Ever feel like everyone else has this prayer thing figured out except you? Like for everyone else, prayer comes naturally and they’re BFF’s with Jesus but for you, it’s awkward to pray and your conversations with God are sporadic at best? Same here.
I’m a pastor and I still don’t have prayer all figured out. I’m a work in progress. A person on the journey. Thankfully wherever we are, Jesus meets us in this place. As with most things, we humans like to make prayer more complicated than it needs to be.
Here are five simple pieces of advice to having a better prayer life, for you and for others:
#1 Just let the words come out!
The truth is most people pray, people who go to church and those who don’t. Most people pray, sometimes without knowing it.
When we’re on a plane as it takes off, for some reason we pray. When we’re wheeled into an operating room, even if it’s a simple surgery, we pray. When our favorite sports team is in a close game, we bite our nails and we pray. It just happens. We might not even hear the words we’re saying, words whispered under our breath:
- Lord, help my team to win!
- God, help me pass this test.
- Lord, help my mom be okay.
- God, I hope this pilot knows how to fly.
- Jesus, why am I doing this?
Whether we’re pursuing God or not, the words, our prayers, just come out. This is how it should be.
Prayer doesn’t need to be lengthy, or even eloquent. Don’t censor your prayers when talking with God. That simple prayer you whispered as the plane took off? The desperate cry you shouted out to God when your mom was in the hospital? God heard your words and he is thankful you spoke them. Do this more often and instead of just speaking the words to yourself, speak them to him!
So just let the words come out and see where the conversation goes.
#2 When something reminds you of God, pray!
In 1st Thessalonians, Paul says to “pray without ceasing.” Without ceasing? Like never stopping? This is impossible, right?
It sure seemed impossible to me. When I first began to take my relationship with God seriously in college, if something reminded me of God, I tried to take a minute to acknowledge him. To sit with him. To talk with him. What started as a very disciplined and intentional effort, prayer slowly began to show up more and more often throughout my day on its own. And I stress slowly. It took time. Soon though, prayer was no longer one more thing on my to-do list, it became the most important thing.
What’s one step you can take? Write a short prayer on a notecard. Set an alarm on your phone. Take a walk outside. Pray with a friend. Read an encouraging devotional. When something reminds you of God, talk with him.
#3 Write prayer notes!
One of my favorite things to do is to write notes to people. To thank people. To encourage people. To let them know I’m praying for them.
I want my notes to have a personal touch, but since my handwriting looks like a first grader’s, I type them. Not on a computer. I use a typewriter. I should say typewriters. Let’s just say I have a few. I may have an addiction to buying them. Anyway, it’s just a simple way to let people know that I’m thinking about them, cheering for them, and praying for them. It’s a simple way to let them know that they’re loved and noticed by me.
As I’m typing a note, I simply begin praying for the person.
“I just want you to know that I prayed for you today…”
And I begin to list the specific things that I pray:
- “For you.”
- “For your work.”
- “For your family.”
- “For your walk with the Lord.”
- “For your health.”
- “For your marriage.”
- “For decisions you’re trying to make.”
It’s so simple, and yet I never cease to be blown away by the responses I get:
- “The timing of your note was perfect. I was waiting for test results.”
- “You prayed for my marriage, and we just started seeing a counselor.”
- “I’ve been struggling with depression, and your words were comforting.”
- “No one’s ever told me that he has prayed for me.”
- “Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by life and your letter was so encouraging.”
Your prayer notes don’t have to be typed out on a typewriter like mine. Send a text. Leave a voicemail. Stick a note on the parked car of a friend. The point isn’t how the note is written, it’s about being intentional enough to let someone know you’re talking with God about their needs, their sorrows, their joys.
It’s amazing how powerful our words to God can be. How powerful our prayers on behalf of others can be.
#4 If you tell someone you’re going to pray for them, do it!
It’s easy to tell someone who’s hurting that you’re going to pray for them. Often, it’s an automatic response we don’t even think about. The problem: saying you’re going to pray for someone and actually doing it are two different things. How do you go from the knee-jerk reaction of saying “I’ll pray for you” to sitting down and talking with God? For years, I struggled with the bad habit of telling people I would pray for them but never getting around to doing so. I would simply forget.
I didn’t want my words to be hollow, so I made a simple change. Now, if I tell someone I am going to pray for him or her, I either ask if I can pray right then and there or else I silently pray as we part ways.
There are other ways to act on this. My wife will often set a daily reminder on her phone to pray for a certain person at a specific time so she doesn’t forget. Others write a note and stick it somewhere noticeable, like the bathroom mirror or the fridge. Write that individual’s name down in your Bible, add them to your morning devotional or keep a running list on your phone of prayer intentions.
You can even try what I did and pray out loud right then and there.
It might feel strange at first, to pray for someone audibly, but it’s amazing the impact our words have when talking with God on someone else’s behalf.
#5 Don’t lie to God!
Who knows how many times I’ve prayed what I thought I should pray or what I thought God wanted to hear rather than what I was actually feeling and wanting to say. I tell God that I’m thankful when I’m really upset. Or that I’m grateful for his peace when I don’t feel any.
That’s called lying!
In one of my favorite psalms (Psalm 139), David explains that God sees everything and is everywhere. He sees us when we wake up. He sees us when we’re traveling and going from here to there. And then David says this:
“Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, Oh Lord.”
Isn’t that a beautiful and terrifying thing to know about God? He knows everything I’m thinking and everything I’m going to say without me even saying it? Being fully exposed before God is scary, isn’t it?In knowing this, though, I have to think, If God sees it all within me, why would I keep it in? I mean, why wouldn’t I be honest and say what’s really on my mind?
Instead of lying to God, be honest and say what you’re actually feeling:
- God, I’m mad that you haven’t healed my dad!
- Lord, I’m tired and I feel like I’m in over my head at work.
- Jesus, I’m restless. I’m struggling with anxiety. I need your peace.
Father, when am I ever going to catch a break in life?
Lying isn’t good, especially when it comes to God. So instead of lying to God any longer, just say the words inside of you. Whatever you’re really feeling, say that!