A Principle for Conversational Prayer

I have instructed our staff at STR that when we meet for prayer, we pray according to the acronym SIP: specifically, intelligibly, and persuasively. 

Let me start with a frank admission: Prayer is difficult for me. Some things come easily, but prayer is not one of them. Of course, this does not make prayer optional in the least. It simply means I have to work harder at it to be consistent and effective.

I suspect there are many Christians just like me in this regard. Maybe you would include yourself in that group. If so, these thoughts on prayer might be helpful to you.

Here is the key observation that has helped improve my own prayer life: Prayer is harder when it is rambling. It is harder for the person praying, and it is harder for those listening when prayer is in a group.

One of my frustrations when praying with others is that Christians often don’t pray intelligibly. We tell young Christians who are unaccustomed to prayer to simply talk normally when speaking to God. “Prayer is conversation,” we say. And it is. 

That is what we tell them, but that is not what we do when we pray with them. When it comes to God, our normal way of speaking often goes out the window.

We lace our prayers with contrived Christian mumbo jumbo (some have called it “Christian psycho-babble”). We insert useless words like “just” in virtually every phrase. Then we use the words “Lord,” “Father,” and “Jesus” as if they were punctuation marks. In short, we talk to God in ways we wouldn’t think of talking when speaking with any other intelligent person.

This habit is hard to break. I know from personal experience. But I have a solution that has helped me trim down the nonsense. I have instructed our staff at STR that when we meet for prayer, we pray according to the acronym SIP: specifically, intelligibly, and persuasively. 

I take this cue from the prayers in the Bible (Daniel 9:3-19 is an example). Biblical prayers have content, clarity, and power. There is no spiritual blather. In many cases, they include reasons why God should act, as if the person praying were persuading Him of something He wouldn’t do apart from their entreaty. Sometimes the reasons are based on the need. Other times they are based on God’s character or what might happen to His reputation if He ignored the request (this was a favorite ploy of Moses’).

These are the things you would normally—and quite naturally—say if you were speaking to someone of importance making request for help or provision. You’d explain your need, why you need it, and why your request should be granted.

I think we should do the same with God. We should pray in full sentences, intelligibly, with complete thoughts. Our prayers should include clear, specific requests, and straightforward, genuine expressions of feeling and thanks. We should also give reasons why God ought to respond to our appeals.

Some people find that occasionally writing their prayers out is helpful. It forces them to put more clarity and substance into their entreaties. 

I hope you did not skim over the phrase “I have instructed our staff at STR….” Since I am the spiritual head of Stand to Reason, this is one of the ways I want to be a mentor to those on our team. This may apply to you, too.

I have often wondered why those training leaders in their youth group (for example) apparently never taught the worship team how to pray in public. Those who lead prayer for the group are examples to the rest. If they model good prayer habits, others will likely follow their lead. But the same works in reverse, too.

So, if you have spiritual leadership responsibilities of any sort—with your family, your church, or accountability group—you may want to do two things in response to what I’ve said here. 

First, apply the SIP principle to your own prayer life. Train yourself to pray specifically, intelligibly, and persuasively. Even if prayer is not as difficult for you as it is for me, I think you’ll find that this practice will help your prayers be more powerful and fulfilling.

Second, instruct those in your spiritual charge how to pray “conversationally.” Then model it for them when you pray together. There is no need to be pious, just clear and genuine. In this way, you will be helping yourself and also those around you.

Greg Koukl

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