For a few hardy prayer warriors, talking with God is as easy as breathing; it happens almost effortlessly. When you ask them how they do it, they simply shrug and reply, “I just pray.” Unfortunately, that’s about as helpful as John McEnroe saying “I just hit the ball,” when asked for some tips on more effective tennis. It may be easy for him to “just hit the ball,” but most of us hackers need a little more fundamental instruction to get the job done. With that in mind, we’ve included here some practical guidelines that might make your time with the Lord more fruitful. Not all of the suggestions will apply to your particular situation, but if you begin by incorporating a few of them, I’m confident your prayer life will improve.
1. Choose a specific place to pray away from distractions so you can concentrate. Ringing phones and crying children will sabotage your “quiet time” before it gets started.
2. Pray at the same time every day, if at all possible. Make it part of your regular routine and it will become habit. Write it into your schedule and then treat it just like a daily appointment.
3. Pray out loud. Many people can pray under their breath or in their minds for long periods and still maintain intensity, but for most of us it’s a quick ticket to dreamland. When we pray out loud we have to form intelligent sentences. We have to concentrate more on what we’re praying about.
4. Keep a note pad handy so you can jot down different things that come to mind while you’re before the Lord. Sometimes you’ll get great ideas totally unrelated to what you’ve been praying about. If you jot them down you can quickly get back to the topic at hand without being too distracted.
5. Make a list to keep track of your prayer needs. This can be done several ways. Prayer needs can be listed by category like “Church,” “Family,” or “Unsaved friends.” Or they may be listed by the days of the week. Each day you pray for a different set of needs. You may want to include prayer everyday for a different area of society that has a tremendous influence on the direction of our nation. These seven categories include 1) the church and religion, 2) the family and the home, 3) the media, 4) government, 5) education, 6) business and commerce, and 7) the arts and entertainment.
6. Redeem time for praying out of unused corners of your schedule. Those who have to drive to work can use the time talking with the Lord instead of screaming at traffic (just don’t close your eyes!). Busy homemakers can combine prayer with housework, especially if the task doesn’t require a lot of concentration. Joggers, swimmers and cyclists can use their workout time for prayer. Sometimes my best times with the Lord have been chats during long, early morning walks or jogs along the beach.
7. Change the pace during your prayer time. Include praise, thanksgiving and singing as well as petition. Spend some of your time reflecting on the Scripture, meditating on it and digesting its meaning.
8. Keep a prayer journal. Here are two variations of this idea. The first is to keep track of what you prayed for and when you prayed for it. Leave a space to jot down the answer when it comes. This will help you to keep alert to God’s answer so you can thank Him promptly. Sometimes prayer answers come in the back door and you don’t want them to slip by you. The second variation is to write the entire prayer in your journal. Make it a personal letter to the Lord on a daily basis. Just write “Dear Lord” instead of “Dear Diary.”
9. Pray with someone else. Though some prayers can only be said in solitude, there will be times when you’ll want to join hearts with another person in prayer. If you commit to meet on a regular basis, the accountability can really help build consistency. Such prayer trysts can become powerful, life-changing events.
10. Pray one-sentence prayers. If the thought of laboring over a topic wears you out, pray short, sincere prayers instead. A sentence or two may be all that’s needed to exhaust the topic for you for the time being. If so, just move on to the next item without feeling guilty for your brevity.
7 Things to Pray For
In addition to following the suggestions above, here are a few more thoughts that will help. In the front of your prayer diary list three or four promises from the Scripture on prayer. Read them as an encouragement before you start. Start your prayer time with a hymn, focusing your heart and mind on the Lord. When you pray through your prayer list for the day, include the items on your daily schedule. Pray also about the things not on your schedule but still on your heart. Be sure your prayer time includes some of the specific things that God tells us in His Word to pray for. Below are a few examples:
1. Pray for the harvest.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matt 9:37-38).
2. Pray for national and local leaders of government.
“I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim 2:1-2).
3. Pray that God will open doors for ministry of the Word.
“Praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ...” (Col 4:3).
4. Pray for those who have mistreated you. Forgive them.
“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:28).
“So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt 18:35).
5. Pray that you may do no evil.
“Now we pray to God that you do no wrong...” (2 Cor 13:7).
6. Pray that your love may abound toward all people.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment...” (Phil 1:9).
7. Pray that your whole spirit, mind and body be preserved blameless.
“Now may the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:23).