Prayer is a hard discipline to master; there are so many things I fight against. Did I pray long enough? Did I pray fervently enough? Why did I fall asleep during that last prayer time? Am I even really talking to God or just thinking to myself?
These are all things that I have wrestled through at different points in my life. Here are some things that have helped me pursue prayer more faithfully.
1. Meditate on the gospel
There is only one reason that we are able to pray. It is because God the Son took on flesh, lived a life where He suffered every temptation we face but without ever giving in, bore the wrath of God for our sin in His sinless body, defeated sin, Satan, and death through His resurrection, and ascended to the right hand of God as the Sovereign of the universe where His intercession grants us access to the Father.
When I begin my prayer time meditating on these gospel truths, it draws my heart upward to God in joy and longing. When I dwell on the blood-bought privilege of prayer, it quickens my pulse and invigorates my petitions with gratitude. If we see prayer as a chore or merely a discipline to be mastered, it will remain lifeless and our hearts won’t long for it. But if we see it as one of the rewards purchased for us by the victory of the Son of God, it infuses prayer with power and passion and helps us delight in it.
2. Combine Scripture reading with prayer
This is a discipline I learned from Don Whitney (he wrote a book about it here). One of the difficulties of prayer is finding fresh ways to pray for the same things. As Whitney says, we find ourselves saying the same old things about the same old things. But if we let Scripture inform the content of our prayers, we can always pray in fresh ways, even if we are praying about the same things. There are many ways to do this, but I have found two to be most useful.
The first practice starts with keeping notecards by where I do Bible reading. When I come across a verse that captures the majesty and glory of God, I’ll write it on a card and put a ‘w’ for “worship” in the top right corner. If I find a verse that convicts me, I write it down and put a ‘p’ for “personal” in the same corner. I have several other categories for things with corresponding letters, which are filed in a notecard box on my desk.
Whenever I go to pray, I pull out a few of these cards from each category and let the verses guide how I pray in praise to God, for myself, my family, and on down my prayer list. I never say the same old things about the same old things; prayer is new each morning.
The second thing I do, especially if I have a shorter amount of time, is to take my prayer list and let my reading for that morning guide my prayers. If my reading covered the beatitudes in Matthew 5, I would pray like this for the people on my prayer list: “God, help my wife hunger and thirst for righteousness this morning so that she will know that joy of being full in You.” I find doing this also helps me remember my reading better throughout the day.
3. Never resist an urge to pray
This is one I have recently begun to practice. An urge to pray will never come from the flesh or Satan. Those things do not drive you to cast yourself upon the Lord; thus, if you feel an urge to call out to God, it is a prompting of the Spirit and you should do so right then and there, even if only for a few seconds. When you hear of a prayer concern, feel the pull of temptation, or anxiety grips your heart, take that time to stop and pray.
May God draw us to Himself more and more in prayer and may we more and more find our joy in seeking Him.