Throughout the Bible, we’re told time and again that God listens to our prayers and answers them and that we are to draw strength from Him through communication.
Yet between knowing and practicing, there seems to be a disconnect. In reality, I simply do not have the prayer life I should have. Perhaps you know the feeling.
If you do, you’re in good company. Just about every study of Christians’ prayer lives reveals a disparity in how people view prayer in theory versus actually praying—including only 16 percent of pastors who say they’re satisfied with their prayer life.
The verse on prayer I have always strived to live by (and struggled to follow) is I Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray continually.” It’s a simple verse with a powerful directive.
I think one of our hang ups is that we try to sound eloquent when we pray, like we’re reciting a poem or we feel the pressure to give God context when He knows the ins and out of our situation already. We don’t have to be fancy with our prayers (Matthew 6:7), we just have to pray.
Just pray. Prayer, or talking to God and inviting Him into our experiences and circumstances, should be a natural part of daily life.
If we want to see positive change in ourselves, our communities and in this world, we must prioritize prayer. Here are a few tips to help redirect your brain toward this discipline.
I recently decided to take an entire month to unplug from always having music/audiobooks on while driving, walking around town or hiking. At first it was really strange, but I grew to enjoy having that time to think and to pray—especially while driving.
We’re inundated with so much noise that we virtually never have to subject ourselves to silence. In the silence, we might hear our own thoughts and fears again. Yet in that quiet, we have the opportunity for God to speak directly to them. In the silence, we can feel what priorities God has for our lives and align ourselves to whatever He’s speaking over us. In the silence, we can reach the end of ourselves and reach the beginning of God’s touch upon in our situations because we have nothing muffling our consciousness or ability to perceive what he’s doing.
It’s frightening to unplug when you have so many distractions and pursuits available on your iPhone home screen and in the endless depths of the internet but it’s worth turning all of those things off to realign with yourself.
2. Keep a prayer journal.
I get distracted very easily. I start to pray, then my mind wanders from praying for my family to wondering if my sister got my text message to thinking about the last time my sister was in town to figuring out how I can turn a work meeting into a brunch meeting. It’s quite the slippery slope of devolving, unregulated thought.
Keeping a journal and writing everything down helps me focus. Studies find that journaling does in fact have benefits that allow you to improve your cognitive processes. Processing things out in prayer through journaling may be the key that allows you to access a disciplined prayer life without the awkwardness of not knowing what to say. Just write.
3. Use Scripture to guide you.
One of my favorite things to do is pray through the different passages of the Bible. The psalms are great for this practice but you can also use a lot of the New Testament (particularly Paul’s letters) to pray for the world. You can always pray for clarity and that God would show you the practical meaning of different passages. It’s a great way to be in the Word and in communication with our Creator. And what more powerful way to access God’s power than through praying the Scriptures?
4. Get some friends together and do a prayer walk in your community.
You can organize a prayer walk after church one Sunday morning or as a small group or even just with a couple good friends. Simply get outside and walk around your community, covering it in prayer. We want to reach the people around us. We want to love on those who are struggling. We want to help the most impoverished. This should all start with prayer.
In walking, you can see the faces of your community. You’ll get a chance to pray over individual houses, businesses, streets and schools. What an incredible opportunity to speak God’s love and will into existence over them.
5. Use something to remind you.
Keep a prayer token or set a reminder on your phone to get into the habit of praying.
I know people who have kept a little rock in their pocket and several times a day they pull the rock out and say a prayer. Other friends of mine have set hourly reminders on their phones to pray, going as far as highlighting different things each hour to pray for such as family, friends who are ill, Syrian refugees, etc.
One of my favorite things to do is pick one topic each day to pray for and focus on that throughout the day. Each time I hold my token that day I pray for a different member of my family, my pastor or for those affected by natural disasters depending on the day’s focus. There will be something that works best for you. Find it and hone it.
Throughout all of your efforts, don’t forget to leave time to listen to God, too.
Being silent and still is another facet of prayer and usually the one in which you hear God respond. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes, “We are to change the world through prayer.”