We have discussed a bit about what prayer is. And we have looked at why we, as Christians, must have a robust prayer life. I don't think the fact that we must pray is a surprise to anyone. And yet, prayer is one of the most difficult commands to keep consistently. In this article, I will outline 12 very practical things that can be done to be more consistent in our prayer lives. They are simple and yet can be life-altering if we implement them effectively.
Here is the audio version of this post:
1. Decide on a consistent time and place
One of the beautiful things about the privilege of communicating with our Creator God is that we can do it anywhere, at any time. We do not need to be in a particular location, speak special words or offer any rituals.
However, sometimes that anywhere and any time turn into nowhere and never. Our lives are busy. I totally get it. I personally have four awesome children, a Pastor husband, and a demanding part-time profession. I know busy just like you know busy. Too often we let the good things we are doing distract us from time alone with the very reason we live.
A scheduled time and location may be just what we need. Maybe it's at 5:30am for half an hour before the house erupts. Perhaps it's during lunch at work, or during a long commute. Maybe it means sacrificing that TV show in the evening. Find a time that works. Find a place that's quiet. And just make a priority out of communication with an all-powerful God.
2. Pray at any time and any place
We are at the second point and I am already contradicting myself. No, not really. Prayer should be prioritized and scheduled as mentioned above. But it should also be spontaneous. We are to “Pray without ceasing“. That means that our prayers cannot be limited to the very important time we have carved out specifically for it.
We need to be carrying out our daily lives with an attitude of praise and communion with God. We should be praying for the little things in life as well as the big things. And we must be willing to stop what we are doing and pray. These prayers don't have to be long or pretty. They just have to be an outflowing of the heart to God.
One implication of this is that if you tell someone you will pray for them, do it right then if possible (and it is almost always possible). Pray with them over a phone line, a text, an e-mail or a Facebook message. If you are with them, ask them if you can stop and pray for them where you are. It may not seem natural, but it can be powerful. Add them to your prayer list and take the time to include their need in your petitions.
3. Start and end with praise
How often do we come before the God of Creation with our list as the first item on our prayer life agenda? We know we don't have much time and therefore we must get through the things we need to ask of Him. We have a plan for this half hour after all. Or at the very least, we have pressing needs that we want to bring before Him. Now.
Here's the thing. God knows our needs. He knows what's on our list. And he knows our heart. What He really demands of us is our worship. And when we offer up our praise to Him for who He is, our hearts become oriented to Him. Read a Psalm about praise. Lift up your voice to Him in song. Cry out from your heart in acknowledgement of who He is and why He is worthy of our adoration.
4. Let God speak to you through his Word first
Wait, we are talking about our prayer life here, not bible study. Right? Well, yes. Prayer is when we talk to God. It's one way. God doesn't pray back to us. He does, however, desire very much to speak to us. And the primary way that he does that is through His word, the Holy Bible.
Hebrews 4:12 says ” For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The word of God is powerful and can center us and teach us as we come before God.
Read something from the Bible before you pray. Maybe it's a passage you are memorizing. Maybe it's a pretty printable verse you use to decorate your journal. Perhaps, it's a bit of a bible reading plan, a verse referenced in the sermon this week, or one from a bible study you are participating in. Just read God's word and be quiet for a few minutes. Let God speak to you before you talk to Him. It may be awkward, even though you are alone, but the more you do it, the more amazing it will become.
5. Focus on spiritual needs before physical needs
Again, remember that God already knows our needs. He knows our circumstances. We should definitely still be praying for these, very specifically. Pray for your husband's job, your nephew's asthma and your child's upcoming school event. But before that, pray for the condition of your soul and of those around you.
Confess your own sins (I John 1: 9) and repent of them. Then remember to put everything into perspective. In your prayer life, you don't wrestle only with flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). God cares about all of our temporal circumstantial needs. But he cares so much more for our eternal salvation.
6. Use a List as a tool in your prayer life
Sometimes when I pray, my mind goes a little blank. Or worse, it wanders to all I need to be doing with my day. If I have a list, it really helps. We have talked about not being legalistic in our prayers and sometimes following a strict To Do List for your prayer life can quickly become dry. On the other hand… the wandering mind…
My suggestion is to make a list of your prayers, but don't feel completely beholden to it if the Holy Spirit leads you in another direction during your praise and worship time with Him. There are several ways to do this. One way is to have things that you pray for every day in one list and then determine specific topics you will pray for each day of the week. These little printable bookmarks are available to download in a Prayer Journal Workshop and are a good example.
Another way to “list” is to use concentric circles. You start your prayers with your most personal requests and move out from there. For example, your circles may look like this. Blank Journal Circles can also be downloaded in the Prayer Journal Workshop.
Either way you choose to organize your prayer life, having a guide to help you maintain focus during your scheduled prayer time can be beneficial.
7. Do not put a limit on your requests
Be willing to pray for big things. We serve a big God and he is able to do “more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 6:20). We need to come boldly before Him and ask.
Be willing to pray for small things. Sometimes we forget that our big God also cares deeply for us in a very personal way. Do you remember the shortest verse in the Bible? Yep, the one we all memorized in Kids Church to get a piece of candy. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Do you remember why Jesus wept? Just two verses before, we learn why. “When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” He didn't weep because Lazarus had died because he knew he was going to raise him from the dead. He wept because Mary and the others were hurting. He cared for their sorrow even knowing that he was about to soothe it. What a beautiful scene.
8. Pray the Bible
Yep, we are back to the word of God. It's that important. We talked about how sometimes praying through lists, although good, can become a bit insincere. The way to combat that is to pray scripture over your list. Ask God to show you in His word how to pray for people and things in your life.
Start with scripture. Take the verses that you read and actually use them to guide your prayers for others. John Piper says it like this “Open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into a prayer.” He also has a list of about 40 prayers from the New Testament that you can work through. This is a great way to pray, especially if you are new to it.
9. Look for answers
God answers prayer. Look for these answers and document them. It becomes a testimony of his grace and goodness as we see our prayers answered. It can also be a picture of His sovereign influence over our lives as we see them answered in ways that we were not really wanting or expecting. Sometimes it takes the perspective of time to see how He is working, and sometimes we may never see the reason behind certain answers this side of Heaven, but it is still a comfort and joy to know that the God of the Universe is listening and responding.
Along these lines, think of how you may be used to answer prayer. Is there a need that you can help meet? Think practically and critically. God uses ordinary people like you and me in his magnificent plan. What a privilege and a blessing.
10. Be consistent in your prayer life
Don't let things derail your plans to spend time with God. Believe me, things will come up and it will be very easy to put this time off. Don't. As humans, we need food, drink and sleep to survive. As Christians, we need prayer in the same way.
Just do it.
11. Be persistent
Come to God boldly and do not be afraid to pray the same prayers over and over again. In fact, the Bible says that persistence is important.
“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” I Chronicles 16:11
The parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18: 1-8 is a clear example of this.
Jacob wrestled with an angel in his persistence in Genesis 32: 24-32.
We are to keep asking, focusing on our cries to God one day at a time.
12. Document prayers and their answers
This is a discipline that is certainly not required but can be a tremendous blessing. Consider keeping a Prayer Journal. For one thing, it can keep us focused when it's time to pray. It can also give us a place to keep the lists we mentioned above. Finally, it acts as a way to remember the grace and power of God. Journaling can enrich your prayer life and draw you closer to God.
Reflect on these twelve ways to improve your prayer life. Perhaps a couple of them will be beneficial to you. I'm certainly working on these myself. Regardless of how you pray, make it a habit. Over time, it will develop into a tremendous joy and will help you gain a closer walk with our Almighty God.