In a podcast listener survey I conducted last spring, I asked the question, “What is your biggest struggle with balance?” and one woman responded this way:
I have virtually no Bible reading or prayer life and I just don’t know where to start with that.Tired and Overwhelmed Mama/Podcast Listener
I commend this young mom for recognizing that a lack of communication with God is contributing to her balance struggles. Many women who struggle with balance don’t connect the dots between their lack of balance and their anemic prayer life. Praying and reading the Bible sound like two more items on the long To-Do list.
The truth is, having a growing, living, real relationship with God is vital if we want the peace Jesus promises us–a promise for those who abide in Christ and allow Christ to abide in them. Abiding in Christ is impossible if we fail to talk to Him through prayer and fail to listen to Him through reading His Word, the Bible. (See John 14-16)
Once you recognize your own need for this vital communication, it will naturally follow that you will make time for it in your day. Because, whether we want to admit it or not, we all find time to do the things we want to do.
If you’re just starting out and have never really prayed or read the bible before, the daily practice of this can seem daunting.
I can relate. Growing up, my parents neither taught me nor modeled for me the spiritual discipline of daily time with the Lord. They were wonderful parents and they taught me tons of things, but how to have a consistent prayer life was not one of them.
It wasn’t until I became a mother at the age of 29 that I even attempted to establish any semblance of daily prayer or Bible reading routine. I can remember after I had my first son, Noah, eating dinner with two women from my church. Both of these women were young pastors’ wives, not much older than me. I was desperate for godly mentors and these ladies fit the bill. They were both moms, and they enjoyed loving marriages and thriving relationships with the Lord.
So, I was sitting there, listening to them talk about motherhood and life, when suddenly one of them said something about getting up at 5 am to pray. And I was just like, WHAT?
You get up WHEN?
WHY? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!
She might as well have been describing her training regiment for the Olympics. On the outside, I was smiling and nodding, but on the inside, I was all, that’s so nice for you, Superstar. But normal people don’t do that.
The prayer life she described seemed unrealistic and unattainable to me. Getting up at 5 am for any reason other than feeding my infant was out of the question. And even those middle-of-the-night feedings were questionable.
(Notice for 29-year-old Sandy: 5 am = middle of the night)
I had been walking with the Lord for over a decade by then and had yet to establish a consistent prayer and Bible reading life. To be clear, I did pray and I did read the Bible. I even taught Bible studies! I was involved in church, sang on the worship team, held several leadership roles over the years…but my private prayer life lacked consistency and depth.
Now, it’s almost 24 years later. And guess what. I’m that crazy lady getting up at 5 am to pray.
How did I get from there to here?
Well, I can tell you two things I did NOT do:
- I didn’t beat myself up for the fact that I wasn’t like those other women. That would have been completely unproductive and would have never moved me closer to my goals or, more importantly, to my God.
- I didn’t change in a day. I didn’t wake up the next morning at 5 am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and from thenceforth haveth a vibranteth prayer lifeth.
My personal growth in this area took years, and it is still evolving to this day.
So, as you approach the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading, realize it will take some time, a little planning, and plenty of flexibility.
Maybe you are like this listener: a young mom with a baby who doesn’t have a consistent prayer life to speak of.
Or maybe you have some sort of prayer life, but you want to go deeper or be more consistent–like me at age 29.
Or maybe you previously enjoyed a thriving prayer and Bible reading routine, but you’ve allowed it to fall away.
No matter where you are, please don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s possible to build some healthy habits that grow into an established routine. I’m going to give you some super practical ways you can get started.
- Start small.
- Focus on systems, not outcomes.
- Be willing to do a little bit of trial and error as you figure it out.
James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits (affiliate link) shares this illustration.
“Imagine you are flying from Los Angeles to New York City. If a pilot leaving from LAX adjusts the heading just 3.5 degrees south, you will land in Washington, D.C., instead of New York. Such a small change is barely noticeable at takeoff–the nose of the airplane moves just a few feet–but when magnified across the entire United States, you end up hundreds of miles apart. Similarly, a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
In other words, you may think that just making one small change to your day– spending only a few minutes with the Lord–doesn’t matter much. But this very small change, over time, will change who you are.
Spending time with God every single day will change how you think, which impacts how you behave and interact with other people. It literally changes the trajectory of your life.
So, practically speaking, when it comes to just beginning a daily prayer and Bible-reading habit, what is “small”? Well, I’d suggest 15 minutes a day.
We all have 15 minutes to spare. (Don’t argue with me. Yes, you do!)
A recent study of 11K Rescue Time users revealed that the average person spends 3 hours and 15 minutes per day on their phone. And according to a recent article in Forbes, we spend an average of 3 hours a day on social media alone. And if you are Gen Z, you are spending an average of 9 hours every day on a screen. (Gen Z = the kids of Gen X, born between the late 1990s and early 2010s)
See? We all have 15 minutes to spend on prayer. Right? Right.
“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”John piper
Focus on Systems, Not Outcomes
This is also a concept I first read in Atomic Habits. I first applied it to health and fitness goals in a previous podcast episode in a series called 31 Days to Your Healthiest Year Ever. There I told you why I don’t like weight-loss goals. I’m all for setting health and fitness goals. But a weight-loss goal is not ideal. Simply stated: weight is an outcome, and it is difficult to control an outcome.
A person may set a goal to lose 10 lbs in a month. That sounds great in theory, but in reality, she can’t control how much weight her body will shed or how quickly it will happen. Weight is an outcome.
She can, however, control what she eats, how much she eats, how often she eats, and how much she exercises. She can develop systems (healthy eating and a good workout routine) to support her desired outcome (weight loss).
Systems determine outcomes. Good processes yield favorable outcomes and bad processes yield poor outcomes. This is true in spiritually related systems, as well. Sowing seeds to please the Spirit of God will produce good spiritual fruit.
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.Galatians 6:8
Do you have a “goal” to be a certain kind of woman? I do. Someday–and I’m totally serious when I say this– I want to be one of those spunky old ladies whose words are so Biblically rich and full of wisdom that young women (including my own daughters, future daughter-in-law, and future granddaughters) will want to be near me, just so I can speak wisdom into their lives. I want to be so in love with Jesus that I am not afraid to die, but instead excited to pass into eternity when the time comes.
And also, I don’t want to be one of those crotchety old ladies who watches 24-hour-a-day cable news and complains what a mess the world is. I want to be full of joy. I want to be the kind of old lady who knows how to speak peaceful words so everyone calms-the-freak-down.
That’s a lofty goal.
But I’m hopeful I will get there because I have systems in place in my daily life that directly support and sow into that goal:
- I take good care of my physical body so that, as much as it depends on me, I will actually live to be an old lady (!) with a sharp mind.
- I fiercely guard my heart and mind against the philosophies and strongholds of this world. I spend time in God’s Word and spend time doing the work of God, so that as I grow old, my mind and my words will be shaped by God, not by this upsidedown world.
- And, of course, I engage in regular sarcasm and quick-witted retorts, to support the “spunky” part of my goal. I’m sarcastic for the children.
What I do today might not seem like a big deal. The little decisions I make about what to eat for breakfast, or how to spend my time, what to think about, or when to drop a clever pun won’t make or break me today. But I know when I continue to focus on good habits and good systems, they will eventually yield the results I desire–in this case, wise and godly spunky old lady.
So, maybe your goal is to hear the voice of God more clearly so you can discern what to do next, or be more fluent in Scriptural concepts so you can understand the Bible, or be a woman who gets genuinely excited about spending time in God’s presence. Those are wonderful goals. But I challenge you to focus on small habits and routines that support those goals, not on the goals themselves.
Be Willing to Do Some Trial and Error
If establishing time with God to pray and read the Bible is completely new to you, you may have no idea what works well for you and what does not. This is a great time for some “getting to know yourself” questions to identify your personality and learning style.
Question: Do you like structure or do you prefer things a little more free-flowing?
If you like structure, you may enjoy working through a written Bible study that has a day of the week written at the top and gives you a specific lesson to complete each day. Or maybe, you would enjoy a daily devotional with a scripture verse written at the top, a short application, and three questions for reflection.
If you like things a little more free-flowing, you may want to simply read through books of the Bible, a little every day, at your own pace.
Question: Do you prefer reading, or audio, or video?
If you prefer reading, then you should consume a written copy of the Bible (duh). If you prefer audio, you may want to listen to Scripture read to you (there are apps that will do that). If you prefer video, you may want to check out Right Now Media where you can choose from over 20,0000 videos of Bible teachers on various topics and books of the Bible. You could also purchase a video-driven Bible study, or attend an in-person study.
Question: Do you need some outside accountability or do you work best alone?
If you like, need, or want a buddy, you may want to join a Bible study at church or online. That’s a little bit bigger time commitment than 15 minutes a day, but if the weekly accountability helps you stay committed to the daily habit of prayer and Bible reading, then that may work for you.
Personally, I prefer structure (I lose focus without a plan), reading off of paper (no screens, no noise), and I prefer to do it alone (no people, please). So, it stands to reason that I love to work through written Bible studies in the early morning before anyone else gets up.
But I didn’t start out that way.
Remember when the superhuman prayer-olympian pastors’ wives talked to me? Well, my first attempts at moving toward my personal time with God started out by reading a chapter of my Bible out loud in the morning, in the rocking chair, after I nursed my baby.
Then when my baby got old enough to take a morning nap, I’d wait until I put the baby down, and then I’d get out my Bible and read a chapter or two. Then I started working through short written studies. Then I added some worship music and I’d sing a little. Then I stopped doing the worship music thing (see above preference regarding quiet) and I added journaling instead.
When my kids got old enough to go to child care, I attended a women’s Bible study at church. Then I decided to lead Bible studies in my home. Then I remembered that I really like to be alone (!) when I talk to God, so I added that back in. Then I realized that it was not good for anyone that I utter a single word before I immerse myself in God’s Word, so I forced myself to set an alarm and get up before I woke my kids up for school. And that is the story of how I became the crazy 5 am prayer lady.
You need to know when something isn’t working for you any longer. You may discover the best time of the day to pray is during your baby’s nap time, only to have your baby give up her nap, or start teething, or you have another baby, or your kids start school, or Daylight Savings Time personally assaults you with a one hour time change.
And you need to find another time.
That’s okay. Just keep trying to establish the habit.
I cover all of this in my book Is the Voice in My Head God or Just Me. If you want to go into greater depth on this topic, pick up a copy.
Random Tips to Make This New Prayer and Bible-Reading Habit Stick
- Do it first thing in the morning. If you have a baby or small children at home, “first thing in the morning” probably means the first opportunity after you’ve gotten baby and/or toddler up, changed, and fed. Or it may mean at the first nap. Once you are getting a full night’s sleep every night, then you can try getting up before baby. Two of the advantages of doing it first thing: if you accomplish nothing else in the day, you did the most important thing; and it sets your heart and mind on God before you encounter any other humans. (And the whole family said Amen)
- Choose an easy-to-read, modern translation of the Bible. You don’t need to start out by understanding the original Hebrew and Greek. Approach the Word of God like milk. The Bible refers to Scripture for those who are young in the faith as the milk of the word (1 Peter 2:2) –easy to consume and digest. Try the New International Version (NIV) or the New Living Translation (NLT). If you don’t own a Bible you can download a free Bible app (I have You Version) where you have the option to read it in almost any translation–or have a man with a British accent read it to you.
- Follow a Bible reading plan. You can Google “Bible Reading Plans” and find one you like and print one out, buy a Bible that is structured this way, follow one on the You Version app, or download mine–it’s free!
- Read through the passages that your pastor preaches in the Sunday sermon. You can read the same chapter every day throughout the week or read it in a different translation of the chapter every day. (If you don’t attend a church, you should probably do that, too.)
- If prayer sounds weird and uncomfortable to you, remember, prayer is just talking to God. It doesn’t have to be structured or formal. Your prayer can be as simple as, “Jesus, please help me understand what I’m reading right now. Please help me be a good mom–I have no idea what I’m doing. Please lead my children to your heart–I don’t feel like a very good example. Please bless the work of my hands.” Be completely honest with God and ask Him for whatever you need. He just wants to have a conversation with you.
- Pray through the Psalms. This is a great way to combine your prayer time with your Bible reading time. Plus it gives you words when you aren’t sure what to say. I’m doing this right now. Read through the chapters and whenever something resonates with you, pray it as a prayer to God.
So, dear Tired and Overwhelmed Mama and everyone like her: don’t wait for the perfect time. If you desire to have a Bible reading and prayer life, just start. If, like the listener who expressed this struggle, you have a baby on your hip, don’t wait until you are completely alone or until you are sleeping through the night. This day may not come until your kids are grown and out of the house (kidding/not kidding). Just pull that baby up onto your lap and read out loud. Babies love the sound of your voice and will not care one bit that you’re reading the Gospel of John to them.
By including your kids in the process, you will be demonstrating to them the importance of connecting with God on a daily basis and showing them how easy it is to do it.
This blog post is adapted from the transcript of The Balanced MomCast, EP118 How to Start a Daily Prayer and Bible Reading Routine. To listen to this episode, click here.
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This is part of a series where I am answering listener questions and addressing your biggest balance struggles. If you’d like to submit a question, leave a comment below or shoot me an email. and I will try to answer it on the show or in a future blog post.