Ten Tools for Your Prayer Toolbox
Prayer is an amazing privilege. To think that Almighty God pays attention to our words is hard to believe, but true. And yet I find that many Christians struggle to pray. I certainly do. I am easily distracted and repetitive in what I say. And If I don’t watch out, my prayers are quickly reduced to reading items on a shopping list instead of a genuine, heart to heart conversation with God.
Our prayers often lack vitality. They feel dull and stale. Author Don Whitney puts it bluntly: "I can be praying to the most fascinating Being in the universe about the most important things in life and yet be bored to death”. Our pattern of prayer is often predictable and therefore boring. And whatever we find boring, we don’t delight in and we don’t get excited about.
So perhaps this may help. Here are ten tools that I’ve put in my Prayer Toolbox lately. They’ve proven to be a help. Like any toolbox, I don’t use all tools simultaneously. In fact, some of them are still unused. View them as ideas, as suggestions that can help you to stay or get out of the rut and give substance and flavor to your prayers.
Tool #1: Pray back the Bible
We’ve separated Bible reading from prayer and that is very unfortunate. Turn Scripture into prayer! Let the Bible direct your prayers. When you read for instance: "All things are possible with God” (Mat. 19:26), praise Him for His power and bring your impossibilities before His throne. When the Bible says “I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1), thank God that He has given you all that you need in Himself and ask Him to help you and your family to grow in contentment.
Tool #2: Use the nook and crannies of the day
Much time leaks from our day unnoticeably. I think of those 3 or 5 minute gaps between activities. Instead of filling them up with checking your phone, flipping through a magazine or just nothingness, pray! Have some prayer and praise items on the shelf of your heart so you don’t have to think long who or what to pray for.
Tool #3: Be spontaneous in your prayers
Ask God to make you alert to situations that lend itself perfectly for seeking God’s face, ever so briefly. When you’re confronted with a beggar on the street, or with a decision you need to make at work or you witness a spectacular sunrise in the early morning, pray! Prayer should be our instinctive knee jerk reaction to the troubles and blessings of life.
Tool #4: Plan to pray
Many good things don’t get done simply because we don’t plan for it. The Christian life demands self-discipline and order. Rethink your priorities and how prayer fits in. If you are committed to praying regularly, where and when and how will you do this? Some people have a prayer bench, or take a daily prayer walk. Be realistic, but don't be afraid to think outside the box!
Tool #5: Pray specific prayers
Life is lived in the trenches of the daily particulars. Our worries, fears, lusts, and jealousies have a name and address. Call them by name. It will help to stay focused in prayer. And when you pray specific prayers, don't be surprised to see specific answers. Ask a friend or church member: “What is going on in your life that I can pray for?”
Tool #6: Fill up your big and sweeping Bible prayers
The Bible contains large and general prayers, such as for the lost and for God’s kingdom to come. These are such abstract concepts that it is hard to wrap our hearts and minds around them. But we can pray them meaningfully by filling them up with other goals God has. So instead of praying “Bless all the missionaries in the world”, we can ask God to help the missionaries to be bold in their witness.
Tools #7: Put together your own prayer list
A prayer list has a bad rep. If the goal is to mindlessly repeat names or to cram as many items as possible into a 15-minute prayer time, rightly so. But with the right mindset, a prayer list can help us to be structured and avoid mind drifting, especially when we pray out loud. It can help us to pray for things and people more than once.
Tool #8: Start a prayer journal
Journaling helps to track prayer requests and answers. Some use their journal to write out prayers and record praises. We live at such a frantic pace that we take little time to reflect. D.A. Carson hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near”.
Tool #9: Run your prayers through the ACTS acronym
This is an old one, but helpful nonetheless. Each of the letters stands for a key element of prayer. Adoration (praising God), Confession (we all fall short of His holiness), Thanksgiving (for the grace and kindnesses we have received) and Supplication (petitions for ourselves and others).
Tool #10: Find someone to pray with
Many things are easier when you do it together with another person. A few years ago, the couch to 5k running plan became a whole lot easier for me when my son Caleb joined me. Find one or two other people to pray with, weekly. You can carry each other burdens and share the joy of prayer.
Pick up a tool and try it!