So far we have looked at the habits from 1 Pet. 1:5-7 that deal with character, namely virtue, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance. Our character determines what kind of person we are. However, we also have to move on from character and into relationships. As the saying goes, no one is an island. Relationships are an essential part of life and an essential part of being a growing disciple. We can look at our relationships as being comprised of three circles with God at the center, other disciples in the next circle, and the world in the third circle. The final three habits from Peter teach us how we can grow and develop good relationships on the journey that is our spiritual life.
Godliness is the habit which develops our relationship with God, which is foundational for all of our other relationships. Godliness is defined as “a particular manner of life characterized by reverence toward God and respect for the beliefs and practices related to him.” Someone who is growing in godliness is going to show that in a lifestyle of devotion to God. The particular practice which most contributes to this is prayer. In reality, all of the practices which we have looked at in connection with the previous four habits – confession, study, fasting, and waiting on the Lord – also contribute towards godliness. But prayer helps us develop a deeper connection and intimacy with God through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
In 1 Tim. 4:7-8, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Discipline is vital in developing not only in this area, but in every area of the spiritual life. There is no way around it; self-help programs which promise results without effort or discipline are a sham. We must be committed to doing what it takes to grow as a disciple, and part of that commitment is spending time with God in prayer on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean that if you have neglected prayer for a period of time that you need to be burdened with guilt. Our heavenly Father is always ready to receive us when we turn back to Him.
Sometimes we struggle with the problem of not having our prayers answered. C. S. Lewis reminds us, however, that “all prayers are heard, though not all prayers are granted. . . . your prayer has never been ignored; it has been considered and refused, for your ultimate good and the good of the whole universe.” A wise and loving parent knows when it is best to not grant their child what they have asked for. As a parent myself, I found that especially when my children were younger they made many requests that I thought it best to say “no” to. Nevertheless, we are to make our requests known to God so that we can receive His peace even if we do not receive everything we ask for (Phil. 4:6-7).
But prayer should also be more than simply a laundry list of what we want from God. Prayer is about building our relationship with Him, not having Him give us everything we want. God is not a means to an end, He is the end of everything we need. One useful exercise to grow in this area is to spend 10 minutes just listening to hear God speak to you. Even if you don’t “hear” anything from Him, it is important to be attentive and allow Him the opportunity to speak so that our conversation with Him does not become a monologue in which we do all the talking. To grow more deeply in this area, I recommend you find a good book on prayer for further reading such as Andrew Murray’s classic, With Christ in the School of Prayer.