“A prayerless soul is a Christless soul.” – Charles Spurgeon
I’m sure that you have made it part of your plan to grow every year—”I want to pray more.” We all recognize the call to pray and we all admit that we fall short of the command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Further, it is clear that, if we want to change to become more like Christ, we will need to build effective prayer habits for our lives. But the question remains, what does it look like to actually build an effective prayer life.
There are many ways to build an effective prayer life. This post is my attempt to put down what I have done over the years. It is by no means exhaustive and by no means meant to rule out any profitable prayer practices that you may have that do not line up with mine. This is only one of many tools, and, if a tool does not work for you, try a new one.
One of the greatest struggles that people have, when they sit down to pray, is that they don’t know what to do. Here are some practical suggestions.
Step 1: Get it on Paper
The most important thing in crafting a powerful prayer life is building discipline into it. In order to do that, getting your prayers on paper is valuable and helpful. I don’t mean that you are going to write a letter to God each morning. Rather, write out bullet points for talking just like you would if you were giving a presentation. They are cues to tell you ‘here is what I need to be talking about next’. It’s not a manuscript, it’s an easy to follow bullet list.
For me, I usually keep these in a paper journal and use that document for a couple of months (but it can be longer). The reality is, you are not going to remember the things that you should and want to be praying about, so getting it on paper is essential. Getting stuff out of your brain and onto paper is one of the best things you can do in your life, especially in prayer.
Another benefit to having it on paper in a journal (or another medium) is that you can look back and see how God has worked in your life through prayer. Too often we do not reflect on where we have been and what God has done for us. This is a very effective way to do this.
Step 2: Get the Fundamental Outline in Place
One of the common ways to think through the various stages of prayer is through the acronym A.C.T.S. I usually recommend to start here as your building blocks.
Adoration is singing God’s praise and tuning your heart to truths about Him. These truths can be things like God’s power, His love, faithfulness, holiness, and His sovereignty. The goal of expressing and focusing on these things is to tune your heart to truths about God. Just like you would talk about the details of a painting, the sunset, a good meal, etc. you should focus and talk about the beauty of God. Dwelling on and expressing the beauty of God is helpful for your soul and a natural outflow of your enjoyment of Him. This may seem strange and awkward at first, but the more you do it, the more you will see not only the value for your soul, but you will find enjoyment in recounting how amazing God is.
Confession literally means that you are saying the same thing that God says about your sin. Taking time to not only focus on any aspects of your day yesterday in which you sinned, but also areas in your life that you are prone to sin that you see coming up today. For example, you may struggle with the fear of man. So, take time to think if ‘fear of man’ came up yesterday, and if it comes up today. Asking God for the grace to walk in obedience through this will help build your prayer life.
You should make sure that you have listed the areas of life that easily ensnare you. All of us have certain sins that we tend to run back to time and again. If you are not praying about those areas on a daily basis (especially before you encounter that temptation), then why would you be surprised that you are not making progress in this area?
Thanksgiving is focusing on aspects of life that you are thankful for. Each season of life will bring about various things that you are thankful for. But, some things, such as the cross, will remain permanent fixtures to your prayer journal. Other aspects that you can include are things as basic (but important) as daily provision, all the way to things like friends and family.
Lastly, on this part of the outline, we can focus on things that you are asking God to provide. Here is where you might spend time praying for help to get through the hard project that you have at work, or to pray for your church that it might reach the community with the good news. Some people are not sure that they should put small things in here (should I really pray about “insignificant things”?) and the answer is yes. God cares about those things, and He wants you to “cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pe. 5:7).
Step Three: Additions to A.C.T.S
Now that you have the basic outline in there, it is time to add a little more meat. There are some things that should be happening in our prayer life that are essential. This section will add to what we have listed above, but you will also notice some overlap. Prayer is more like a barrel of molasses and less like a barrel of marbles. You will see all kinds of areas of prayer overlapping—don’t be worried by that.
Focus on Truth
There are certain truths that you should be running through your heart on a daily and weekly basis. These truths do not neatly fit into the categories above (remember it is just a tool). Things like this could be: help me to see that God is sovereign, or even as simple as reminding yourself that it is good to spend time in God’s word. The point being, things in this category may not rise to the level of confession of sin, but they are things that you want to keep before you.
Praying for People
Every morning you should work on getting the focus off of you by praying for others. Others includes both your immediate family of spouse, kids, parents, and siblings… but, it also includes those that you live life with and who are your siblings in Christ. Spending time praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ means that you will have to know what to pray for (you can’t just settle for, ‘Help them to love you more’) – you need to get in their life. What are the things that they struggle with and how can you bring them before the thrown of God.
Praying for You
Lastly, you need to make sure that you are praying for yourself. You should be praying that God would give you the grace and the mercy that you need to be pleasing to Him. Things in this category are things like: help me to be a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to me, help me to walk by the Spirit today and listen to His conviction, help me to see My Savior as the most satisfying object in the world. The point being, you should be praying for you.
Step 4: Do it
Now that you have your prayer journal, you are going to need to use it, daily. This means you are going to have to make sure you have 15-20 minutes of time each day to spend talking with God. You can’t do this when you are driving to work in traffic. You can’t do it when you are cooking breakfast or dinner (you can pray during those times, but they will not be as effective). This means that you are going to have to plan to have time, every day. You may have to go to bed earlier, not watch as many shows, or change other things about your regular life habits in order to ensure that you have time with God.
Step 5: Re-evaluate on a Regular Basis
Your prayer life will always be changing. There might be some things that you keep on your list forever, and there will be other things and people that you only have in your prayer journal for a season. The more you invest in this practice, the better you will get it at. You will refine and make your own process for how you are going to spend time in prayer in the morning, but the point is that you will have a place to start!
In the next post, we are going to look at how to have effective quiet time in the morning with Bible reading. It is great to talk to God and “cast our cares on Him” (1 Peter 5), but we also need to examine what it looks like to hear from God through His word.