Three Keys to a Better Prayer Life
By God’s grace, I’ve been a Christian since I was 4 years old. Over the years my family has gone through many trying situations--my parents’ divorce, mom's remarriage and dad's developing dementia. Like you, I am very familiar with the fact that suffering comes on in full, and doesn’t seem to relent. Through the trials of life and my walk with God, I’ve been sustained over and over again by the rich streams of godly teaching on prayer and on the sure footing of a healthy prayer life. Prayer has played an integral role in my own spiritual growth. Through these difficult times I have discovered several aids to a healthy prayer life: praying consistently, viewing prayer in relation to quality over quantity and having a prayer list.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to “pray without ceasing.” Many take this verse to mean they must literally pray unceasingly. While that's a nice idea, it isn’t quite possible to pray without stopping—ever. What Paul has in mind here is prayer as a regular habit, whereby His people take hold of Him and His promises in all of life. The apostle could charge his readers with this because he had personally exemplified it in his letters to fellow believers (1 Thess. 3:10; 2 Thess. 1:11; Eph. 1:16; 3:14).
Praying with consistency means having a time (or perhaps several times) during your day in which you take time to pray. I find that my best time of prayer occurs on a prayer walk. I also pray when I first get up every morning, simply thanking the Lord for another day to know and serve Him. Throughout the day I stop and pray as I write or work on a message. In order to develop healthy prayer habits in our lives, we first need to realize what time works best for us to pray, and then devote that time to prayer. We often tend to follow the prayer patterns of others and never develop our own. We must learn to use the principle of praying consistency to develop our own prayer habits. Paul’s point in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is that we are to have a regular habit of praying. Think intentionally about and then write out a plan for how you can pray consistently.
Quality Over Quantity
One of the greatest prayer killers is that we think we have to pray for a certain amount of time. You may say, “I’ve spent 5-10 minutes in prayer and tomorrow I’m going to spend 15-30 minutes.” There is nothing wrong with an increasing desire to pray. Luther was known to have spent at least two hours in prayer every day. There is nothing wrong with increasing one’s time in prayer. Where quantity of time in prayer becomes an issue is when we use it to make others feel guilty for not spending time in prayer, or when we compare our lesser times in prayer as being inadequate to those of other believers.
In my experience, people often feel guilty for their lack of prayer. They think, “I’m not a super-saint because I don’t pray for _____ amount of time.” This is, however, the wrong view. Nowhere in the Bible do we see Jesus or the apostles assigning themselves or others a certain amount of time to pray. If you look at Jesus’ prayer life or Paul’s prayers in his epistles to the churches, what you’ll see is that they emphasize quality over quantity. While we are told that, on certain occasions, Jesus "spent all night in prayer" (Luke 6:12), we don’t know how long Jesus always prayed to the Father. The Scriptures record short (John 11:41) and long times of prayer (Matt. 14:23) in the ministry of Jesus. We don’t know how long the Apostles prayed, only that they prayed on certain occasions three times a day (Acts 3:1).
Rather than focusing on the quantity of your prayer life, focus on the quality. Spend quality time with the Lord, not only giving Him your requests but praying the Word and promises back to Him. This will help bolster your prayer life with confidence, which in turn will increase your assurance and faith.
Throughout my Christian life I’ve kept a variety of prayer lists. Sometimes these prayer lists have become cumbersome leading me to abandon them entirely. Typically these lists include prayer requests from/for friends, family, and others. You can develop highly structured lists or just have them loosely gathered together by name and request-type like I do. At the men’s Bible study that I facilitate, I write down each person’s name and then write down their prayer request. This helps me to remember not only prayer request, but throughout the week to pray for their requests.
Prayer lists can be a helpful tool in the Christian’s prayer journey. Prayer lists are one aid to praying regularly and consistently. Some believers prefer to use prayer journals. Whatever tool you use, make sure it doesn’t take the place of primacy in your prayer life. We have summons to boldly come before God because of the finished work of Christ (Hebrews 4:16). Let us then come with joy and gladness to the Lord, not out of duty.
A Final Thought
I know all too well how difficult it can be to develop a prayer life. I’ve been a Christian nearly my entire life and heard nearly every sort of teaching on prayer. I’ve found that praying honestly and authentically to the Lord is the best way to pray. When I pray, I want to lay out my heart, my struggles, issues, and circumstances before the Lord.
Whatever principles you may find helpful, of this much we can be assured: By praying consistently and by valuing quality over quantity, you’ll find that your prayer life will grow and blossom. We must go boldly before God's throne in order to develop a healthy prayer life that is consistently nurtured by His grace.
Richard Pratt Pray with Your Eyes Open
Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, and the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine. He and his wife, Sarah, are members of Ustick Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho, where they serve in a variety of ministries. Dave received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins. Find him on Facebook or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.