Borrowing Brains: Practical Tips for Personal Prayer

Joe and I are tag-teaming on a Sunday night series on prayer. This week I’m preaching on practical helps that can enhance one’s prayer life. I’d appreciate your input.

What specific suggestions have you found to really be helpful to you in your own prayer time, making it more consistent, more productive, more focused, more worshipful, etc.?


29 Responses

  1. Actually one of the most helpful considerations to me is that it is not as important that I have a “prayer-time” as that I pray.

    By which I mean: look at Nehemiah? When did he pray? Always. They were short little prayers, but they were constant and frequent.

    Ditto input from Psalms. It all combines to show me that really the best time to pray is now.

    Of course, that can be twisted into an argument against setting apart times for prayer. But Scripture also supports that practice (cf. my namesake).

    So here’s the value, I think. I don’t doubt that many pray less than they otherwise would because they think prayer has to be long, emotional, deep, and set apart from everything else. So, since they can’t really do that, they put it off.

    That’d be a little like saying that, to show affection for my wife, I really should get the kids to a sitter, make reservations at a restaurant, shower, dress up, and buy a gift. I just can’t do that now, so… what’s on TV?

    All those are good things, but not the only things. Do what you can do now, and work at the other.

    My two c… oh wait, that’s copyrighted.

  2. Praying out loud helps me…especially if I’m having trouble focusing. My mind takes retrieval cues from everywhere it seems, and when I pray for, say, a couple we’ve invited over for dinner, my mind can wander (I’m ashamed to say) to the menu, or what still needs to be straightened up around the house. When I pray out loud that is much less likely to happen. Sort of a “duh”…but it’s the duh-isms that get me.

    Also, when someone emails a request to me, I’ll stop (if I’m able) and pray right then, and in my reply I will tell them I’ve already prayed. That ensures that I don’t file it mentally for when I have an “official” prayer time (and subsequently forget) and also I think it heartens the person in need of prayer…that I share their concern and have jumped right on that need.

  3. A year back I read a book titled “Extreme Righeousness” with the subtitle “seeing ourselves in the Pharisees” or something to that affect. The author was Hovestol and he had a portion on prayer that has really helped me. Similar to what Dan said, focus on substance not on length.

    In other words, ignore those pamphlets on the rack in the back of the church that say “how to pray 30 minutes a day.” When we pray with a set time in mind we spend a lot of time putting in “filler,” you know “Be with them,” “bless them,” “bless the gift and the giver,’ (well that’s usually the great offering fall back prayer), you get the idea. Focus on the substance of your prayer and the time will take care of itself. This has really helped my focus in prayer.

  4. I find John MacArthur advice has been the most helpful for me: “For a Christian, prayer is like breathing”.

    This really came home when I was in the Army, and there was no way I could have my very special “prayer time”. I discovered the blessing of simply praying, coming to my Father as His child, whether I was lying in a filthy bunker or standing my post. I think that is what is meant by “pray without ceasing”. For me, it was the understanding that prayer is communion and fellowship that I found most helpful. And, of course, 2 Cor. 3:17-18!

    Hope this was helpful!

    By the way, I rejoice to see that picture of you in my homeland. The weather seems, um, uncommon…

  5. I just recently finished a series on prayer in our Wednesday night services, taking the examples of the apostle Paul’s prayers in various epistles. A good book to go along with that study is D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. I was constantly amazed and challenged by the focus of Paul’s prayers being on the internal, spiritual needs of people, rather than the external, physical needs. How many of our prayer requests and subsequently our prayers are filled with external, physical things? Surely we are not to neglect praying for them, but I fear that we often think that if the outward is fixed, all is well. But Paul prays for things beyond the surface and prays for heart issue things. Our folks were challenged by these prayers and the study of them may be of use to you all as well.

  6. 1. Pray through a bible passage line by line.
    2. Use “The Valley of Vision” or some hymn texts. Might be a bit formal for some, but it is a good spring board.
    3. “With Christ in the School of Prayer” Andrew Murray. Short Chapters (about 30 chapters total I think).
    3. While I understand the “Pray without ceasing” principle. There is significant biblical evidence for real work in prayer. I recently looked at Epaphras in Colossians 4:12-13 and he “agonized” in prayer specifically for the spiritual condition of the Colossian believers. It must be a priority.
    4. Practically, move bedtime up 30 minutes for everyone. once the kids are in bed spend time those extra thirty minutes in prayer.
    5. Practically, put your churches prayer list on your fridge, mirror, steering wheel, where ever you will see it and be reminded of specific current requests.

  7. Thanks, all. Very helpful. Keep them coming.

    Anthony, Murray’s not been my favorite, particularly because of his Keswick, mystical tendencies. But I’ve heard good things about that particular book. Is it more concrete and less mystical than other Murray books? Others who have read it? Thanks.

  8. I recently compiled a prayer prompter for our congregation. We have been doing a series on prayer for the last year (and a year still to go) on Wed. evenings. In the prayer prompter, I compiled all the prayers of Paul in the NT Letters as well as divided up the praying for different ministries and aspects of our church. I also put all the passages of Scripture in the NT that speak on prayer and a short description so that the church can study different topics of prayer.

    One aspect that has strengthened our corporate prayer life (and therefore individual prayer) was that I compiled a large list of God’s names and descriptions in the prompter. For the last year we have been studying each name or description and discussing how knowing God in this way (whatever the name might indicate) affects our prayer life. The premise is that knowing who we are praying to will revolutionize our praying. That has been a great blessing for me as I have been overwhelmed (for instance this last week) with praying to Christ, my passover; and realizing how He as passover affects prayer. Let me know if you want a copy of the prompter. It is not amazing, but the people of our church indicated that it is very helpful.

  9. Praying through the Lord’s Prayer & the Ten Commandments & other portions of Scripture, as suggested by Martin Luther in his “A Simple Way To Pray.”

    His little book written to his barber, really helped put substance to my prayer.

    Check it out:

    The edition by Archie Parrish (available through Ligonier) was particularly helpful.

  10. Marry a spouse who reminds you everyday that you can do nothing without asking for our Father’s help. It’s humbling, practical and encouraging at the same time.

    I guess the real suggetion is to make it a point to remind fellow believers – your spouse, your children – to pray as if their lives depend on it — because they do.

    I’m sure working to keep others consistent in prayer will strengthen your own resolve to pray with ceasing.

  11. To add to the other very helpful resources mentioned above, Kenneth Boa’s “Handbook to Prayer” has been immensely helpful to me.

  12. I have been immensely helped in my prayer life by reading the biographies of George Mueller and Hudson Taylor at least once a year.

  13. I have enjoyed John Hyde’s biography, “Praying Hyde”.

  14. Chris, one of the ways that we are attempting to strengthen the prayer lives of those in our church is by taking one small group a month to pray through Scripture. We will give them a passage of Scripture (generally 5-8 verses long) and discuss the timeless, spiritual prayer requests that can be drawn from the text. We then pray through those requests. For me, it has challenged my own personal prayer life as I see truths jumping out of my daily reading of the Scriptures for which to pray.

  15. I have manuscripted my prayers, praying as I write. I enjoy writing, and writing my prayers has been one of the highest expressions of that ability. I have also found this keeps me focused. It is also a good way to change up the routine (so to speak). I have also been encouraged when I would go back and read the prayers at a later time.

    I would also give a “Ditto” to Anthony H’s comments.

  16. “School of Prayer” by Murray. I have not run into a lot of the mysticism. It is certainly recognizable as his style, but generally practical and applicable. I think the short chapters help to keep his mysticism in check.

  17. Just saw this from Church Matters blog –

  18. “This week I’m preaching on practical helps that can enhance one’s prayer life. I’d appreciate your input.
    What specific suggestions have you found to really be helpful to you in your own prayer time, making it more consistent, more productive, more focused, more worshipful, etc.?”

    Wait till Saturday night to begin preparing; that’ll make your prayer life focused.

    Seriously, the best habit I ever began was journaling prayers based on my QT Scripture reading. There is no way to know how many times I have gone through the Psalms.

  19. I would second the recommendation of D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation , it is by far one of the best books I have read on prayer. While much of it is more doctrinal/theological (which surely has very practical ramifications), Carson includes a chapter on practical suggestions learned from experience, “Lessons from the School of Prayer”. Very helpful stuff like:

    1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.
    “What we actually do reflects our highest priorities. That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words.” (p.19).

    2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift

    “One of the most useful things is to vocalize your prayers.” (p.20).

    “Another thing you can do is pray over the Scriptures.” (p. 21).

    Journaling – “The real value of journaling, I think, is several-fold:
    (a) It enforces a change of pace, a slowing down…If you are writing your prayers, you are not daydreaming.
    (b)It fosters self-examination.” (p. 22)

    3. At various periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer-partner relationship.

    4. Choose models — but choose them well.
    “Study their content, their breadth, their passion, their unction — but do not ape their idiom.” (p. 27).

    5. Develop a system for your prayer lists.

    6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture.
    “One of the most important elements in intercession is to think through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for.” (pp. 32-33).

    7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers.
    “The point is that although public prayer is addressed to God, it is addressed to God while others are overhearing it. Of course, if the one who is praying is more concerned to impress these human hearers than to pray to God, then rank hypocrisy takes over…But that does not mean there is no place at all for public prayer. Rather, it means that public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying. And then, judging by the example of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, there is ample reason to reflect on just what my prayer, rightly directed to God, is saying to the people who hear me.” (pp. 34-35).

    “In brief, public praying is a pedagogical opportunity.” (p. 33)

    8. Pray until you pray.
    “That is puritan advice…What they meant is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying.” (pp. 35-36).

    These are just some of the highlights of the first chapter. The rest of the book is equally good as Carson takes a long look at the prayers of Paul and challenges his readers to shape our praying after Scripture. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is deep in places, and challenging, but well worth the time and money invested.

  20. […] on August 14, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Chris Anderson over at mytwocents asked for practical tips on prayer. Here is essentially what I posted (with a few small […]

  21. One of the best books on prayer out there and put to print only this year–A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller.

  22. 1. I have also found that writing is a helpful way to keep my mind from drifting. I don’t necessarily manuscript my prayers because I’m a slow writer, but I at least create an outline. Sometimes I do this before I pray, but often I do it as I pray.

    2. I remember years ago when I finally began to catch on that prayer wasn’t just about “requests.” For me, that was a major breakthrough in being able to have extended, meaningful prayer times. The example of the Psalms was helpful in reorienting my prayers.

    3. A while back in a sermon on 1 Tim 2:8 my pastor briefly described different postures for prayer in Scripture: prone, kneeling, hands lifted, eyes toward heaven, etc. While this hasn’t dramatically changed my own practice, it was food for thought. One application is that we don’t always have to pray with hands lifted, but that our posture should be appropriate to our content. May be a little far afield for your current series . . .

  23. 1. Read a psalm (or any other relevant passage) to the Lord just like if you were praying it.

    2. Be spontaneous — any time in any circumstance, just tell the Lord how you’re feeling or give him thanks for ___. Just take a few seconds, nothing long or formal.

    3. Use different postures. Raise your hands, lay flat on the ground, or even bow to your waist — how else would we respond to a king?

    4. Remember “ACTS” to help you through the “what” to pray for — Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.


  24. Doran has been preaching an absolutely incredible series on prayer the last few months at I-C. You might want to check out the sermons on Sermonaudio.

  25. About a year ago, I read a pamphlet by, I believe, CJ Mahaney, on spiritual disciplines, one of which was prayer. He encouraged the reader to use the Lord’s Prayer as a template. This has been life-changing for me, as I’ve realized that Jesus wasn’t just praying a prayer but giving us a framework for ours. It has really helped me organize my thoughts in what is truly a discipline.

  26. I meant to get back to this thread to say “Thanks!” to all who chimed in. Your thoughts were helpful, and the message last week went well. I’m planning on turning the message into 2-3 posts here. Better yet, my meditation on prayer over the last few weeks has yielded what I hope will be a useful new hymn text. Thank you!

  27. Huh. Weird. Nobody thought to mention this:

    The Prayer Cross

    (ht: Purgatorio)

  28. That would be a pretty short series.

  29. […] topic quite a bit in recent weeks. I’ve been assisted in my studies by Spurgeon, Calvin, and several living friends. One result of these meditations is a new hymn text which focuses on the role each Person of the […]

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