Tips to Enrich Our Prayer Lives
Written by Tonia Bartlett
I remember sitting in a prayer gathering in Egypt during my first year overseas, listening to one of the Egyptian women pray, and thinking to myself, “Dang. I want to talk to God the way she does.” There was something deeply personal and intimate about her prayers that clued me in, maybe for the first time, on how impersonal my own conversations with the Lord were.
Sometimes I think that in American church culture, when we try to address the topic of prayer we get overly focused on teaching about why we ought to pray. In doing so, we fail to acknowledge that most of us don’t pray as often or deeply as we “should” because we’re uncertain on how to pray.
I feel strongly that prayer is a skill that’s practiced and honed, and it’s something we get better at and more comfortable with as we develop the skill. I’m not saying that prayer is not possible without teaching and practice. Like all habits of discipleship, any believer can do it, whether they’ve practiced or not. What I am saying is that with practice and instruction on different ways to approach prayer, it becomes more natural, more enjoyable, and more effective.
I wanted to share a few tips I’ve picked up over time that have made my prayer life richer. While prayer still gets difficult in seasons, these are ways the Lord has routinely called me back when things get hard.
Pray with other people.
It was in that room with my sister in Christ that I realized the riches of prayer for the very first time! I have found that my personal theology and understanding of God are most on display when I’m praying aloud, and I am refined by hearing others on display.
Additionally, as a middle school teacher, I think that the best methods for learning start with modeling. Praying with others, particularly those gifted in prayer, is a great chance for us to be exposed to and trained up in new aspects of prayer. It’s worth mentioning that pre-service prayer on Sunday mornings at 9:45 is a joyful space to pursue prayer with others!
Set a timer to build stamina. Start small!
If I could make a recommendation to every single member of our church for how to grow in prayer, this would be it. Settling into prayer is hard. The beauty of the timer is that it tells my brain, “Hey, you can rush through this, but we’re going to be here for the next 5 minutes whether you do or not.” I find myself so much more likely to slow down, and really rest in prayer with that timer than I am without it.
Word to the wise: start small. If your prayers right now are usually only 30-seconds long, don’t start the timer at 15 minutes. You’re likely going to be frustrated and bored if you do that. Build stamina by starting with a 3-minute timer. Over the course of a month, work your way up to longer intervals of prayer. There is no “destination” to arrive at with prayer. Start with where you’re at, and be met with the Lord’s delight in your pursuit of Him.
Pray through scripture.
Pray God’s very own words back to Him. What’s so cool about this is that we can do it with any scripture! Something you could do is find a Psalm or passage that resonates with you and put it into your own words as you pray. Here’s an example of what that prayer might sound like, using Psalm 23:1-3.
God, you’re my shepherd. You guide me through the fields I’m walking in every single day. In you, I have everything I need - I don’t want anything apart from you. Would you make that true for my heart? I don’t want to want anything apart from you. Father, your will for my life is to make me rest. To bring me to the lush and beautiful places. You take me next to quiet streams, and you nourish my soul so that I’m refreshed. Father, will you guide me this week to walk in righteous paths? I want to bring glory to your name.
Follow a liturgy, prayer book, or methodology.
I’ve found liturgies helpful at different times in my life. Right now, I’m using a Puritan prayer book called Valley of Vision in my quiet times, and it’s been really meaningful. Sometimes these resources feel dry and dead to me, but in other seasons they’re rich and nourishing. Allow your intuition to guide you on this one.
There are many different prayer methods to use too, that can be helpful. A few I’ve benefited from are:
ACTS - move through prayer in four phases: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
The Lord’s Prayer - let the different phases of the Lord’s prayer guide you.
“Hallowed be thy name…” - use this section to praise God and give him glory.
“Your Kingdom come…” - His is a Kingdom without disease, fear, grief or pain. Where would you invite the Lord’s Kingdom into your life this week?
“Give us today our daily bread…” - this is a moment where you would ask for the Lord’s specific provision. What “daily bread” do you or your family need right now?
Concentric circles - this is a prayer that starts with the smallest level of community, and scales up. Start by praying for self, then for family, then for community, then for city, state, country, world, etc.
Open hands - this is a prayer that involves body posture. At the beginning, you pray with your palms down, and just list the things you want to give over to the Lord and be freed from today - sins, burdens, worries. Then, you flip your hands over, and listen for or recount the things that you can receive from the Lord today. It’s beautiful to see what the Holy Spirit will speak through this prayer.
Create a prayer calendar
I like to take a monthly calendar and write in specific topics that I’ll pray for each day. I usually have things that repeat, so for example, each day of the week I’ll pray for a family member, on a 6-day cycle. But then I’m also a teacher, so I might put each of my students into a day of the month, so that over the course of the month, I pray for each of them. Or I’ll specifically designate a day of the week to pray for my finances, one for my colleagues, another for my physical health.
Word to the wise: There are days or stretches where I don’t pray for what’s on the list, and find it really tempting to feel guilty, or feel a need to “catch up” on the things I missed. This prayer calendar really requires an attitude of grace if it’s something you want to try, but this tool brings a lot of clarity to my prayer life, and keeps my prayers fresh.
Open up to God like He’s in the room.
This isn’t so much an action step as it is a posture shift, but it makes a beautiful difference in engaging with the Father. I often find myself tempted to pray in cliches or pray vaguely for situations I don’t really want to open up to God about. Imagine sitting across from a friend at coffee and talking to them that way. How silly would that be? There’s something raw and vulnerable about telling the Lord how frustrated, angry, and grieved I am. Doing this with God is a big posture shift, but it makes prayer rich and compelling.
I hope you will find some of these tips helpful in your prayer life!