Wondering how to improve your prayer life? Writing prayer lists, prayer requests and doing written prayers can help your prayers become organized and focused.
One of my goals as we began the new year was to improve my prayer life. To be a better pray-er. I didn’t want to just say prayers. I didn’t want to keep saying the same things over and over. I wanted to be better at praying.
Step 1: Ask God to teach you how to pray
As I began to pray, Lord, teach me to pray, the Lord began to answer that prayer by guiding me to a few ways to improve my prayer life. One of the ways my prayer life has improved is a very simple variation on something I had done previously: write it down.
Step 2: Ask God to show you a practical way to help remember everything you want to pray for.
When I was looking for ways to improve my prayer life, I was reminded of how my mother was a list maker. And even though, as a child, I often rolled my eyes and made fun of her lists, I am a list maker, too. Mother made lists on scrap pieces of paper and on the back of used envelopes. (Perhaps she was one of the original recyclers!) I remember that grocery lists were usually on those envelopes. But the list I remember most is the one in her purse, where there was always a very small spiral notebook filled with various lists. That notebook had lists of things that needed to be purchased, lists of things that needed to be done, and an on-going Christmas gift list.
Even though I ridiculed those lists when I was younger, I now find them to be a necessary part of my life. Certainly one reason for all my lists is that they help me remember. Perhaps it’s a consequence of the busyness of life, or perhaps it’s a function of getting older, but I find it helpful to write things down so I don’t forget. Without my lists, I would surely forget something! Lists help me remember.
Last spring, as we approached the Easter season, our pastor called our church into a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. It was at that time that I began to diligently keep an organized prayer list. Previously I had a small notebook in my purse (just like my mother) where I jotted down names and situations I needed to remember to pray about. I had jotted down requests on the Sunday bulletin each week as requests were shared, or I scribbled prayer reminders on whatever scrap of paper was handy. Of course, the bulletins and the scraps of paper were often misplaced or thrown away by mistake, so this was not a very satisfactory way to keep a prayer list!
As we began the 40 days of prayer and fasting, I looked for some way to be better organized in this matter of my prayer list. After a bit of trial and error, I came upon a simple prayer journal in our local Christian bookstore. This spiral-bound journal, called simply My Prayer Journal (published by Barbour Publishing) was perfect!
My Prayer Journal contains two pages for each day, divided into four sections: new prayer requests, ongoing prayer requests, answers to prayer, and praises. There are enough pages in each journal for about two months. Of course, it isn’t necessary to purchase this particular journal; any spiral notebook would serve the same purpose. This particular journal gave me the jump-start I needed to keep my prayer life focused. It gave me a place to write things down. And the headings are general enough that I can customize my journal in whatever way suits me best.
Step 3: Ask God to show you how writing can keep your prayers organized and focused.
Making a list helps me keep my prayers organized and focused.
Lists keep me organized. Book stores are filled with books about the habits of successful people, and about time management, and about organization, and about priorities. The common thread in these books is list-making. If you were to read all these books (an impossible task!), you would discover that, in some way, each of them would recommend making a list of your daily tasks. Further, once the list is made, the items on the list need to be prioritized.
That’s true for the chief executive and for the secretary and for the homemaker and for the college student and for every other area of life. Making a list helps us stay organized. It helps us prioritize what needs doing, so that the most important things get done first.
We make lists to prioritize. And we make lists to help us focus. This is particularly true when it comes to our prayer life. Because we are so busy, and because there are so many needs about which we need to be praying, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lose focus. Keeping a written prayer list is a way to overcome the distractions. It’s a way to help us remember.
In my prayer journal, the ongoing prayer requests section is often filled with names of people and situations that never seem to find a solution. For example, for most of this last year, one of my dearest friends was battling breast cancer, so her name was in that section every day. Some days it was because it was a chemo day; later, it was because it was a radiation day. Some days it was nothing specific; just knowing that she needed to be prayed for.
Step 4: When the list is long, trust God to guide you about which situations to focus on that day.
When the list is long, it can be overwhelming. It’s on those days that I read over the list and trust the Holy Spirit to guide me to the names and situations that need to be focused on for that particular day. Each day, I look at the previous days pages and review the situations. Has God already answered in a particular situation? Then I move that to today’s “answered prayer” section of my journal. If no answer has yet been received, the need is moved from yesterday’s page to today’s in the “ongoing” section, and I continue to pray about that need until I know the need has been met or until the Holy Spirit guides me to stop.
Step 5: Let your lists evolve.
Keeping this list of requests in my prayer journal is one way I write it down. Over time, what once was just a list of names has evolved into a journal. I have not always been a very consistent journaler, whether about prayer or about anything else, but as I have begun using a journal rather than just a list, I find my prayer life has improved.
My Prayer Journal, that simple spiral notebook I purchased at the local Christian bookstore, has been a great aid in my prayer life. In this journal I have an on-going list of prayer requests, those things I pray for on a daily basis. That list includes my family members, my mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, my pastor, my church, the coming presidential election, and a host of other things.
I also have a section each day for new requests, those things I have become aware of over the previous twenty-four hours.
There’s a section to note answers to prayer as well. I write all these things down because writing helps me remember.
Keeping a list of requests in my prayer journal is one way I write it down.
Step 6: Write down Bible verses as prayers for others.
Another way I write it down is to write out my prayers in my journal. Writing the prayers keeps me focused. Sometimes I write out my prayers in my own words; other times I write out passages of Scripture that I am praying. Ephesians 3:16-19 is one passage I have prayed for my sons since they were little boys, and that I continue to pray for them even now that they are grown men.
“…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19 NASB)
That Christ would dwell in their hearts. That they would be able to comprehend the love Christ has for them. This is the desire of my heart for my sons and for my grandsons. And so I pray these verses back to the Father on their behalf.
Often as I am reading my Bible each morning, a particular verse will seem hand-picked for a person or situation in my life. At those times, I stop and pray that verse. Often I write it in my journal.
Step 7: Write down an “I don’t know what to pray” prayer when you’re not sure what to pray.
And sometimes, as in the case of a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, I don’t really know how to pray. It’s at those times that I turn to another verse of Scripture.
I pray, Lord, I really don’t know what to say about this or even how to pray about it, but this is really a burden on my heart, and so I am casting that on You because Your Word tells me that I can “cast all my anxiety on You” (1 Peter 5:7 NASB). Thank You, Lord, that You hear and You understand and You care.
Step 8: Use your written prayer records to help you identify and thank God for answers to prayer.
Writing the prayers in my journal helps me focus. It also helps me remember. Later, as I review the prayers in my journal, I am able to remember not only who I prayed for, but exactly what I prayed. Then I’m able to see more specifically how God answers my prayers.
Some days I spend time going back through my journal, reading all the ways God has answered my prayers and being reminded of His faithfulness. This has been such a blessing, and offers yet another opportunity for prayer; in this case, prayers of thanksgiving.
I can look back and see how I prayed for a good result from a friend’s medical tests and be encouraged when I see the way God answered. I can remember praying over my husband’s biopsy, praying no cancer would be found, and rejoicing all over again when I read the note in my journal that he is cancer-free. I read my prayers asking for our house to sell and celebrate God’s faithfulness when I recall just how beautifully well God answered those prayers.
Step 9: Reap the rewards of being a more confident, focused intercessor.
Life is busy. We are often distracted and forgetful and disorganized. This is true in our prayer lives as well. Writing it down is one tool to help us stay on task. To help us be better pray-ers. I have certainly found this to be true in my own prayer life.
Writing things down helps me focus. Writing helps me remember all God has done and all He is able to do. And writing reminds me to keep praying.
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Copyright Susan Feaster 2016. All rights reserved.