike Mission St. Clare’s daily office, these readings are shorter, updated to more contemporary language, and contain a missional, action-oriented component.
Pray as you go is a service of a Jesuit organization, and is designed to do exactly what the name implies: help you pray on the go. Each audio session includes music, brief devotional thoughts designed to help you focus your prayers, and scripture readings. The readings repeat to help you pray with and through the scriptures. Take heed: if meditative practices seem suspect to you, you may feel weird about this one. But if you need a little help getting into a quiet headspace and applying scripture to your prayer life, you’ll enjoy Pray as you Go, which also has an award-winning app.
This straightforward tool does what it says it will: provides daily audio Bible readings. What sets this one apart is that it has all kinds of community resources built-in, like a prayer wall and social media. The only downside (for me, at least) is that you have to create a membership. Of course, that membership, combined with the community elements can help to strengthen your habit because of the social accountability.
Coram Deo Church in Omaha provides these daily recordings of scripture and prayer. I like this podcast because it works well with Spotify, my preferred way to listen to podcasts. I also like that they vary the readers, providing a rotation of male & female voices. This podcast includes many of the rhythms familiar from the Book of Common Prayer — confession, scripture, intercession — but, with the exception of the Lord’s Prayer, this podcast uses modern variants on the traditional prayers and always connects some part of prayer time explicitly to the scripture reading.
Now we return to my favorite simple online devotional tool, this time for audio. Though Mission St. Clare’s audio versions of the daily office don’t integrate with my podcast player and they don’t have an easy app, I find that a bookmarked link makes this just as simple as an app or podcast.
I hope these tools help you to keep your resolution and bring you into a richer relationship with God in the process.
Now I’m curious: what helps you stay on track with scripture and prayer? What tools and tricks would you add to this list?
Christine Hand Jones is a singer-songwriter, a professor of English and songwriting, and has served as a worship leader and church music director. She has a PhD in Literary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas, which she earned, in large measure, by listening to the collected works of Bob Dylan and writing about what she heard. When she's not playing music or fascinating her students with stunning lectures over comma splices, Christine can be found drinking coffee, playing devoted cat mom to Desmond and Molly, and roaming the shelves of Half-Price Books.