Probably the biggest ongoing frustration of my 24.5 years of being a Christian is my prayer life. Like all sinners, I have struggled with various things, even since placing my faith in Jesus in 1998. The one thing I am regularly unsatisfied about, though, is my prayer life.
Sure, I pray daily and set aside time for prayer, and while that time in prayer could always be better, what I am especially referring to is ongoing prayer throughout the day. Ultimately, this boils down to prideful foolishness because even though I never consciously think that I do not need to pray and rely upon the Lord, my failure to do so is a wrongful, foolish reliance upon myself and my own abilities. I get busy and try to keep up in my own power and wisdom, both of which are far from sufficient. Like you and every other person on this earth, I need the Lord. Apart from His grace and provision, we can do nothing good.
In thinking about my struggles with prayer, I wanted to share some things that have helped. Also, though, I would love to hear from you. What are some practical things that have helped your prayer life? What follows are some suggestions I have. They are not in any particular order of importance or effectiveness but rather just various things that have helped me over the years.
1. PRAY THE BIBLE.
One thing I am always grateful for when I am disciplined to do it is praying God’s Word back to Him. The Psalms are especially helpful for this, but there are also several other prayers throughout Scripture that you can use – prayers from Jesus, Paul, Jonah, etc. One of my favorites is from Colossians 1:9-12. Adjusting this as a personal prayer, you might pray, “Lord, please fill me with the knowledge of Your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that I may walk worthy of You, fully pleasing to You, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of You. Please strengthen me with all power, according to Your glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy and help me to give thanks to You, who have enabled me to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.“
A really helpful book with examples, tips, structure, and teaching on this idea is Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney. In fact, if you are part of our church family, we have a case of these books coming soon, so you can have one. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I encourage you to pray the Bible.
2. HAVE SOME STRUCTURE
While we never want to fall into the trap of legalism and simply “checking things off a list,” I have found structure to be very helpful in my prayer life. If I simply think that I am just going to pray about things and be a prayerful person but do not have a plan to do so, I will usually fail. I need some structure.
Unless you are very unusual, you probably need some structure, too. Try to discipline yourself to start your day off right by spending time in God’s Word and in prayer. I have yet to meet someone who regrets getting up 30 minutes earlier (or making some changes to their schedule) for the purpose of seeking God through His Word and prayer before starting their day. Such structure will set the tone for the rest of the day.
Want to have a more consistent prayer life? Have some structure.
3. USE AN APP
Now, this is not for everyone, but I have found a prayer app to be extremely helpful with my need for structure. After using a few, the one I have settled on and used for years now is PrayerMate. I use PrayerMate almost every day, and I can customize it with prayers from the Bible, personal prayer needs, prayers for family and friends, prayers for my church family, prayers for unbelievers, prayers for the advancement of the gospel, etc. Nothing structures my prayer life and helps me not to forget to pray for people more than PrayerMate.
Some people might find an app and the temptation to look at phone notifications to be unhelpful, but if you want to improve your prayer life and have not yet tried something like this, why not give using an app like PrayerMate a shot?
4. TAKE A WALK
This goes along with the structure and app I just talked about, as I really enjoy walking when I get up in the morning and praying through the prayer requests on my daily PrayerMate list, which changes everyday. Not only does this keep things fresh; it also helps me to feel more awake and alert before I dig into God’s Word.
Most of the time, I do this outside, and I especially like these prayer walks in the summer because I can enjoy the sunrise and God’s creation. If there is rainy or bitter-cold weather, though, I might get on the treadmill or even walk laps around our family room while I pray.
Again, this might not work for everyone, but I have found walking while praying to be beneficial, both spiritually and physically. This even helps some throughout the day, too, as I have that mindset of, “Hey, while I’m walking from here to there, why not pray?” Take a walk.
5. SET REMINDERS
While technology can often distract us from praying and can even be used as evil and lead us astray, technology can also be used for good. One really simple way this is true is to set reminders to pray for certain things. In fact, it can be as simple as, “Hey, Google (or Siri or Alexa or _____). Remind me tomorrow morning at 7 to pray for Tom’s surgery.” Then, just like that, you have a reminder set on your phone (or smart speaker, computer, tablet, etc.) to pray for something specific at a particular time.
Do not simply say you will pray for someone. Pray. Set reminders, if and when necessary, and make prayer a priority.
6. PRAY WITH OTHERS
Having a conversation with someone who needs prayer? Why not pray with them right then? Usually, this is not only appropriate but appreciated. If not, set a reminder and/or pray silently in that moment.
Does your church have a prayer meeting like we do (our weekly prayer gathering is at 9:00 on Sunday mornings)? Join that prayer meeting and pray with others. Pray for others. Pray for God to be glorified in the life of your church.
Do you have family or roommates with whom you live? Pray with them. Pray for them. Ask them to pray for you. My wife and I pray each night before bed, and while I am sometimes tired and/or lazy and might not desire to pray, not once have I prayed and thought, “Well, that was a mistake. Shouldn’t have thanked God for all He does and shouldn’t have asked for His help.” We pray with our kids before they head to school in the mornings, and we need to be better about praying together during the summer months. Again, though, never do I regret praying with my kids and having them pray aloud for various things.
Pray with others. Prayer is not the last resort but rather our first priority because we always need the Lord, and He is always worthy of our praise.
7. KEEP A LIST
Perhaps you will do this through journaling, with a prayer app, on a notepad, on a piece of paper you keep in your Bible, on a dry-erase board on your fridge, or in some other way, but keep a list. This can help you from getting distracted, remind you of prayer needs you might otherwise forget, and even be a useful tool in reminding you to pray throughout the day.
Our memories can fail us. Our structures can crumble. Our discipline can be insufficient. Keep a prayer list.
8. PRAY OUT LOUD
Maybe you struggle to stay awake while praying, or maybe you struggle with your mind wandering. If so, you are not alone. One of the most helpful ways to combat struggles like that is to pray out loud. Not only that, but praying out loud (whether you are by yourself or with others) can better train you to get more and more comfortable praying with/for others out loud.
Have you ever been asked to pray but were not comfortable doing so? Pray out loud in your personal times of prayer each day, and this can help you get used to praying out loud in public. While being comfortable praying out loud in public (like at a church prayer gathering) is not necessary for one to be a faithful Christian, you can really be a blessing and example if you do so.
Regardless of your comfort level around larger groups of people, be intentional about praying out loud regularly, even if you are only doing so alone and with people in your household, small group, friends, etc.
9. SING PRAYERS
This is something I do not do nearly enough, but I always love singing prayers and praises to God. Why do I not do so more often?! Sometimes, I might be sitting in my quiet home office before the kids are awake, and I do not want my prayers to come out like a curse. The same might be true if I sing too loudly outside…
“If one blesses his neighbor with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse to him” (Proverbs 27:14).
Still, I really have no excuse as to why I do not sing prayers more often. There are plenty of great songs of prayer and praise that I have memorized, and so this would be a great way to improve my prayer life.
10. PRAY FOR PRAYER
Many days, the first thing that comes to my mind when I wake up in the morning is how pathetic I was the day before in persistently praying throughout the day. Thus, I might pray immediately, “God, please help me to be more prayerful today. Please remind me of Your presence throughout the day. Please give me a growing desire to seek You and trust You and depend on You.”
Not only that, I find myself asking others to pray for my prayer life. In fact, I would ask if you would pray for my prayer life? And, if you have any other tips for me, I would love to hear them.
Pray for prayer. We need the Lord, so let us not fail to constantly turn to Him and give Him thanks.