If you’re like me, regular prayer comes harder than regular Bible reading.
With Bible reading, you have a plan, a place, and a specific time every day. Prayer feels like a bigger challenge. We read about the great saints of old who spent countless hours on their knees in intercession for others. Naturally, we feel intimidated. We seem to rush through hurried prayers after a brief time of Bible reading, or we only pray “on the go,” in short bursts throughout the day, never stopping to give any significant time or undivided attention to talking with God.
At the beginning of every year, we peruse the various plans for reading the Bible, but rarely do we find plans about developing the discipline of daily prayer. It’s not that we mean to avoid it. We know we need to pray. We know we’re called to it. We know that our lack of prayerfulness is a sign that we are unconscious of just how dependent we are upon God and that we are comfortable operating in our own strength. But still, how do we make it a regular practice?
As someone who has struggled to be consistent and regular in daily praying, let me offer three methods that have helped me keep praying.
1. Write out your prayers in a journal.
I started this practice more than 20 years ago. I would cover the day’s events in a journal, giving a daily account to the Lord of what had gone on. At first this practice was less about praying than it was about recording what had happened. But over time, this discipline instilled in me the sense that I was counting and recounting each day as an offering to the Lord. I went many years without a prayer journal, but since last fall, I have restarted the practice.
Today, my prayer journal is as much prayer as it is a recounting of the day. Usually in the mornings, either every day or every other day, I spend 15 to 20 minutes or so writing out words of praise to the Lord, confessing sin and shame, asking for guidance and assistance for the tasks that lie ahead, recounting some of the good and bad things that happened the day before, and praying for anyone who God puts on my heart—people at church, at work, in my family. Writing a daily letter to God is a way of “checking in”—making it clear that I am a man in need of God’s grace, a man who gives account for the life I live.
2. Pray the Scriptures over your family.
Sometimes people get frustrated that they’re just repeating themselves over and over again when they pray for their family. My suggestion? Stop trying to be spontaneous. Instead, lean fully into the repetitive nature of your prayers, but do so in a way that is more biblical and rich.
Here’s what I do. Every few months or so, I put together a one-page sheet of paper that has a paragraph devoted to every member of our family. I ask the Lord to impress upon me the needs of each family member, and then I look up Bible passages that speak to those needs. I reformulate the Bible verses so that they become the basis for my prayers for that family member.
Some characteristics are relevant for all of us (the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and so on), and so those form the general prayers for the whole family. But some family members may need prayer regarding specific aspects of holiness. Perhaps someone is struggling with anger or bitterness. Maybe someone is experiencing profound grief. Maybe your teenager needs to be protected from lusts and sinful desires. Perhaps you feel burdened for your daughter to grow in her openness and receptivity to the Lord’s will. Find scriptural references that speak to these needs, and then write out specific prayers for each family member based on those Scriptures.
Then, every morning during your prayer time (or throughout the week as you see fit), read through that page of biblically saturated prayers. In this way, you literally pray the Scriptures over your family, asking God to form us all into the image of his Son. This practice has been a helpful way of keeping me on track in praying regularly for the people closest to me.
3. Pray the Psalms.
The Psalms are the inspired prayer book of the church. This was the hymnbook of Jesus.
If you have trouble praying regularly, open up the Psalms and start saying the words out loud as a prayer to God. Let the rhythms and emotions and theological truths expressed by the psalmist become the expression of your heart. Find musical versions of the Psalms to fill your playlist on your phone. Stay in the Psalms until you know and love them, and eventually these songs will become the prayers of your heart. If you are anxious about what to say when you pray, turn to the Psalms and let them direct your heart to the right words.
(If you’d like to get started on praying the psalms every month, in line with the tradition of millions of Christians throughout the centuries, check out a guide I developed that can lead you through this practice.)
What about you? What are some methods that you’ve found helpful in keeping you praying?