let’s be practical: 9 ideas for better prayer

image courtesy of heavenawaits

I’ve been to a lot of conferences for ministers and missionaries.  And my biggest frustration is that 55 minutes of a one-hour class on “Developing Leaders in the Ministry” will be about why it’s important to develop leadership in my ministry.  Generally speaking, every individual in that class knows the importance of developing leadership; that’s why they chose to attend the class.  What we want is something practical.

Sadly, I leave these conferences happy if I walk away with only four or five very practical ideas.  This shouldn’t be the case.

Yesterday I wrote about devotion to prayer.  But really… how many of us didn’t already believe our prayer lives could use a little boost?  And so — without going into the details of why prayer is important or how it works or even what it is — I want to attempt to offer some practical suggestions for improving our prayer lives.

Now, these ideas are just that: Ideas.  You may already be doing some or many of these.  You may have tried several of these and found them to be stupid, foolish, or theologically incorrect (I hope not).  But hopefully you will find at least one practice in here that will improve your praying. I’ve tried to offer both general principles and very specific ideas, so there’s a lot of overlap.  Think of this list as a starting point.  Be creative.

9 Ideas for Better Prayer

1. Lessen Interruptions

  • Choose a specific place to pray — one in which you’re less likely to be interrupted.
    • The closet can serve as a special prayer place.
    • Your kids are less likely to interrupt you while you’re in the shower.  [Maybe.]
    • During your morning run.
    • At the office.
    • In your car.
    • At the park.
  • Choose a specific time to pray — one in which you’re less likely to be interrupted.
    • 5:00 AM
    • During your drive to work.
    • Late at night or just before bed.

2. Fix Routines and Make Reminders

  • Pray every time you…
    • enter the kitchen.
    • hear your watch beep on the hour.
    • start your car.
    • put on your shoes.
    • access the internet.
    • see a Bible.
    • have a cup of coffee.
  • Create reminders.
    • Wear a bracelet you wouldn’t normally wear.
    • Set the alarm on your watch.
    • Place Bible verses or prayer cards…
      • on your mirrors.
      • in your cabinet doors.
      • on the dash of your car.
      • over the lintels of your doors.
      • as screensavers or backgrounds on your computer.

3.  Structure Your Prayer Time

  • Make and keep a list.
    • Pray the entire list at one time.
    • Or pray one section at a time, completing the list each day (or even each week, etc).
  • Pray through an acronym.
    • ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication
    • PRAISE: praise, repentance, adoration, intercession, supplication, eternal results
    • PRAY: praise, repent, access, yield
    • PRAYER: pray, respond, admit, yield, expect, rejoice
    • AVAILABLE: you can google this one yourself  [Does someone get paid to make these up?]

4.  Pray Shorter

  • Make your prayers brief and you can…
    • improve your concentration.
    • increase the number of times you pray each day.
    • greatly increase the likelihood that you’ll actually take the time to pray.
    • please God. (Mt 6:7-8)  [Oh, and don’t use big words.]
  • Pray sentence-long prayers for people and places as you encounter them.
    • Pray for each coworker as you pass them in the hall.
    • Pray for the sender of each email you receive.
    • Pray for every school or church you see on the way to work.
  • Combine these short prayers with the fixed reminders above.
    • Tell God one thing you’re thankful for every time you access the internet.
    • Pray for one of your friends or family members every time you look at your watch.
    • Pray short prayers that God will help you develop one fruit of the Spirit in your life.  Assign a different fruit to each kitchen cabinet, and pray for that fruit each time you open that cabinet.

5. Set Achievable Goals

  • I doubt it’s wise to begin by saying, “I’ll pray for two hours every day.”  How about:
    • I’ll pray five times today.
    • I’ll pray in my car — from my driveway until I exit the neighborhood.
    • I’ll pray for however long this light remains red.
    • (For runners, a prayer fartlek of sorts…)  I’ll pray from this tree to that mailbox.
    • I’ll thank God for more things today than I ask him for.
  • Build on what already exists in your schedule.  Add prayer to those habits you’ve already formed.
    • Don’t say you’ll wake up to pray every morning at 5:00 when you usually wake at 6:00.
    • Instead, attach prayer to an already existing running schedule, lunch time, or particular event in your day.

6.  Change It Up a Little

  • Write your prayers.
  • Pray out loud instead of quietly.
  • Memorize a prayer from scripture.
  • Reword a prayer someone else has written.
  • Draw or paint your prayer.
  • Write a song.
  • Just listen.
  • Go on a prayer walk, in which you walk in the specific place over which you’re praying.
  • Be creative.

7.  Pray With Your Family

  • At breakfast, lunch, or supper — whichever you eat together (or all of them).
  • With your spouse before bed.
  • With each child as you’re getting them dressed.
  • In your car before you begin each trip.

8.  Remove Structure From Your Prayer Time (yes, exactly the opposite of #3)

  • Pray in incomplete sentences.
  • Pray vague ideas and thoughts instead of specifics.
  • Attempt to carry on a conversation with God.
  • Place an empty chair in the room, and tell God about your day.

9.  ?????

  • Your turn.  What practical advice do you have for the rest of us?  What’s worked (or not worked) for you?
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33 Comments

Filed under how to..., practical advice, prayer, top ten lists

33 responses to “let’s be practical: 9 ideas for better prayer

  1. Number 6 has been valuable to me–especially writing prayers. I write out prayers based on biblical prayers and then adapt those to people/situations for which I feel a need to pray. For example, I want to pray Ephesians 3:14-21 for all of us who read this blog:

    “Father we bow before you—the One who calls us into this family. We pray that out of your glorious riches you will strengthen us with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And we pray that all of us, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the your holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we will be filled to the measure of all of your fullness, God.

    Now to you, the one able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us, to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

    Hearing these passages as prayer and using them as models for intercession helps me pray deeper prayers. Revelation has some wonderful praise sections that will strengthen your adoration of God’s nature and character.

    • john, thank you for the prayer over all who read the blog. i really appreciate it.

      and you’ve suddenly made me aware that i’ve never prayed over my blog, or over the readers of my blog. what a missed opportunity. i’ve prayed about particular posts i’ve written — that they’ll be used to help others and to bring greater glory to God — but i’ve never prayed over the ministry as a whole or those involved in our little community.

      i’m putting it on my list right now. thank you (even though that wasn’t necessarily your intention).

  2. Regardless of any ideas I might have, you have really spurred me with this one. Awesome post – great ideas! Thank you. Seriously.

    Now we can go back to not being friends.

  3. I too think this is a great list but…it also leaves me wishing I didn’t require this kind of list or planning. I wish I longed to talk to him like I long for that first cup of coffee or to hug my niece and nephew. I want to look forward to our next conversation like I do with Emily Web or my dad. I’m trying to nurture this and I think by reading about him, thinking about him, and looking with focus on all he has done, that helps me have the feelings I want to go along with the action.

    That said – one thing that draws me to him is when I see something beautiful. The other day I decided to walk to my class after work instead of drive. When we got out of class it was about 7:30pm and getting dark. The sunset was this amazing neon pink swirly thing across the sky, and as I walked back to my car I couldn’t help but talk to God as I looked at his work. Seeking out beautiful moments, places, times during the day reminds me of him and reminds me to talk to him. That isn’t really a new idea, though – it goes with a lot of what you’ve said already.

    • jane, i also wish i always really just wanted to pray. but i don’t. i’m always happy afterward, and i do enjoy it during. but the getting started is almost always tough for me — except when i’ve already got a habit of praying at that time. those prayers aren’t hard at all to begin.

      but a lot of the time i even feel a little afraid to pray when i’m with other people. logically, i know they’ll appreciate it — but i still get nervous and feel like they’re going to think i’m strange. my heart rate actually goes up in those seconds before saying, “you know, we should pray about that.”

      i do hope that all this prayer practice will bring me to a point where i always look forward to praying. but i’m not sure if that happens in real life…?

      • I am NOT cool with that whole “Let’s pray for that right now” thing. I think I have a lot of good reasons. Now if people say “Let’s pray about this”, I’m good with that. But the middle of Walmart or Go Grocery seems a bit presumptous for public prayer. Sure, I’ll pray there, but not for everybody to hear, because I really do think that’s very often done in a Pharisaical manner.

        But I’m several semesters short of my Perfect Christian degree.

        • never heard of go grocery. but i’d certainly be hesitant to pray there. not because i’m afraid i’d be acting like a pharisee, though. but because i’d feel embarrassed. i’d be most likely to wait until we got outside. but maybe that’d be the best option anyway…?

          • The REASON that I would be embarrassed is because it’s a “hey, look, I’m praying” situation. People claim that they’re just talking to God, but I call BS. If they’re just talking to God, why do they do it in a way that others hear? Just pray as you walk away if you’re afraid you’ll forget to pray for the person.

          • i definitely agree that could be the case. but praying aloud in front of others seems to be the sort of thing i’d read about in the new testament? what i mean is that i’d never expect paul to quietly whisper a prayer as he walked away from someone in need. your thoughts?

      • I think it does and can happen in real life. I’m not sure it can be an every day kind of feeling – but I think I can and will get close to that.

  4. Wow! I really like these. I’m going to send them to everyone at my congregation. Thanks. Oh, and I don’t have a ninth one-except one silly little thing I do whenever I hear an ambulance or fire truck-I pray that those people will be OK. I wouldn’t count that as good as one of your ideas, though.

    • thanks, holly. please do pass these ideas on to anyone who might find them useful. that’s why i wrote them. and i appreciate your #9 idea; it’s a good one.

      • You’re welcome. It is just a silly little prayer and only about 5 seconds long-but I know God hears it and I feel like I’ve done something.

        • While we’re on this, can I make a prayer request?
          I’ve had trouble with being tired all the time. I’ve been to a sleep lab and I am only getting into REM sleep once or twice a night and a person needs more to have adequate rest. So, I am merely closing my eyes for a light sleep most of the night. Consequently, I am getting these headaches from not having enough rest. They’re called cluster headaches-I don’t know if anyone has had them, but I am having one today and can barely function when I have one of these.
          If you’ve read all this and are still with me ( 🙂 ), could you please pray for me? Thank you so much.

  5. Thank you. Your prayers are appreciated. 🙂

  6. HI There,

    You know I pop in read and sometimes comment on your blog. I love the way that prayer is moving in a fresh new way in peoples lives. And LOVE your idea of those quick, passing prayers for people and co-workers. This is not an advertisement but I thought you might like to check out the new book I had debut Tuesday – it’s about prayer – specifically about praying for Strangers.
    Blessings Always – River
    http://www.prayingforstrangers.com

  7. MaeMae

    I love the list of acronyms. I already use ACTS with my Sunday school class, now I have more to teach them. I love using acronyms in teaching, the kids (and adults) seem to retain it easier.

    • glad you like the acronyms, though i fear ACTS is the only one worth using. [it’s the one i use — and the only one i ever intend to pray through.]

      but please don’t use AVAILABLE — it’s sooo long.

  8. I need to be moving in order to pray – preferably hiking or biking. Hard to make that into a true daily routine. And I haven’t done this in a while but I once felt like I was disconnecting myself from God in prayer so I went camping so I had nothing to do but pray.

    • i’ve found that i can’t pray while on a mountain bike. no good for me. but any time i’m running i can pray — or on a road bike. camping’s nice too. charlie, the more i read your stuff and hear from you in comments… the more i think you’re my kind of guy. even if you do cheer for the wrong college football team.

  9. I like your approach to prayer. It’s idea driven and sensible. I have on my blog some posts devoted to prayer. One thing is to pray for the so-called deceased. Their in the hereafter and regardless of time or them being well-placed or not we can still pray for them. Even if their in Hades we can pray for them. Keep Blogging, Keep Writing

  10. Daniel

    The toilet is a pretty good place to pray. You have privacy (usually). It’s humbling. And it’s a great time to thank God for relief. Amen.

  11. Sue

    Our awesome Lord and Savior, Jesus, bids us to “abide” in Him–what an incredible promise is contained in this gentle exhortation! The concept that Jesus is one with the Father, and the Father is in Him, and He is in the Father—and WE who’ve received Jesus’ forgiveness are also IN Him (read the Gospel of John for these references)—means that we can also abide in His love and acceptance throughout our days, abide in His forgiveness for our sins, His understanding of the real “me” and my true needs, His direction as we seek Him, His wisdom as we ask…WOW–and to think, the most incredibly BEST is YET TO COME: Heaven!! The Lord is indeed GOOD, and His mercy endures forever!!

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  17. frapierre@hotmail.com

    Good suggestions, only ideally I would add… CLOSE YOUR EYES most of the time, if you can. This gets rid of distraction and makes it easier to lift one’s heart and mind to God. When out in nature, enjoying the splendor of the Creator and what he has created, then sure, open eyes are a given. But even then, one can stop, and just bow his head in adoration, close the eyes, and bask in God. 🙂 +

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