In last weeks article we looked at three attitudes for a vibrant prayer life. Thinking of what God has done, seeing our need for Him, and desiring a deeper relationship with Him should drive us to pray more.
But how do we put this into practice? How do we ensure we are praying for everything we should be? How do we foster consistency without becoming mechanical?
Since consistently praying for the right things is our goal, that is where we turn next. Written below are three practical suggestions to cultivate vibrant, consistent prayer. The suggestions are neither exhaustive nor exclusive, but I hope they will help us analyze our prayer lives and see where we can grow.
Pick A Structure
Already, some may balk at this suggestion. “Structure? No thanks! It’s a relationship, right? Can’t we just free-flow pray whatever is on our minds?”
Yes, prayer is part of a relationship with the Living God, and we certainly should bring to God everything on our minds. However, “what is on our mind” tends to be somewhat narrow. Most often it focuses on certain supplications, which are important, but if that were all that we prayed for our prayers could become one-dimensional. Bringing to God what is on our mind is essential, but it is not all there is.
Think of structure as a categorical framework. Categories guide us to rooms, and once inside the rooms we have more flexibility. Praying categorically ensures we pray for all necessary areas, and flexibility within the categories prevents rote repetition.
One good structure follows the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Far from being just a prayer to memorize, this passage contains several categories we must always pray for. Generally speaking, the categories are Adoration (9), Submission (10), Provision (11), Confession (12), and Preservation (13).2 To these categories you can add others like Thanksgiving, Supplication, etc.
Another method is to follow a passage of Scripture. Pray along with the passage, praising God for what it reveals about Him, requesting what it requests, or asking the Spirit of God to align your heart with its truth. Use the passage to identify areas for deeper prayer. For example, Psalm 93 starts by saying “The LORD reigns…” That phrase can fuel deeper prayer as you think of how the LORD reigns, what it says about Him, and the impact that truth has on your life.
Another form of guided prayer uses prayers written by others. Some examples are The Valley of Vision and Piercing Heaven3, which are collections of Puritan prayers. These prayers can reveal a desperation, desire, and a way of praying we may not otherwise consider. When using these prayers, you must make the prayer your own. Do not simply read their words, but read them, see what they are praying for, and then pray along those lines.
Praying through Scripture and written prayers are especially helpful when you are having a hard time concentrating, are still waking up, or aren’t sure where to start. Their concreteness helps direct and focus the mind.
Structure provides a basic framework to give proper breadth and depth to our prayers. Far from being restrictive, structure guides us into various realms where we can dwell in prayer. But how do we pray once we are in those realms?
Make A List
“Now wait a minute… you said rote repetition is bad and we should be flexible. Now you’re saying we pray down a list? That’s the opposite of flexibility!”
Yes, mechanically praying down a list leads to monotony rather than vibrancy. However, just as categories serve as guides, lists serve as micro-guides. Most of us can’t remember everything we should pray for. Lists help us remember them.
Have you ever forgotten to pray for someone after saying you would? Jotting their prayer request down prevents this forgetfulness. Are there things you know you should pray for (like the government or the persecuted church; 1 Timothy 2:1-8, Hebrews 13:3) but forget when you kneel to pray? Pre-writing them counteracts this tendency to forget. Are your confessions generic or focused on certain sins? In addition to confessing what readily comes to mind, a list of less-thought-of sins (like grumbling; Philippians 2:14) aids the examination of our lives and brings substance to our confession.
Your own preference should dictate how you keep, update, and use the list. Whether electronic or good ol’ pen and paper, the list should be easily accessible when you encounter new prayer items and when you pray. Find what works for you and stick with it!
Like the overall structure, prayer lists aid us as we bring all things before Almighty God. An organized, comprehensive list takes effort to build and maintain, but the benefits are worth it. It retains our desired prayers, reminds us of them when we pray, and relieves us from the worry that we are forgetting something. It doesn’t solve all our problems, but it is a great step forward!
Plan For Variations
Structures and lists help provide a framework and substance for faithful, consistent prayer. Variations are simply different ways of achieving the same goal. Spontaneity is the enemy of consistency, but monotony is the enemy of vitality. If consistent vitality is what we desire, planned variations help achieve it.
Variations in structure could simply be planning for a different structure each day. One day may start with a Psalm, another with a written prayer, or another day simply with the prayer list. Another variation could be to use Scripture or written prayer as the guide for sequence, praying for each category as it is encountered and then moving on to anything not yet covered.
To vary content, pray only for parts of each list each day. You certainly can and should pray for certain things every day, but going through everything every day could lead to rushing through them or praying mechanically. If you have a list of 10 sin areas for confession or 15 areas to surrender, focus on just one or two. The next day, simply move to the next ones. Another variation could be to use a Scripture within a category, such as Psalm 93 for Adoration or Psalm 51 for Confession. The Scripture can either replace or supplement the list for that day.
If something is weighing on your mind, don’t feel like you need to resist it, but pray for it near the beginning. In doing this you humble yourself before God, acknowledge your need for Him, and surrender it to His loving hands. This can free your mind from the weight, allowing you concentrate on other things. However, if you find that it is still on your mind, stay with it. Continue to move through the categories and shape each category around the need. Let’s say you have a difficult decision coming up. During Adoration, acknowledge God’s sovereignty in the situation. In Surrender, surrender the details of the situation to Him and pray for His will to be done. During Confession, examine your thoughts and confess any sin that arises from the situation, etc.
Structured prayer should not quench the reality and depth of our emotions or concerns. Rather, it should provide a healthy, balanced way to work through those emotions or concerns in prayer.
Prayer is a discipline we must learn, and it takes effort. Structures and lists provide a foundation, and variations ward off rigidity. If consistent vibrancy is the goal, following these suggestions can help us achieve it.
Encouragement and Exhortation
Brothers and Sisters, my desire is that we see our need to grow in prayer and help one another grow. We spend much time teaching and encouraging one another in learning to study the Bible, but we spend little time teaching and encouraging one another in learning to pray. Growing in prayer is a necessity, not an option! Therefore, let us seek to help one another grow in prayer!
Second, I encourage you to incorporate the things discussed today into your prayer life. Think of what you desire to pray for. Write down categories, and then fill in the categories with specifics. It will take time initially, but it is worth it! Pray that the Spirit of God will bless your efforts and bring to mind what you must pray for.
Lastly, if you do not know Christ, your first prayer must be one of repentance and trust in Him. Prayer is fellowship with your Creator, and sin has disrupted this fellowship. But, 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 says that God took the initiative to heal our broken relationship with Him, “not counting their trespasses against them…He made Him (Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Your sin keeps you from standing before God, but Christ took the punishment for sin! God invites you with open arms to turn from your sin and to trust in Christ. Do not delay while there is such a loving Father awaiting you!
Truly, what a privilege it is to come to God in prayer. O Lord, teach us to pray!
References: 1 Praying categorically is also one suggestion Pastor Tom Harmon recommends for growing prayer life. Tom Harmon, Lord, Teach Us To Pray (Three Rivers, MI: Ajoyin Publishing, 2011), 14-30. 2There is much more to the verses in the Lord’s Prayer, but the categories mentioned cover the basics of it. Feel free to include more specificity as you follow on with more study and prayer. 3 Bennet, Arthur, ed. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth. First Published 1975, Reprinted in 2020. 4 Elmer, Robert, ed. Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans. Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2019.
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.