The fact that you even care about your prayers is an incredible sign of God’s love for you and His desire to keep you close to Him! How many Muslims do you know personally who have not prayed in years and who have no desire to do so? God has honored you by placing in your heart the desire to fulfill this part of your relationship with Him.
The question is: will you accept being chosen and show Him that you really care?
Praying the five daily prayers on time, every day, is a good habit that just needs to be built. You’ve been building habits since you were a child and this is just another habit you need to develop and strengthen.
Consider the call of hunger. When you were an infant and you were hungry, you’d likely call out for someone to quell the pain of your hunger. Someone in your life most likely came to help you take care of this need; they fed and nourished you, and your body, in turn, responded and began to grow.
As you developed and learned how to eat for yourself, you most likely recognized the call to hunger and developed a habitual response (i.e. eating). The type and proportions of food you ate began to impact your body; the healthy foods for your body helped nourish you and strengthened your physical and mental development.
The overindulgence of food or consistent consumption of unhealthy and junky foods likely began to deteriorate your body. Eventually, your time will pass and your soul will depart. Your body will no longer feel the need for, nor be able to respond to, the call of hunger.
The habit of eating when feeling hungry is one you developed; even if it was time consuming, you realized it was something you had to do to survive.
Let’s now consider salah (prayer). Every day, five times a day, your body, your heart and your soul, are begging you to respond to the call to prayer. For those who choose to respond to the call to prayer, you satiate your body, heart, and soul. However, just as with food, this satiation comes in different ways. Those who come to prayer with presence of heart and mind, with focus and desire to nourish and cleanse themselves spiritually, often begin to see the positive impact of their prayers on the rest of their lives.
Some others may answer the call to prayer more neglectfully, perhaps offering them on time or late, all of them or just some of them, but rushing through them mindlessly or negligently. These individuals are still nobly choosing to answer the call, yet like the junk food that can cause a body to be sick and stunt its healthy development and maintenance, this type of prayer could stunt a person’s spiritual growth, perhaps making them weak against succumbing to desires or fighting diseases of the heart and soul.
Finally, just as a dead body does not experience hunger, a spiritually dead person does not feel the need or have interest in responding to the call of prayer. The difference, however, is that while the dead body no longer has a chance to experience revitalization through food, the spiritually dead heart can be revived through prayer.
Prayer alone is not the key to a completely sound spiritual state or understanding, just as food alone is not the only component to maintain a healthy body. However, through developing a focused, centered, and meaningful habit of maintaining the five daily prayers, a person will, God willing, experience incredible benefits in this life and undoubtedly the next.
So, once we’ve recognized that salah is a healthy survival habit which one has the capability to work on maintaining throughout one’s life, the question then becomes: How?
Here are a few suggestions to perhaps get you started. Two are geared to convince and encourage your mind and heart to pray while three are specific tasks to help you begin and maintain the action of prayer.
Recognize the benefits
Simply consider the following as a start: “The five obligatory daily prayers, the Friday prayer followed by another Friday prayer, Ramadan followed by another Ramadan, expiate sins committed in between them as long as major sins are avoided.” (Muslim)
And, “The first thing the people will be accountable for on the Day of Judgment is prayer. Allah will say to His angels (even though He already knows); “Look at my servant’s prayers. Were they complete or not?” If they were complete, it will be written as complete. If they were not fully complete Allah will say, “See if my servant has voluntary prayers.” If he has them, Allah will say, “Complete his obligatory prayers shortage with his voluntary prayers.” Then the rest of his deeds will be dealt with in the same manner.” (Ahmad)
Understand prayer as an investment and a refuge:
Make a list of everything God has given you for which you should be grateful. Also make a list of all the hardships you or loved ones are currently facing. Then, for each of the five daily prayers, take one item off one of those lists and take it to salah.
For an item of gratitude, allow yourself to understand that each and every prayer is an investment in what and whom you love in life being maintained and increased. As He tells us:
…If you are grateful, I will surely increase you… (Ibrahim 14:7)
For an item of difficulty from your list, allow the heaviness of your heart and soul to pour out in every word you utter in prayer. Permit your tears of anger and anguish to release in prostration. Be certain that through this action God will undoubtedly respond to your distress. As He confirms:
Is He [not best] who responds to the desperate one when he calls upon Him and removes evil… (An-Naml 27:62)
Make a chart to keep track of prayers and set daily and weekly goals:
Compensate yourself based on your performance. The below is an example:
Daily Goal—Pray two prayers on time. If mess up, make up the prayer as soon as I can. Reward if meet my goal by end of the day = favorite chocolate bar. Punishment if do not reach goal = clean roommate’s bathroom. Reward if met goal every day of the week: Movie night with best friend. Punishment if not met by end of the week: No Facebook all weekend.
Daily Goal—Pray three prayers on time…
Continue until you’re habitually praying your five a day, on time.
Tag-Team and use technology:
Building a habit often needs support. Find someone who you can text or who will text you to check in for prayers. Consider also using current technology via an app on your phone to remind you of your prayers (if you’ve used an app successfully, please share recommendations!).
There may be times where you feel spiritual exhilaration through prayer; your heart may feel like it’s flying, your eyes may tear up because of a closeness you experience with your Creator. Then there may be times where you feel absolutely nothing; this can make you feel like you’re doing something horribly wrong or that it’s not worth continuing because it doesn’t make you feel any different.
However, be careful not to get addicted to the “feeling” by choosing only to continue praying as long as it “feels” good and despairing in Allah and leaving prayer once you no longer “feel” it. Praying is an obligation. Remember that you are doing this action to the best of your ability for the sake of God, not just because it makes you feel good.
While going through this journey, remember that even overindulging in healthy foods can hurt your body. In the same way, taking prayer, or any aspect of religion, to an extreme can hurt your spiritual state. Praying is not always easy. God Almighty Himself tells us:
And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive. [The humbly submissive are those] Who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him. (Al-Baqarah 2:45-46)
When the going gets tough with your prayers, always remember that God has been, is, and always will be there for you:
“I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.” (Divine Hadith)
Take that step through maintaining your five daily prayers with sincerity, focus and presence of heart. God willing, as you take a few steps, you’ll find Allah already waiting for you.