Whether you’ve grown up warming church pews or avoiding church like the plague, chances are you’ll face different challenges when it comes to growing your prayer life. And sometimes, even if you’ve been praying for sixty years, you may come to a point where you feel like you need to start all over again in learning how to pray.
For the next month, we’re talking about The Inner Life of Powerful Prayer: what it is, how to cultivate it, and why it all matters.
We recently talked about enrolling in the Spirit’s School of prayer, and I shared a bit of my own prayer journey with you. You can catch that here.
I mentioned that though we’re embarking on this prayer journey together, your path may look a bit different from mine. That’s the beauty of having God as our Tutor: He personalizes our coursework to fit each of our unique spiritual needs. And even when it seems difficult, we keep pressing on because we have this great promise:
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
If you are a child of God, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you, just waiting for you to reach out to Him as an eager student. You, too, can learn to pray.
Here are some exercises to stretch your prayer muscles; the Spirit will give you more guidance as you seek Him:
1. Ask God to teach you how to pray
Admit that you don’t yet grasp the power of this foundational Christian discipline. Like the disciples, say, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). That’s a humbling prayer, but it’s a courageous one as well.
And the great news is that God will ALWAYS answer that prayer. He eagerly waits to take you deeper into the spirit of prayer, to show you riches you haven’t even fathomed before.
2. Talk to God as with a friend
All of us probably know at least one person who seems to adopt an entirely different persona when they’re praying, the sound of their voice and the words of choice not sounding anything like their regular selves.
Don’t do that. Jesus taught His disciples to be real and honest in their prayers, in other words, to be themselves. Tell God the great news you’d text a friend, and thank Him for making it happen. Talk to God about the crushing news you’ve just received, and ask Him to help you through it. And that anger, frustration, or doubt you may sometimes feel toward Him? Tell Him about that, too. He already knows about it. Rather than hide your true feelings, talk to God about them. He’s big enough to handle the good, the bad, and the ugly.
3. Keep a prayer journal
If you’re easily distracted like me, you may find it helpful to write down your prayers so that you mind stays focused on your prayer and not on the million things you need to do today. This can be a simple composition notebook or a three-ring binder or anything that suits your fancy. When I first started writing out my prayers, I began with “Dear God….” as if I were writing a letter to a friend.
I enjoy going back and reading how God has answered prayers and grown me over the years, and I look forward to sharing those prayer journals with my children as well.
4. Pray Bible prayers
One of the bigger growth spurts I experienced in my prayer life began when I started studying and praying Bible prayers. You’ll find inspiration and encouragement in the prayers prayed by Jesus (e.g., Matthew 6:9-13, John 17), Paul (e.g., Ephesians 3:16-21, Colossians 1:9-14) and David (e.g., Psalm 51, Psalm 42, Psalm 63). Many of these prayers are refreshingly candid, while others are deep and rich with meaning.
As you read the Bible, underline prayers that resonate with you. You may even find it helpful to write them down on index cards or in your prayer journal to refer back to time after time. God’s Word is powerful and will not return to us void; speak Truth over your life and allow it to change your thought patterns and give you the mind of Christ.
5. Find a trusted prayer partner
The deepest seasons of prayers have always been accompanied by praying with others. Jesus promises to show up in a special way whenever two or three are gathered in His Name (Matthew 18:20), and that’s reason enough to get together with others in prayer.
I always leave these prayer gatherings spiritually refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the day may bring. There’s power in praying together. And if you don’t have a prayer partner? Well… pray that God will give you one! It may sound simplistic, but we serve a Father who gives good gifts to His children; don’t hesitate to ask for them.
6. Become a lifelong learner
When you start to see strides in your progress, guard against spiritual pride that puffs up and draws our attention from God to ourselves. Keep asking God to teach you more and more each day, and become an avid learner.
Start reading books on prayer (my favorite so far are The Autobiography of George Muller and Let Prayer Change Your Life) and read others’ prayers (I keep Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Beth Moore’s Praying God’s Word next to my Bible and journal). Keep a humble spirit, ready to learn and grow more each day.
Developing our inner lives of prayer will lead to powerful transformations in our lives and the lives of those around us, one little (or big) miracle at a time.