Every believer knows what it is like to struggle in his or her prayer life. You know you need to pray and feel guilty for not praying more, so you kneel down, fold your hands, close your eyes, and then have no idea what to say. Then once words start coming out you don’t know if you are praying for the right thing or if your prayers are even being heard.
If this is your experience, here are a few practical steps you can take to reinvigorate your prayer life.
Remember the Gospel
Sometimes our hesitation in prayer is driven by our insecurities about whether or not we will be heard. In times like these allow the message of the Gospel to remind you that your audience with the Father is not conditional upon your performance as a believer. Remember that Jesus gave himself in your place after he lived the perfect life none of us could have lived. God raised him from the dead and exalted him to the right hand of God. When we trust in Christ, God gives us Christ’s righteousness and adopts us as his children. In addition, he gave us the Holy Spirit who helps us pray when we don’t know how to pray. Because God is our Father, Jesus gave his life for us, and the Holy Spirit helps us, we have every reason in the world to come to him in prayer, knowing we will be heard. When you feel like God will not hear you, remember this Gospel message.
Meditate on Scripture
Often the way we talk about our devotional lives hinders the way we pray. We often present prayer and Bible reading as if they are two unrelated halves of the “quiet time.” The greatest help to my prayer life I ever heard came from Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. He pointed to biblical meditation as a bridge between Bible reading and prayer. As we think deeply about Scripture, asking it questions and plumbing its depths for application, we think of things that will move us to pray. We will see things we should thank God for, sins we should confess, challenges we need the Spirit’s aid to conquer, and ministry opportunities for which we need strength. When we read our Bibles we need to read them with an eye towards communion with God and requests we should bring before him.
Pray a Psalm
When you don’t know how to pray, trying praying a prayer God inspired in the Psalms. The Psalms cover the whole range of human emotions and stir up our affections when we are dry. Pray Psalm 6 when you are hurting, Psalm 51 when you have sinned, or Psalm 63 when you desire to meet with God more than anything else. Let Psalms like 19 or 100 help you see the glory of God and the praise due to his great name. To aid you in this, read through the Psalms and keep a list of which ones would be helpful to pray in different times of need.
Make a List
If you aren’t sure what to pray for, stop and make a list of things to pray about. Ask yourself some key questions to get the list started. Are there sins I need to confess? What are some reasons I have to thank God for his goodness to me? What people in my life need to hear the Gospel? What Christian friends do I have who need encouragement? What are things causing me stress and anxiety? These and other questions will yield a list that you could spend a significant amount of time praying through.
Use a Book of Prayers
We can learn a lot about prayer by listening to other people pray. Often as believers we need other people to teach us how to pray. One resource to help us with this is a book of prayers like The Valley of Vision. We can read prayers other believers prayed and be drawn near to God as our hearts begin to be meshed together with the words of the prayer. Also, in our age where we are tempted to pray with a sometimes thoughtless informality, reading prayers that have been carefully thought through can give us greater insight into our own prayer life.
Walk Around and Pray for Your Neighbors
If you get confused about what to pray for and don’t want to sit in a room by yourself, head outside. Walk around your neighborhood and pray for your neighbors. If you have been in the neighborhood for a while you know their names and situations. If they are not believers, pray for opportunities to talk to them about Jesus and pray for the Lord to open their hearts. If you don’t know them well enough to have an idea of how to pray for them, pray for opportunities to get to talk to them or pray about how you can go out of your way to engage them. Let your prayers drive you to look for ministry opportunities with those around you.
“When You Struggle to Pray”
For Further Reading:
A Praying Life by Paul Miller
Prayer by Timothy Keller