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 (Manna 96: Spiritual Nurture: Prayer)
Spiritual Health: The Role of Prayer
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Daniel Liew—Portsmouth, UK


Mens sana in corpore sano: "A healthy mind in a healthy body." Or more colloquially, "Healthy body, healthy mind." The idea is that our physical health and mental health are intertwined. Nowadays, there is a great emphasis on supporting our physical and mental health through good habits that promote well-being and improve quality of life. Similarly, Paul recognized the benefits of bodily exercise. However, he counseled that we should endeavor to exercise ourselves towards godliness, which benefits us in this life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:8).

As believers, our spiritual health is of utmost importance. If our spiritual health is good, it positively impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health. Furthermore, if we are spiritually well, then even when facing physical illness or difficulties that affect our emotional and mental state, we can weather the storm. Therefore, we must establish spiritual habits that support and enhance our spiritual health. One such habit is prayer.

The Benefits of Prayer for Spiritual Health

Jesus emphasized the importance of prayer in the life of a disciple, and how it is the key to avoid entering into temptation or faltering in our faith (Mk 13:33; 14:38). Jesus led by example, often withdrawing into the wilderness to pray throughout His ministry (Lk 5:16).

Prayer is a fundamental weapon God arms us with as we battle external trials, temptations, and internal struggles. Paul encourages us to be anxious for nothing. No matter what we face, the first action is to offer prayer and supplication to God (Phil 4:6). Whether we need spiritual strength, wisdom, comfort, encouragement, or anything else to help us uphold our faith, we only have to ask and the Lord will provide us these good things (Mt 7:11). Paul also teaches us to offer prayers with thanksgiving. To ask for something we need comes easily. More challenging is being thankful in times of need.

Normally, we thank God when we recognize what He has done or is doing for us. Whether it is seeing His will and guidance in a trial, learning an important lesson from our circumstances, or being delivered from trouble, there is much to be thankful for when we take time to count His blessings, great and small. Even amid a trial, we can be grateful for the opportunity to grow (Jas 1:2–3). Then, when we pray, it is not without hope. Instead, we are buoyed by all the occasions God helped us previously; we can pray with a thankful heart, knowing He has proven Himself faithful to us and other brethren. He can and will help us now and in times to come. Therefore, when we couple requests with thanksgiving, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7).


Having considered some of the benefits of prayer, we know we must strive to establish a life of prayer. It only takes one prayer to start a prayer habit, but maintaining a regular habit is fundamental to establishing a life of prayer. Without consistency, we will have multiple "false starts" and fail to make prayer a natural part of our lives.

Thank God, my parents established a regular family altar when I was young. They set the time and led the way. However, when I moved away to university, I had to take responsibility for my own prayer life. I resolved to pray first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The question was how long my prayer should be. When praying with others, we can unconsciously pray longer, spurred on by the other voices lifted in prayer. However, praying alone can feel difficult. I decided to set a timer: three minutes. It seems almost laughable now, but this felt like an immense task to someone without an independent prayer habit. These days, a three-minute video on social media can seem relatively quick—we barely pause before scrolling to another. In contrast, the first few prayers felt like an eternity. I kept checking the timer to ensure I had set it or to see how much time had elapsed. I was easily distracted by the sound of people passing by my dormitory room, afraid that someone might knock on my door to ask what I was doing—upon reflection, an unlikely scenario. Not being fully engaged made praying harder. But I struggled through the first few days, persevering for the sake of my spiritual health. Over the next couple of weeks, I got into a routine, and prayer became a more normal part of my life.

Looking back, God helped me realize a few things:

1. If we perceive something as difficult or burdensome, we naturally become disinclined to do it.

When we feel this way, even the shortest time spent on the task can seem challenging. However, adjusting our mentality and viewing it more positively helps it to become as natural as breathing.

2. The more we focus on the time when praying, the slower time passes.

This is not the manifestation of a superpower but rather a human weakness. The idiom "a watched pot never boils," or in this case, "a watched timer never goes off," sums it up. In contrast, the time flies by when we focus on drawing nearer to God and the subject of our prayer.

3. We need to focus on the bigger picture.

It is unnecessary to berate ourselves if we miss a prayer or feel guilty if we cannot pray for as long as we would like. Life can be hectic, so at times we may offer a quick prayer before we set about the day's business, or only have the energy to say a brief prayer before bed. This should be the exception and not the norm. The point is to make prayer an integral part of our life.

Looking back, I see how God encouraged me as I started my life of prayer. A couple of weeks in, I attended an evening service, and during the concluding prayer, I was suddenly filled with the Spirit. I felt a firm yet gentle force bringing my hands up to clap and praise the Lord. I had never experienced anything like this before, and I wondered why this had happened. Then I realized it was a signpost that said, "Keep going this way." Establishing a prayer habit was the right thing to do. Thank God for His love and encouragement! God sees and knows when we are striving to grow in our faith, and He is willing to support us every step of the way!

Daniel's Example

Daniel left behind a good example for us to learn from:

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. (Dan 6:10)

1. He set a time to pray.

Daniel prayed three times that day, as was his custom since the early days. Whether "early days" refers to his pre-exile childhood or the start of his captivity is unclear. However, it is clear that it was a well-established habit from young, maintained throughout his life. Three times a day could have been evening, morning, and noon (Ps 55:17). That is not to say we must rigidly follow Daniel's schedule. Some pray in the morning and at night, while others pick one or the other. Some may even pray more than three times a day. The principle is that we should make time to pray. The frequency and length of our prayers are parameters we decide for ourselves. We know our routine, the best time to pray, and how long we can pray. Establishing such a routine may even involve changing our lifestyle to accommodate slots for prayers. It may mean waking up a little earlier or being more organized to save time and make time to pray. It may mean less screen time—be it phone scrolling, streaming platforms, or gaming—so we can have more "face time" with God.

2. He set a place to pray.

Daniel went to the privacy of his upper room, where he would be undisturbed, able to focus, and free to pray for as long as he wished. Jesus taught us to go into our room and shut the door when we pray to our Father (Mt 6:6). The private space indicated here was "a room in the interior of a house, normally without windows opening to the outside."[1] While we may not be able to follow this literally, the principle is that we must pick an environment conducive for prayer. If we pray in a distracting environment or allow our mind to wander, we cannot reap the benefits of setting aside time to pray.

3. He set a direction to pray.

Daniel prayed towards Jerusalem through the open windows in his upper room. This was likely by design, not coincidence. When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed that if God’s people sinned and were delivered into exile, and when the people realized their sin, repented, and prayed towards the promised land, Jerusalem, and the temple, God would hear their prayers and forgive the people (1 Kgs 8:46–53). Daniel evidently had a direction in his prayer. Perhaps he prayed for himself or for God’s people to receive God’s mercy and deliverance. In any case, he had various matters to pray for, just as we do. We need to be clear who or what we are praying for. Ultimately, we pray for God’s will to be realized in our lives.

This depiction of Daniel’s life of prayer was against the backdrop of a decree that no one should petition any god or man, other than the king, within thirty days. Anyone found guilty of this crime would be cast into the lion’s den. Daniel knew this decree tested his faith and obedience to God. However, he did not give up his habit but continued to trust in God through prayer. In fact, his prayerful nature and faithfulness to God were why he was delivered from the lions’ mouths. His example is one of many showing that prayer is the key to forging a way onward with God’s help.


Spiritual growth is the aim of spiritual cultivation and cannot be achieved without prayer.

Show me Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day. (Ps 25:4–5)

We desire for the Lord to teach us and lead us on His paths so we can receive His salvation. Part of how God saves us is through the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5). Jesus teaches us to pray for the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who will guide us into all truth, teaching and helping us to remember God’s word to aid our spiritual growth (Jn 16:13; 14:26). Prayer is how we become filled with the Spirit, who strengthens and renews us to be more spiritually minded. The more time we spend with God, the closer we draw to Him and the more sensitive we become to His words and His will.

As we seek to put God’s word into practice and align ourselves with His will, we will invariably encounter external and internal challenges. Sometimes, we are plagued with doubts over whether we can change, grow spiritually, or overcome obstacles on the way to heaven; such doubts weaken our resolve. Prayer enables us to put those fears to rest and gain strength to carry on. When Paul was undergoing tribulations in the ministry, he knew the believers might lose heart to keep progressing in their faith. So he prayed that they would "be strengthened with might through the Spirit in the inner man" (Eph 3:16). The "inner man" could refer to the heart or the spiritual self, but the sentiment is clear: we need the Holy Spirit’s help to strengthen our resolve. As we continue in our prayer life, God's love is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). Being filled and moved by His love, we become more confident in the heavenly hope we have been given. It becomes an anchor. Being filled with the Spirit confirms that Jesus wants to save us and bring us to our heavenly home. This motivates and strengthens us to draw closer to God and obey His words.

It can be discouraging when we are overcome by our weaknesses. But, again, prayer is the answer:

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15–16)

Jesus knows and understands our weaknesses and faith struggles. He manifested in the flesh and faced the same kinds of temptations we do. The only difference is that He was without sin, which is why He is best placed to support us. He is the victor leading us to victory over sin and doubt, and the path to victory is paved with prayer. So, we must come before the throne of grace to obtain mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

After we receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses (Rom 8:26). Even when we do not know what we need, the Spirit intercedes according to the will of God for us (Rom 8:27). As we pray in tongues, we speak mysteries relating to the things of God and His kingdom (Mt 13:11), which in turn edify us (1 Cor 14:4). This is part of the renewal process of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings God’s word to our mind and teaches us what to do.

Fasting Prayers

When pursuing spiritual growth, it is sometimes beneficial to engage in fasting prayers, which allow us to humble or afflict ourselves before God, prioritizing our relationship with Him over physical sustenance. We can fast and pray when we need spiritual power and guidance to overcome a great difficulty or to show remorse when repenting and seeking forgiveness. We can also fast and pray to understand God’s words better or receive spiritual strength and wisdom to serve the Lord (Mt 17:21).

The primary fasting method is to abstain from food or drink for a pre-determined period and dedicate that extra time and focus to prayer. The Bible depicts two "levels" of fasting.

1. Full fasting: no food and drink for a period (Est 4:16).

Rinsing the mouth with water or taking little sips may be permissible for longer durations, but not to fill the stomach with water.

2. Semi-fasting: simple food and drink for a period (Dan 10:2–3).

This is to deprive ourselves of pleasure and enjoyment to engage in a more ascetic (i.e., more disciplined, less indulgent) lifestyle for spiritual cultivation.

Whatever level of restriction we self-impose, the ultimate aim is to pray and spend more time with God.

No matter who or what we fast and pray for, there are a few principles we should bear in mind:

1. Always fast for a purpose.

When a local church organizes a group fasting prayer for members to join, some may participate because it is a scheduled activity or because others are doing it. However, we must understand why we are fasting and what we are praying for. If we lack focus, then we are just going through the motions. Biblical examples of those who practiced fasting prayer, such as Esther, Daniel, and Jesus, all did so with a purpose.

2. Dedicate more time to pray.

Fasting prayers are when we forego eating and drinking to make more time to pray. Fasting without praying is just not eating. Practically, it is better to pick occasions when we can realistically fast and make more time to pray.

3. Do not do it for show.

In Matthew 6:16–18, Jesus teaches us not to be gloomy-faced and draw attention to the fact that we are fasting. Some may enjoy the esteem that comes with such sacrifice or become proud that they can do what others cannot. This mentality is not in line with the spirit of fasting prayer. Rather, we should make ourselves presentable so others are none the wiser.

4. Do not lead a double life.

Committing to a fasting prayer means devoting time to God and our faith. Therefore, we should not behave in a manner contrary to our faith. God rebuked the Israelites because He saw through their superficial piety of making sacrifices and fasting and perceived their underlying iniquity and wickedness towards God and man (Isa 1:13; 58:3–7). This kind of fasting prayer does not please God.


Even if we take perfect care of our physical health, it will invariably decline one day. That is undesirable and unavoidable. Paul encourages us that while outwardly we are perishing, the inward man should be renewed daily (2 Cor 4:16). Therefore, allowing our spiritual health to decline is undesirable but avoidable. One way to nurture and support our spiritual health is to establish a prayerful life, draw closer to our God, and draw from God’s help. Though the path to life is narrow and difficult (Lk 13:24; Mt 7:13–14), Jesus is willing and able to guide and strengthen us throughout this journey. So let us remember the words of Elder Peter:

But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. (1 Pet 4:7)

Prayer is something we need to prioritize and take seriously. It is a time for communing with God and for reflection and self-evaluation, preventing a decline into spiritual infirmity. This is how a healthy life of prayer leads to a healthy spiritual life.

[1] JP Louw, and EA Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, Volume 1 (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 84.

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Author: Daniel Liew