In his book If You Want To Walk On Water, John Ortberg challenged readers to a task that haunts me still:
Pray consistently, about one particular thing, every day for a year.
For Ortberg, this challenge is part of a much broader question: how faithful are we in our praying and our asking? How much do we persevere? How can we feel disappointed about the answers or apparent non-answers to pray when most of us can’t even make it more than a week praying about the same thing?
I’ll admit here that praying consistently about one thing every day for a year is a challenge I’ve never been able to complete. There are matters on which I think I have come close – but an emergency, a change in routine, a schedule, or simple forgetfulness throws everything off the table. I have prayed about people and questions over the course of years, but never with a drumbeat consistency.
To Ortberg’s credit, he never promises in the book that praying about something every day for one year will cause some fundamental change or miracle. It isn’t a formula or a way to force God to grant your wishes. But he suspects – rightly, I think – that if we approach prayer with that level of consistency and faithfulness we might be surprised at what changes – if not in our circumstances, in ourselves.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how vital consistency is not just to prayer, but to every aspect of the Christian life. Showing up for God faithfully, repeatedly, makes a difference. It transforms who we are. It likely offers opportunities for God to work in and through us that we can’t imagine.
With the arrival of spring, I’ve started back on my walks and hikes again. The other day, for the first time since winter, I threw on my old hiking boots and headed out with my husband to walk the local ridge line. I came home limping. My feet were blistered and my toes were sore, and I was bewildered: I’d worn those boots all last summer and spring and fall, and all the way to Ireland and back. Why these new and sudden bruises? My boots were already broken in!
It took peeling my socks off at home to realize that winter had done it. I’d stopped my hikes and, in their few months on vacation, my feet had reverted to their soft and pampered state. I’d lost the calluses that kept blisters from forming and the skin that was accustomed to moleskin hiking boots. In the absence of consistent hiking, my very feet had regressed: I’d have to teach them all over again what it meant to hike and walk every day.
It has been on my heart more and more lately that small habits, daily practices, consistency, consistency, consistency, is what will make or break the difference in my Christian walk. Regardless of your call, what dreams or grand visions God has given you, what plans the Lord has for you, those small, daily acts and practices – the continual focus on God over and over and over again until He becomes a reflex, an ingrained part of every moment – will make or break the journey. And it will make or break us, too, into the people that God plans for us to be.
We can’t grow without prayer, knowledge of Scripture, and time spent with God. But if our prayers are sporadic, our knowledge of Scripture is scattered, and our time spent with God is insufficient, what growth we do have is going to fall woefully short of what could have been.
Start small. Stay consistent. And see what happens. I’m willing to bet that the outcome will be much greater than the sum of its parts.