Have you established an intentional prayer rhythm?
Early in my ministry, you would not have been impressed with my prayer life. It’s not that I didn’t pray. I prayed a lot, but my prayers were mostly spontaneous and public. As I studied the Gospels, I noticed how Jesus modeled a private prayer life and taught His disciples to follow His example.
Jesus’ words and example challenged me for two key reasons. First, I wasn’t pleased with my private prayer life based on what Jesus taught in Matthew 6. I wanted a prayer life, both public and private, that I could be proud of. Second, as one who is called to make disciples, I wanted to be intentional to teach others to pray as Jesus taught.
As these two insights began to change my prayer life, I discovered a third reason that inspired me to continue to invest in private prayer: intimacy with the Father. It is a great reward to know and be known by the Father.
If you have not established an intentional prayer rhythm, these five practices will help you pray with purpose.
1. Put prayer on your calendar
My days are built around the people and activities that are most important to me. However, for much of my Christian life, I never put the activity of prayer on my calendar. Do you know what consistently happened? When I was running late or when my day got busy, my well-intended, but never scheduled, prayer time never happened. This is no longer true for me. I might pray several spontaneous prayers throughout my day, but I know for certain that I have a scheduled time to talk with God.
In Matthew 6 Jesus says, “When you pray.” Jesus expects us to pray. Find the time of day that is best for you. When you identify that time, put it on your calendar. This may not feel spiritual, but it is necessary if prayer is to become a greater priority in your life.
2. Identify your place for prayer
In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us where to pray. Jesus taught, “When you pray, go into your private room, shut your door.” Jesus understands our human condition. Jesus knows that we need a place where we can talk to our Father, in a private place, behind a closed door.
Where can you go where you won’t be bothered? Where can you go where you can cry honest tears and share honest emotions without worrying that a staff member or spouse will overhear you and set an appointment for you to meet with a counselor?
In my experience, most pastors pray in all types of places except the one place Jesus specifically suggested: a private place. The problem is, pastors don’t have a place where they can have honest conversations with their Father in heaven. This doesn’t have to be true for you. Identify your space for prayer and make it your own.
3. Pray the words Jesus provided
Jesus not only taught us where to pray, He told us what to pray while we’re there! Through personal experience, I have come to believe that the Lord’s Prayer speaks to every aspect of my life. Let me provide you with a brief example that I hope inspires you to deeper discovery.
These famous words of Jesus are found in Matthew 6.
Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.
(Worship and perspective)
Father, you are set apart. There is none like You. You have heaven’s perspective. You see my situation with perfection. Help me to see as You see.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
(Alignment and participation)
Father, help me align my life to Your will and Your ways. Father, let me experience Your kingdom and help me see where I can share Your kingdom with those in need. (Take a look at all you have coming up for the day: meetings, message prep, etc.) I give all this to You; use me for Your good purposes.
Give us today our daily bread.
(Gratitude and provision)
Father, give me all I need today, including the emotional and mental health I need to love and lead like Jesus. Thank You for how You already have provided. My cupboards are full and I am thankful.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
(Forgive me and forgive others)
Father, I confess to You that (confession of a sin) is not in alignment with your kingdom. Thank You for forgiving me of my sin against You. Father, I’m choosing to follow Your example. As You have forgiven me, I choose to forgive (the name of who you need to forgive).
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
(Gospel and lordship)
Father, thank you for saving me! I confess that Jesus is Lord, the leader of my life. Lead me through your Holy Spirit from sin and distractions and keep my life focused on You and Your kingdom.
As you pray, I trust you will find the Lord’s Prayer speaks directly to your current situation.
4. Keep a prayer journal
In Matthew 7, Jesus encouraged His followers to ask, seek and knock. Keeping and updating a prayer journal not only will keep your prayers in front of you, but also will remind you of God’s faithfulness.
I put a date next to every prayer in my journal. As I see God moving, I make a note of the progress and write an updated date. It’s always encouraging when I get to cross out a prayer request because God has moved and answered it.
The Send Network president, Vance Pitman, has reminded me that “prayer is hard work.” He’s not lying! When I sit down to pray, my mind often is flooded with all sorts of things that distract me. When I’m distracted, I’ve learned to ask, “Father, what are You wanting to say to me that the enemy doesn’t want me to hear?”
Whatever is distracting you, write it down. You can address this after your prayer time. Ask God’s Holy Spirit to speak louder than your emotions, your circumstances and your critics.
I want to encourage you to put in the hard work of prayer. If you embrace these five practices, I’m confident you will (1) establish a prayer life you can be proud of, (2) be intentional in discipling others to pray and (3) experience intimacy with the Father.
Published April 17, 2023