If you were at Cornerstone Church this summer, you know our sermon series focused on prayer. Prayer is something we are told by God to do without ceasing, and it is something we can do all the time as we go about our day. We can converse with God about anything anytime, no matter where we are! However, we also need to go beyond that and take time out of our busy schedules to sit in quiet concentration and really spend quality time talking to God. A common struggle is staying focused when you sit to take time and pray. Or maybe you feel like you always pray the same prayers and you could really use some new inspiration? Today, I want to share a few disciplines that have practically helped me to stay focused and have given me both structure and more diverse language to use in my prayers.
While I have not done it regularly in many years, keeping a prayer journal was very helpful to me when I first began to establish a personal habit of prayer. This practice carried me for many years and kept me focused so that my mind would not wander. With hands and eyes engaged in writing, your mind can stay on what you want to say to God. There is something about writing, as if you are writing a letter to a friend, that the words flow easier. When you write out your requests and petitions, the act of writing them can symbolize the spiritual act of giving them over to God and laying them out before him – taking your burdens off of yourself and laying them on the page for Him to handle. The best thing about keeping a prayer journal is going back and reading through them years later to see how your relationship with God has matured and how he has answered your prayer requests.
When I kept a prayer journal, I usually wrote sitting in bed at the end of the day. Other than the temptation to fall asleep (and I’m pretty sure many nights I would pray myself to sleep), my bed was a place that was free from the distractions of housework or media. Wherever you sit to pray, I suggest that you choose a spot where you will be the least distracted by people, duties, and things. For me, the kitchen table in the center of the house is the absolute worst place to sit and pray, even if I am alone. I am always tempted to clean up a few dishes or notice where the floor needs sweeping.
Even if you have a regular prayer spot with the least distractions and a journal in hand, you may find yourself stuck in knowing what to pray. In many ways, the Bible itself is the best resource for helping you develop structure and language for prayer. Currently, I spend my quiet time with God first thing in the morning on my back porch or on my bed. After reading the Bible, I move into a time of prayer; but, for a long time these two things were very disconnected for me. First, I would think about and jot down a note about my “takeaway” from my Bible reading, and then I would begin my prayer time on a completely different subject.
Imagine you are sitting with a friend over coffee and your friend tells you all about himself and what he did that day and then he offers you words of encouragement and maybe points out some areas where he thinks you might use some help. Then, imagine that you respond by completely ignoring what he said and instead you immediately begin telling your friend all about your day and you even ask him for a few favors. How rude and inconsiderate! I hope I would never do that to a friend yet that is what I was doing to God. Anyone else guilty?
The easiest prayer prompt it to simply respond to God based on what you read in the Bible. If you’re reading something about God’s character and who He is, respond back to Him in prayer by praising Him for that. If you read about God’s laws or His guidelines for holy living, respond back in prayer by asking for His help in obedience to that. If you read about something amazing that God has done or promises to do for you, respond to Him in prayer by thanking Him for that. I would go so far as to say that anything and everything we read in scripture warrants some type of prayer response back to God. All throughout scripture, there are examples of other people’s prayers that we can emulate. Even if you have nothing else to add, just responding to God based on what you read is a great place to begin your habit of prayer. Read the Bible for 5 minutes and pray for 3. Start there.
You can also take it a step further by looking for specific things from your Bible reading to include in your prayers. When I’m reading the Bible, I have chosen to look for two specific things:
- Who God is – This is what I can praise him for
- What God has done, does, or will do – This is what I can thank him for.
I keep a running list of both categories and use them as bookmarks in my Bible. When I’m done reading a passage of scripture for enjoyment, learning, and application, I always go back and read it again to see if there was anything that fits into either of those categories. You could choose to look for and write down anything that describes what God says about who you are or any instructions for Christian living. I have a friend who is always looking for and keeps a log of God’s promises.
The purpose of creating a running list in any of these categories is to create resources for your prayer structure and language. You are able to continually add to the variety of things that you praise God for, thank him for, confess, and ask Him for. As you do this, you are getting to know God more and you naturally will have more to say to Him.
If you are participating in our church’s 66-day prayer challenge, I encourage you to try one of these practices. Pick up a fresh notebook or journal and try writing out your prayers. You might start with a couple sentences a day. Or you may be surprised at how the words flow when you pray in written form, as if you are writing a letter to God.
If you’re not in the habit of reading the Bible or responding to God based on what you read, give that a shot. Pick a category or two to search the Bible for and try keeping a running list of categories you can pray about. Then use those lists during your prayer time.
I would love to hear feedback from you if you try any of these practices and benefit from them. Do you have any other helpful practices or habits that have helped you to pray? I would love to hear from you about those too at email@example.com.
Hailey Violette and her husband Darren have attended and served at Cornerstone Church for about 20 years. They live in Northbridge with their 3 daughters.
Hailey is a treasure hunter and loves scouring yard sales, thrift shops, flea markets, estate sales, curbs, God's creation and especially the Bible. She is most passionate about teaching the Bible and discipling others to follow Christ.