I’ve shared before that prayer is really a big deal in my life. I don’t think I’m special because of that, I don’t think I’m spiritually gifted or anything, I say this with honestly but total humility — in my Christian life, prayer has always been significant. I’ve also shared that a huge contributor to this was a prayer class I took at Bible college. I know — what a weird class, right? It completely changed my life though. In the course we discussed why we pray, how to pray, how to motivate others to pray, and other similar topics. We read several prayer-related books, and, most importantly to me, we learned to develop our personal prayer lives.
For the course, our “homework” included a minimum of 30 minutes of prayer a day. Confession: the first week or so, 30 minutes was basically torture. For one thing, I speak quickly, so I ran out of things to say pretty fast. And it was hard to get used to talking to Someone who wasn’t talking back. The professor helped us fill this time by giving us specific things to start off a prayer list. He assigned everyone an obscure country to pray for (see this site/book for guidance), as well as random people from our government (example) and other world leaders. Each week, we had to bring a personal prayer update to class with enough copies to give everyone. So we ended up with 20 or so prayer updates to help us pray personally for our classmates. I think we may have also been assigned professors and college employees. We were also taught the biblical value of praying using scripture. We were encouraged to keep a list, which I used a journal for, of specific things and people we were praying for. Within a few weeks, I can honestly say my prayer time could not be contained to just 30 minutes, and I cherished my prayer request journal, which, by the end of the semester, served as a memorial to dozens of prayer requests the Lord had answered in just 12 weeks of daily prayer.
We were also taught not to just use prayer as a time of asking for things. God is not Santa Claus, after all. When Jesus taught His disciples (and us) to pray (in Luke 11), He covered a lot in just a few verses:
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.'”
First of all, He says “When you pray” — this assumes your prayer time is happening. It’s not optional or occasional. If you read the gospels, which tell the story of Christ’s life, you see time and time again that He spends a lot of time in prayer. He expects the same of us. In fact, in the prayer class, we were encouraged to pray in solitude early in the morning, just like Jesus often did.
In the example prayer He gives, Jesus covers important aspects of prayer. He starts with praising God and asking for His will, He petitions the Lord for provision and tells us to confess our sins and ask for protection against future sins. You may have heard the prayer model of “A.C.T.S.” — that is, Adoration (praising God for who He is), Contrition (confessing sins with a repentant heart), Thanksgiving (thanking God for what He’s done and given), and Supplication (asking God to answer requests). I learned this little method, which follows Luke 11, in that class, and I often follow it to this day. I see it as a “protection” against only using prayer to ask for things, and a guide to balance my prayers and stick to Christ’s instructions for how to pray.
By the time I finished the prayer class, my prayer life was completely transformed. I loved spending an unlimited block of time each morning seeking the Lord, I loved adding people’s prayer requests to my list and seeing God answer them, and I felt closer to the Lord than I ever had.
Over the years since, my prayer life hasn’t always stayed so extraordinary, but I can testify that the effects of the class still linger greatly. Unlike before the class, I now cherish the fundamental belief that a personal prayer life is not optional or only for times of need. I can honestly say I really enjoy meeting with God in prayer, and I really need it. If I go too long without a solid time of prayer with Him, I can feel it, and I have to have it. This isn’t because I’m a super-saint — I was not like this before that class. I mean, sure, I liked praying, but anything more than a couple minutes was agony. I don’t naturally have a great attention span, and I had never given myself the chance (or had the guidance) to intentionally practice the discipline of prayer.
And that’s what I really want to get at with this post. A couple semesters after taking that class, I remember a friend asking to have dinner with me to discuss something. At dinner, she started asking my advice on how to build her prayer life, at one point asking if I thought prayer was a spiritual gift. I absolutely do not think that. A prayer life, as we heard and saw from Jesus Himself, if a nonnegotiable necessity to any healthy Christian life. If you, like I once did, think you’re bad at it or don’t really need it, what you really need is an intentional period of growth.
It would be the natural temptation of many of us to read about the requirements for the prayer class and cry legalism. And you’re right in knowing that Christ freed us from the law — so we don’t have to pray special prayers at special times in special ways. 30 minutes is not a magic, holy number. However, there is much said in scripture about discipline and intentional growth — and I would hate for anyone to miss out on that beautiful, life-changing growth because she’s confusing intentionality with legalism.
If you’re thinking about your prayer life and feel it’s lacking something, or you even kind of cringe at the thought, I challenge you to consider how you can intentionally change this area of your life. There isn’t a special formula, but I can personally recommend the methods I shared about above. I am going to share some book recommendations, but it’s really as easy as (perhaps) setting a time limit, scheduling a daily prayer session (P.S. If you don’t schedule it, you probably won’t do it!), and making a prayer list. Consider raising the time limit every week, and soliciting prayer requests from friends, finding them in the news, or using your church’s prayer list. Get creative. If you don’t have a lot of requests, spend more time thanking and praising God. Or just talk about your life and thoughts, like you would with a friend. I personally prefer to pray out loud (it helps my attention span); one of my best friends has long loved to write out her prayers. Embrace the freedom God has given, and find what works for you!
I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback — how have you grown your prayer life in the past? If you take up this challenge, please come back and share how it’s going!