The power of your prayer life increases dramatically according to the amount of time that you actually pray. When we set the goal of praying more often, having a practical daily plan prevents obstacles from getting in the way. Without a plan, prayer time gets cut short, postponed and forgotten because of busy schedules with all of life’s interruptions and demands.
Here are some strategies to help you create and maintain regular prayer times so you can keep connected into God’s powerful presence and help.
1 Get motivated
Before you start planning ways to develop regular prayer times you need to tap into your need. How strongly do you feel the need for the sort of dynamic relationship with God that prayer has to offer? You won’t be enthusiastic or motivated if you go into prayer as a religious obligation.
Most people become serious about prayer when they are in need of God. The majority of the users on our Prayerideas.org website find us because they need prayer to connect them to God’s power as they face challenges big and small. Help during final exams. Longing for a soul mate. Healing for themselves or others. Forgiving or being forgiven. Personality conflicts in the workplace. A lost pet. Children with behavior problems. Our users are also searching for positive things. A meaningful life. Direction. A source of joy. God’s love. Prayers to celebrate anniversary and retirement blessings.
The bottom line is: how much do you need and want God‘s help? This will answer your question as how motivated you are to succeed in praying more regularly. Jesus compares it to being thirsty. When you’re really thirsty, you make quenching your thirst a top priority. (John 7:37) Jesus gives you this invitation: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28, 29 NIV)
2 Ask for God’s help in persevering until you make regular prayer times a habit.
Experts tell us that it takes between 21-66 days of doing something regularly for it to become a habit. When something is a habit we do it automatically without having to decide whether or not to do it or without having to think about what to do first and what to do next. By repeating the behavior, we actually imprint the repeated sequence on our brains.
Studies also tell us that to become a habit, our goal has to be achievable. Start small and simple and build from there. Ask God to give you a willingness and perseverance to repeat regular prayer times over and over during an extended period of time so these times become not only a part of your normal routine but also something you really miss when you can’t do it.
3 Identify a daily activity you can do while praying.
A fast and easy way to create regular prayer time is to pray during a daily routine activity. Many people think you have to sit still with your eyes closed and your hands folded. Actually, there are many prayer activities you can do while on the go, such as praying for others and thanking God for things. Since prayer is often likened to having a conversation with God, it can be done while doing anything that can be done while talking to someone at the same time. I call this pathway praying when you pray while doing another activity.
I’ve asked others when they have daily prayer times and here are some of their replies. Driving to work. Running, exercising, riding a bike, walking or walking a dog. When doing routine chores, such as washing dishes or cleaning. Knitting. Feeding or rocking a baby.
A few years back I decided to carve out prayer time during my weekday morning walk. I’d begun walking several years earlier because I wanted to stay healthy. I developed a routine that became a good habit: Set the alarm early. Get right out of bed and take off my pajamas and put on my exercise clothes. Then go, walking a 2 mile circuit around the neighborhood. It took around 45 minutes to an hour. When I didn’t exercise, I felt it. I didn’t feel as energetic and my disposition wasn’t as good. So I was always anxious to get back into my routine as soon as I could.
Once I decided to use some of my morning walk for prayer, I discovered that I had been using this time for doing a lot of random thinking. I was planning things to do, evaluating events, wondering about people’s behavior and reactions, justifying my actions to myself, worrying about things, day dreaming, making contingency plans. Be aware that if you’re planning to convert a routine activity into prayer time, it will take time and conscious effort to turn it into a time to pray.
I decided to do a one-step-at-a-time conversion of my morning walk into prayer time. I began by using the first ten minutes of my walk for prayer by thanking God for the beauty of nature and then praying for a few neighbors when I walked by their homes. Once I had this pattern established, I then added more prayers which I connected with passing certain landmarks. Near the neighborhood pond I pray for my family members. Near a stop sign I pray for my church. On an uphill climb I pray for sick people. On a curve I confess examine my behavior and talk over my struggles and shortcomings to God.
This prayer habit has transformed my life by giving me a whole hour to pray -five days a week! It’s a great way to start my day and I pray for about 100 people a day.
Also, be aware that if you do praying on the go, you’ll need to develop quiet prayer time for activities you can’t do very well on the go, such as deep meditation, confession and listening. That’s because on-the-go praying does not work well for emotionally charged prayer subjects where you might need to express yourself with tears or with urgent pleas. You also can’t avail yourself of prayer resources such as the Bible on the go. For these prayer activities you will need to establish a private personal prayer space.
4 Designate a personal prayer place
Finding a regular and convenient place for what I call stillness praying goes hand in hand with finding a convenient time to pray. I previously mentioned my morning prayer walk routine, where I pray for lots of needs. I have a separate stillness prayer time where I sit in the living room rocking chair and read a few verses in the Bible and meditate. If you choose an on-the- go pathway praying mode as your primary prayer time, I encourage you to balance it with a second stillness prayer time where you can really think and reflect. My second prayer time might last 10 or 15 minutes compared to my walk which lasts 45 minutes to an hour. By praying for all of the needs I know about on my walk, I have an opportunity to be still and meditate without having to think about specific people and situations that are problem areas.
Going to the same quiet place over time is the sort of sequencing pattern our brains can utilize to form a good habit. Convenience and the absence of other interrupting tasks and sounds are two of the most crucial things to consider when choosing a regular prayer place.
Most people find the most convenient places are in their home or in their office before working hours begin. Others go to a church or chapel on their way to work or carpool. When choosing a place in your home, you can simply designate a certain chair as your prayer chair. I have a friend whose prayer chair is on a glassed-in porch and she keeps her Bible and devotional books on an end table next to it. Another friend converted a small closet into a prayer space. I have an antique rocker in our living room that I use for quiet prayer time after breakfast. Another friend who works at a charity arrives early and closes the door to her office and uses a workplace prayer to start her prayer time. Another idea is to go to a virtual place by sitting down at your computer and logging onto meditational music for your prayer time.
If you are able, it’s good to have devotional aids available in your prayer spot. These might include a Bible, a notebook or journal for writing down thoughts and expressing yourself in writing and visual aids such as candles, a cross, or inspirational artwork.
5 Find ways of praying that work for you.
Once you‘ve designated the time and place, next choose the prayer methods that work best for you. Our website is dedicated to offering a variety of prayer ideas so you can find the ones that best connect you to God. And don’t be afraid to modify them to suit your needs.
For instance, you might want to try the Daily Examen as a meditation technique where you review the events of the day in light of God’s activity, presence and blessings. You then ask for God’s help with whatever peculates up as the thing that most challenged you. I‘m a naturally quiet, still person, so I like to do this with my eyes closed and sitting very still. Another woman I know who is active and distractible writes down the things she thinks about to keep herself focused.
The key is to balance your prayer time so it’s not all one thing, like all asking God to help other people or yourself. I’ve observed that when we have very little time for prayer, it’s like a trip to the emergency room where the things that need immediate attention take up all the time. Having regular prayer times gives us the opportunity to enjoy a few moments of rest in God’s presence, to reflect thankfully on our day, gain new perspective, to regain our strength and balance or to take the time to hear what sort of guidance God may be giving us.
6 Visit places of prayer and meditation
Once you’ve established two primary daily prayer places – a pathway prayer mode while doing another activity and a stillness prayer mode tied to a quiet spot – you can add in other prayer places to use on an occasional or regular basis.
As an example, our church has a small prayer chapel about the size of a classroom and sometimes when I pass the church I will stop by and go into the chapel to pray. Using a place of prayer on occasion – or even regularly – can strengthen your prayer times. Many churches and chapels are open during the day, offering a reverent atmosphere filled with symbols of faith that can aid in your prayers and mediation. I also occasionally stop by a nearby church that has an outdoor prayer labyrinth.
Don’t overlook parks and gardens. I have a friend whose favorite prayer time alternative is in a state park near her home. She parks at the beginning of a trail through the forest that leads to an old family cemetery on the park property that has a huge stone cross headstone. On her walk there she often picks up a leaf or a rock that represents some problem she’s having and then places it at the foot of the cross and leaves it there.
7 Keep focused
Nearly everyone who prays has experienced runaway thoughts during prayer. Often we sit down to pray or we start praying on a walk and suddenly our mind veers off on another subject such as what we need to pack for an upcoming trip or what time we need to leave to get to an appointment on time.
There’s actually a Bible verse that tells us to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10: 5 NIV) So if you find your mind going off track in prayer, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to keep your concern in His care and to help you make your thoughts obey your intent to pray. The Holy Spirit can also to show you a practical way to help with this problem. One solution others have shared with me is keeping a pencil and paper at you side during prayer and writing down whatever thoughts about something you need to do or remember onto the paper to be dealt with later. Another idea is to use a mental picture process to dismiss the thought, such as seeing it pass by you like a cloud or like a leaf floating away on a stream. Still another solution is to actually write down your prayers with pen and paper as you’re offering your prayers to keep laser focused.
8 Answer calls to pray
Beyond our planned prayer times, the Holy Spirit can call us to short prayer times in the middle of almost any activity. Taking advantage of these on-the– spot prayer opportunities adds an amazing interactivity to prayer. As an example, when some people hear a siren they take a moment to silently prayer for whatever emergency is happening. Often when people find themselves suddenly awake during the night they use it as a time to pray for whomever the Holy Spirit impresses on their heart.
9 Meet with a prayer partner or a prayer group
Having a set time on the weekly calendar when you are going to meet with one or more people for the purpose of praying together is a great way to create a good prayer habit. Meeting with someone else brings both structure and accountability into the mix. If you’re meeting someone, you make sure you have it on your schedule and you make every effort to be there to pray. If you’re simply praying by yourself, no one else knows if you miss your prayer time except you and God. When praying alone it’s much easier to use the flexibility you have to allow other things to get in the way of your intentions of having prayer time.
Another way to use others to help you keep your prayer commitments is to become part of a small life group where people share about how well they’ve done in the past week in their faith journey, which often means answering the question: What did you find challenging in your spiritual life this week? This type of group can be one that meets in person or it can be a virtual group connected via technology.
Still another way might be to state your prayer intentions that you’re trying to develop regular prayer times in your personal blog or on your social media and then share the day to day results.
10 Seek help and inspiration
When you get stuck with trying to be successful with any process, prayer included, it’s always good to seek and find help. When needing help developing regular prayer habits, there are many great resources out there for you. These include finding mentors, seeking advice from ministers and chaplains, joining a prayer study group, and asking someone who seems to know something about prayer. There’s also great help in the Bible in reading about how others made prayer a priority and a habit and what the results were. There are also many classic and contemporary books written on how to pray. Some classics include The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Andrew and The Kneeling Christian by an unknown author.
11 Make a prayer plan for different schedules
There are times when our daily schedules change briefly or for extended periods of time. These include holidays, vacations, illnesses, emergencies where you have to take care of someone else who is infirm, new jobs, lost jobs, natural disasters, relocations, weddings and new babies.
In all of these cases you’re not going to be able to have the same sort of long, focused prayer times as you usually do. You definitely need a portable prayer plan that keeps you in touch with God. One thing that I do is that on every day, no matter what, I know that I’ll be looking into a bathroom mirror somewhere every morning brushing my teeth and hair. So I say a very short prayer for God‘s help via the whole armor of God as found in Ephesians in the Bible. I pray this every single day during this routine task, and I pray it when I’m in Siberia or when I’m in Atlanta. Another strategy I use is that when I’m on vacation, I make it part of my site-seeing to visit an interesting church, chapel or graveyard. I spend a few minutes of quiet meditation there while viewing the religious artwork.
12 Become aware of the results and benefits of prayer
We make time to do the activities that we find the most rewarding or helpful. The more you feel connected to God through prayer, the more you will pray. A key that I found that worked wonders in my own prayer life was interactively looking for prayer answers. When I started trying this, I discovered that I had a very narrow definition of the word “answer” that was preventing me from seeing how God was constantly at work in my life in response to my prayers. I learned a method of finding an answer to every prayer that included finding answers in the following categories: action answers (changes in circumstances), presence answers (strength, comfort and help to get through things) and word answers (directions and ideas on what to do about my situation.)
Here are a few of the many benefits that you might experience as you pray more regularly and get to know God better: peace, guidance, trust, emotional stability, encouragement, new ideas, courage, hope, feeling loved and accepted, inner healing, improved relationships with people, forgiveness, insight and wisdom, truthfulness, resilience, life satisfaction, purposefulness and connection.
13 During a crisis, ask others to pray for you or with you
Everyone’s prayer times are disrupted during a crisis because we don’t have the time or the emotional or mental energy to pray for ourselves. Examples include being hospitalized, having a serious illness or injury, being a victim of natural disaster, crime or emotional trauma, suffering a severe loss, going through the death of a loved one, a divorce or a devastating job loss or a mental health crisis such as depression.
In all of these cases and many more, we need others to pray for us until we’re once again able to resume praying regularly for ourselves. In God’s perfect economy, those who are engaged in regular daily habits of prayer are able to intercede for those whose lives are currently disrupted by a crisis. And an added benefit for us when we go through a crisis is that if we have already established regular prayer times before calamity strikes, we already have an enduring trust in God, his goodness, his power and his love that will serve us well.
14 Talk honestly with God about emotions that block prayer
Often we must also overcome emotional roadblocks that prevent regular prayer. The most common is when our situation doesn’t improve and we feel disappointed, angry and confused and begin to wonder about the effectiveness of prayer. Other emotions that block prayer include feelings of guilt and unworthiness. Another is the erroneous thought that we are capable of handling things on our own and we shouldn’t bother God about our daily ups and downs. Or we might be discouraged to pray by those who don’t believe in God or in prayer. Ignoring these problems won’t make them go away. Instead, talk to God about them in prayer.
My personal experiences
Although I was raised in the church and accepted Christ as a teenager I have found that it takes time and practice to grow a good, strong prayer life. There have been times when my prayer life was off track for quite a while because I didn’t re –establish good personal prayer habits when I moved. After moving to Atlanta I vividly remember reading my personal journals from several years earlier when I lived in another city and I read about my prayer adventures with a prayer partner I prayed with once a week in my neighborhood. So many amazing things were recorded that happened because we were praying, including my friend overcoming her long seated, irrational fear for the safety of her children. Reading my journal showed me how much I had neglected my prayer life in my new location. Nothing awful had happened to change my prayer life. It had simply withered from neglect and focusing on other things.
The good news is that it’s never too early and it’s never too late to form and maintain good prayer habits that will keep you strongly and powerfully connected with God through prayer. You can start fresh today creating and maintaining good prayer habits.
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Copyright Karen Barber 2016. All rights reserved.