Revamping Your Prayer Life
What happens when you find your prayer life has turned into a routine of going through the motions? You find yourself checking off the people on your prayer list as if their part of a “to-do” list. You've resolved to spend more time in prayer yet are having trouble implementing that resolution. When I find myself in those situations, it’s time for me to take a step back, evaluate, and find a new approach to my prayer life.
1. Get Organized – A Prayer Notebook
Sometimes it’s helpful to think about how you are organizing your prayer life. I’ve done this periodically over the years and it’s always re-energized my prayer time. Over the years, I’ve moved from an expanding file, to an app on my phone, to my latest discovery – Evernote (OK, I know I’m a little behind the times). If you haven’t tried Evernote I would encourage you to consider it. I am far from tech savvy and was able to learn the essentials in less than half an hour. Also, the basic version is free.
A prayer notebook (whether physical or virtual) keeps you from forgetting to pray for people and helps to broaden the list of those you do pray for. Whether my organizational system is paper or electronic, it’s worked pretty much the same over the years. I have a place where I collect and arrange the people, places, and organizations I pray for. I have files for family, church, friends, my Bible study group, non-Christian friends, etc. I also have files for different parts of the world and different organizations I want to remember in prayer. I even have a file for “temporary prayer requests”. These might be pressing requests but probably aren’t things I’ll still be praying for a year or two from now. Once I’ve organized my notebook, I get specific. I list the names of people, places, or organizations I want to pray for along with specific requests. If I have prayer letters, I put them in the file as well.
My next task is to collect pictures for all those I’m praying for. Since using Evernote, it’s been much easier to attach pictures to those I’m praying for. I’ve never imagined that pictures would be such a huge catalyst and affect my prayers to such a degree. I find my heart more engaged in praying for those people for whom I have a picture.
When praying for missions, I pray for specific missionaries but I also pray for different parts of the world. I’ve used maps, calendars, or apps to help me in this task. One year, I ordered a map of Central Asia and prayed for a different city each day. Other years, I’ve used calendars I’ve received from mission’s organizations. The JP Unreached app has been helpful in praying for unreached people groups.
Sometimes, being organized has the strange effect of making you more aware of all the things you could be praying for but aren’t. Rather than allowing Satan to trick you into that sort of despair, thank God that he’s encouraged you to pray for the things he has.
2. Have a Plan and Set a Time
It’s great to be organized, but if that’s all I do I feel overwhelmed when I look at my prayer notebook. I could easily spend hours working through all the requests. So, I not only need to be organized, I need to have a plan. Usually, this plan follows the days of the week. I pray for certain items every day and for other items on a designated day of the week. In addition, my church publishes a directory and encourages the members to pray for one page of the directory each day of the month. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve also used apps or monthly calendars to help me in my prayer for missions.
You not only need a plan for what you’re going to pray for but a designated time each day for prayer. Plan a set time during the day for regular prayer. If you don’t have a habit of prayer, start with just five or ten minutes a day. Once you’ve established a pattern, you can increase the time. Then try to find times in your schedule for spontaneous prayer. These might be times when you are commuting or folding laundry.
3. Pray Scripture
When my prayer requests turn stale, praying the same thing over and over again or only making temporal requests of God, I turn to Scripture. One of the best applications of Scripture is to pray it. I suggest you use the passage you are reading in your quiet time and try to pray it for everyone on your prayer list that day. At first, it might seem difficult to pray a particular Scripture for those on your list. But if you spend a few moments thinking about how to pray the passage and ask the Holy Spirit to help you, I think you’ll be surprised at all the prayers you come up with.
4. Outside Resources
At times, employing outside resources can energize your prayer life. The Valley of Vision is a collection of prayers from the Puritans. It’s amazing how praying the prayers of those who lived hundreds of years ago can deepen your prayer life. I’ve also used Praying with Paul by D.A. Carson to encourage my prayers to be more Biblical.
Are You Still Feeling Overwhelmed?
Does all of this seem a little daunting? Don't be discouraged. For all of my organization and plans, I’ve had many seasons where my prayer life has been dismal. It's taken time, practice, and much grace to have the prayer life I do today. Years ago, I was helped by a comment John Stott made in one of his books. He said that if you get distracted while you are praying, confess your distraction and ask the Holy Spirit to keep you on track. In general, I think this advice also applies to our motivation to start or nourish a vibrant prayer life. If you haven’t been praying as you would like, don’t wallow in regret. Confess your lack of prayerfulness, ask the Holy Spirit to increase your desire, and start praying.