Not too long ago I was speaking to a friend who was lamenting the way he had spent his time the day before. He had become convicted that his prayer life was languishing and that it would benefit from a measure of organization. A couple of hours later he had to move on to other activities and realized that he had put a lot of time into thinking about prayer and organizing prayer, but little time into the actual act of prayer. Have you ever had an experience like that?
I attempted to relieve my friend’s burden that day. I explained that sometimes the key to sparking your prayer life is as simple as dedicating time to prayer but that other times the key is organizing the time you’ve already dedicated to it. I explained that the time he gave to administer his prayer life stood as proof of the importance he places on it. After all, while there is a time for spontaneity, most good things in life require effort, they require administration. Most of life’s important matters require not only the act itself, but also the preparation for the act. This is true of worship, relationship, and romance, so why should it be any different with prayer? We carefully plan our church services to consider unity between Scripture, sermon, and songs. We carefully plan our events to consider introductions, topics, and transitions. We carefully plan our dates to consider dress and reservations and conversation. In all of these activities we understand that the up-front effort is necessary to bring about a better result. Good things require effort; the best things require even more effort.
Prayer is a good thing that thrives with effort, not only in the act of praying but also in its administration. And so I find myself wondering today: Is it time for you to organize your prayer life? Is it time for you to invest some effort not only in praying but also in preparing yourself to pray?
Here are a few ideas that may help.
Integrate John Piper’s method of praying in concentric circles. This is how Piper once challenged his church: “Consider praying in concentric circles from your own soul outward to the whole world. This is my regular practice. I pray for my own soul first. Not because I am more deserving than others, but because if God doesn’t awaken and strengthen and humble and fill my own soul, then I can’t pray for anybody else’s. So I plead with the Lord every morning for my own soul’s perseverance and purification and power. Then I go to the next concentric circle, my family, and I pray for each of them by name: Noel, Karsten/Shelly/Millie, Benjamin, Abraham, Barnabas, Talitha and some of my extended family. Then I go to the next concentric circle, the staff and elders of Bethlehem. I name them all by name.” And it continues outward until he has prayed for his city, his country, and the world. This is a method I have long since integrated into my own prayer life. You may want to read more about it.
Use PrayerMate or another prayer app. I have been a long-time user of PrayerMate and have benefitted tremendously from this simple app. PrayerMate borrows from the physical world and mimics an organized collection of index cards. Imagine a card file: Each of the dividers marks a new category, each of the categories contains several cards, and each card contains a person or item to pray about. Now just take that paradigm and translate it to an app. You create your categories and cards, and each day the app presents you with a collection of items to pray for. It’s that simple! Piper’s concentric circle model fits perfectly with the PrayerMate methodology and it has been the way I’ve prayed now for many years. You can read more here about how I set it up and how I use it. Even if you do not follow the model exactly, it will at least give you a place to begin.
Use D.A. Carson’s method of prayer cards. In his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson outlines the method he uses. It is quite similar to the previous two, but relies on paper instead of an app. “Apart from any printed guides I may use, I keep a manila folder in my study, where I pray, and usually I take it with me when I am traveling. The first sheet in that folder is a list of people for whom I ought to pray regularly: they are bound up with me, with who I am. My wife heads the list, followed by my children and a number of relatives, followed in turn by a number of close friends in various parts of the world. The second sheet in my folder lists short-range and intermediate-range concerns that will not remain there indefinitely. They include forthcoming responsibilities in ministry and various crises or opportunities that I have heard about, often among Christians I scarcely know…” You can read more about his method in this excerpt from his book.
Use Paul Miller’s method of prayer cards. In A Praying Life, Paul Miller outlines a method that relies on index cards. He say, “A prayer card has several advantages over a list. A list is often a series of scattered prayer requests, while a prayer card focuses on one person or area of your life. It allows you to look at the person or situation from multiple perspectives. Over time, it helps you reflect on what God does in response to your prayers. You begin to see patterns, and slowly a story unfolds that you find yourself drawn into. A list tends to be more mechanical. We can get overwhelmed with the number of things to pray for. Because items on a list are so disconnected, it is hard to maintain the discipline to pray. When I pray, I have only one card in front of me at a time, which helps me concentrate on that person or need.” Once again, you may do well to read more about this method and to consider adopting it.
There are many more methods you can use to organize your prayer life. But the principle is clear: Give time and effort to your prayer life, not only in praying, but also in preparing yourself to pray. A healthy prayer life consists not only of prayer, but also of preparation. I have long since found that the absolute best motivator in prayer is knowing what I am going to pray for. Vague ideas of prayer promote vague prayers. Disorganized methods of prayer promote disorganized prayers. Methods for prayer promote meaningful prayers. Why don’t you take some time today to organize your prayer life?