5 Practical Ways to Improve Your Prayers
If you’re a bit like me, your time in prayer needs some improving. Are you often distracted or inconsistent in prayer? Do you tend to fall into saying the same things over and over? And do you feel frustrated by how few answers you see? We recognize how important this is, but sometimes we’re not quite sure how to make our time in prayer better.
Here are some practical ways to improve your prayer time.
Read the Bible First
Minds and hearts are like cars on a cold day. They need to be warmed up, if they’re to run well. Our hearts are often cold from family stress, busyness, job trouble and the constant bad news in our world. Time spent in a here-and-now, joy-sucking world, can bog us down and make us feel spiritually cold (Luke 8:14). Reading the Bible first is akin to starting our spiritual engines. As we read we slowly begin to engage with God. And it helps us put life in perspective again. Without the Bible we are left to think that life is all about coffee and careers, egos and entertainment, politics and persona, diapers and diversions, and a never-ending list of other things. The Bible reorients us to see that life is about the unseen, not just the seen; the spiritual, not just societal, the soul and not just the body, and not the endless distractions of life.
It also helps us to know what God’s will is so we can pray it. God will hear and answer prayers according to his will (1 John 5:14-15) and the Bible reveals his will to us. We sometimes get confused about His will but the basic elements are clear, not mysterious: to be holy like Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:2; Galatians 5:22-23) and to walk with Jesus in every area of life.
Plus, as we read the Bible it builds up our faith in God, it produces humility as our sins are exposed and it helps us see the type of help we need in battling our temptations. All these things are key ingredients in improving our prayers (see James 1:6 for faith, Isaiah 66:2 and Hebrews 4:12-13 for humility and Hebrews 4:12-13 for showing us our real condition).
Pray the Bible
Once you’ve read the Bible, take those very things and begin to make them the focus of your prayer. For example, if you read Psalm 51 where David confesses his sin of adultery to God, then make confession of sins a theme of your prayers that day. Use this time to confess any unrepentant sin and ask God to help you battle against it. Remind yourself that once you’ve trusted in Jesus, those sins can be fully confessed and fully forgiven. If you read about Peter denying Jesus, you can ask God to help strengthen you not to be ashamed of Jesus and then ask Him to give you fresh courage to stand for Jesus when those situations arise. If you read about the deep love Jesus has for sinners in Romans 5, you can thank Him for His love for you and then ask Him to continue to make His love known to you in daily ways.
The key is not to compartmentalize your prayer from your Bible reading, sermons or studies. They’re not to be sealed off from one another, but they’re to bleed into each other. There is to be an “open-border” policy between Bible reading and prayer. This will rescue your prayers from routine words such as, “thank you this day for…” and making generic requests: “help us live for you,” “bless this day,” that may be thoughtlessly mouthed by all of us. Plus, we can have confidence that our prayers will be heard since we are praying God’s will back to Him (as long as we have understood the Bible correctly!). After all, God will respond to his own words and will never deny them! Many believers in the past did this: Moses (Exodus 32:13), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:1-38) and Daniel (Daniel 9). So when we do this we are following a helpful pattern and one that God responds to.
This doesn’t mean that we have to mouth the exact words of the Bible in our prayers (though this would be great!). We shouldn’t treat the Bible as a magical incantation that, if spoken, forces God into answering. But we should make the themes and the statements of the Bible the form and the content of our prayers. In other words, if you want to help your prayer time, be biblically informed when you pray.
Pray with other Christians
Perhaps for you, the thought of praying with other people is terrifying. But praying with others is a greater blessing than it is, a fear. I have personally seen the blessings and benefits in my own life as I’ve prayed with others. And I have come to see that when my prayer life is struggling, this is a huge help.
Christians have always prayed together (Acts 2:42; 4:23-31; 12:5). Not only is praying together a delight to God (He refers to prayers of His people as good smelling incense to Him in Rev 5:8), it is also a help to believers. Praying together is another way to break us from routine, thoughtless prayers. It fires our hearts when we join with others who are praying. We pray about things we don’t normally pray about. We learn how to better pray as we pray with mature and seasoned soldiers of Christ. Another benefit of praying with others is that it keeps us accountable to pray.
So take advantage of times you have with other believers. Attend a prayer gathering at your church. Pray with other believers after the morning service or after a Bible study. Pray with believers at a coffee shop, in a car or on the phone. Make a plan to pray with other believers. You will see the benefits in your own prayer time.
Pray with a Short List
In the Disney movie, “Up”, Doug, the dog, has the ability to speak and to be understood by humans. Throughout the movie anytime Doug would hear, “squirrel” he would immediately lose track of everything he was doing. Spiritually speaking we are like Doug when we pray. There are countless “squirrels” in our minds as we pray: the bill we forgot to pay, the email we never responded to, and that hurtful thing said about us on social media that keeps replaying in our minds. Having a short list to pray about helps free us from those “squirrel” times—even for a few critical minutes.
The way I organize my short list is to put 3 words down: Thanks / Confess / Ask. And then in the space underneath those I list a few things. This includes spur of the moment things I want to talk with God about, but also the things that I read in the Bible that day. Don’t write too much down just some statements to prompt your mind. Then with your list in hand, use these as launching points for your prayer. But don’t be a slave to the list. The list serves you, not the other way around.
Some may find this terribly formal. After all, I approach God as my loving Father, not as my boss at work. But let me remind you that while God is your Father, He is also your Heavenly King and when you come into the presence of the King it would be nice to at least have some idea of what you want to speak to Him about! For me, at least, without a list, I sometimes feel like I stumble into His presence and then meander about for many valuable minutes before I begin to seriously pray. A list can help us pray more clearly and deliberately. The Puritans would sometimes say that we must pray until we pray—meaning that we want to get to the point where we are pouring out our minds and hearts to God with freedom and intimacy—real prayer. A list may help you get to that point more quickly.
Pray out Loud
Praying out loud, even when alone, can be a new thing to some. When I first started praying aloud when alone, I honestly felt a little strange. I heard numerous times that only crazy people talk to themselves. And here I was doing just that! But we must remember that we are not talking to ourselves in prayer—we are talking to the living God! You may be the only one seen in the room, but you are not alone.
Praying out loud helps fight against distraction. It helps fight against sleep— another common enemy to prayer. It also aids you in inspecting the content of your prayers and the true condition of your heart. As you verbalize your praise, confessions, and requests you naturally tend to think about them more deeply. Anytime I have to verbalize something I find myself saying, “Is this really how I feel?”, “Is this an accurate reflection of me or am I saying this because it sounds right?” When we say our prayers out loud, we instinctively weigh the genuineness of our praise, the authenticity of our confession of sin and the content of our requests. Plus, it forces us to think more carefully about our desires because we have to think before we speak. I have faced times where I know I need to pray for someone who has wronged me. I find it much harder to pray a blessing on them out loud than it is for me to do so internally. There is something about wanting to verbalize it that forces me to get my heart right with God so that I don’t speak a lie in front of God. There is nothing wrong with silent, internal prayers (Nehemiah did this in Nehemiah 2:4), but praying out loud when I’m able has tended to help me much more.
So, go into a private place and pray out loud. Use the time alone in your car to pray out loud. And don’t mind what anyone thinks. After all, you won’t even be noticed since everyone is speaking on their car-connected phones these days!
All of these things can help, but there is one essential ingredient for prayer to be effective: salvation. Any person who wants to pray and be heard by God must have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus alone to be saved, then please repent of your sins and trust Him alone to forgive and save you. Check out our website for more information about knowing how to be forgiven.