The Secret to a Healthy Prayer Life

olive branch

I was only one month into seminary when I started feeling my margin diminishing and my calendar filling. Two part time jobs and full time school meant a lot less free space in my day and my week, and it didn’t take long before I started to notice a difference. During a conference call with my professor, he reminded me that it was vital to my spiritual life (along with my relationships and physical health) to find something that filled my soul both daily and weekly.

Something refreshing and filling, both daily and weekly. Creating space in my day and in my week to rest, breathe, refocus, and fill up.

Margin: an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary. That white space around the edge of a page, or that white space in my calendar, where there are no appointments, no errands, no tasks, but just space. To move, to rest, to breathe.

“Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.” (Richard Swenson, M.D.,  Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives)

We cannot have a healthy thriving, flourishing, deep prayer life apart from margin. We have to leave space to pray, to listen, to refocus, to refresh, to be.

In his book, “A Praying Life” Paul Miller says,

“American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray. We are so busy that when we slow down to pray we find it uncomfortable. We prize accomplishments, production. But prayer is nothing but talking to God. It feels useless, as if we are wasting time. Every bone in our bodies screams, “Get to work”.

When we aren’t working, we are used to being entertained. Television, the internet, video games, cell phones make free time as busy as work. When we do slow down, we slip into a stupor. Exhausted by the pace of life, we veg out in front of a screen with earplugs.”

Busyness, productivity, noise, lots to keep our attention keeps us from praying. Later, Miller says,

Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of our outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet.”

Margin is vital to our prayer life. It’s vital to our health, our relationships, our connection to God. We need parts of our day we can just be. We have to fight for margin. We have to learn to say no to the urgent, to say yes to the important. It means we have to say no, not because we are busy, but to keep from being busy.

So if we truly understand to Whom we pray, then margin to pray should become a way of life.  Prayer is a gift, an invitation to be with our Heavenly Father, to enjoy His presence, and be filled by His Spirit. We can’t enjoy this kind of freedom without margin.

So as we consider this season of Lent, how can you rework your day and your week to find margin?

What do you need to say no to, in order to create sacred space with God?

What ways are you choosing other things (TV, social media, etc.) to numb out or fill up margin?  How can you begin to seek God in prayer during those down times instead?

Let’s accept Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-20 to be refreshed in Him:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. 



Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles E. Hummel

Margin for Your Crazy-Busy Life by Michael Hyatt         

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