This is part 2 in a 3-part blog series offering practical help in how to pray consistently and effectively. This blog series goes along with our sermon series Is God Listening?: Making Sense of Prayer. You can see part 1 here.
Organizing Your Praying
Like we said in part 1, if you want to do something well, you plan for it. Rarely do we find ourselves doing something at a high level without training, preparation, and practice. Prayer is no different. If we expect to pray consistently, effectively, and with confidence, it’s going to take work and organization.
As you do that, remember not to stress yourself out trying to perfect a method or over-organize, taking the relational, simple nature out of praying. There really is no magic formula. But let’s make a plan and execute the plan, however simple it may be.
That said, on to our second practical tool to help propel your prayers: Miller’s prayer cards.
Using Prayer Cards
This is a method I was turned onto by my wife, and it can be found in Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life. It’s a great book on prayer, dealing with the substance of what prayer is, what to do when it seems like God is not answering, and giving incredibly good real-life help. We highly recommend this book to help you pray and also for anyone struggling with what seems like a dry time with the Lord.
(Side note before we begin: While I do think using prayer cards can make a big difference in your consistency and focus in prayer, and I recommend this as a method to adopt, your motivation to pray and confidence in prayer will still be the biggest factors in play. Miller addresses both really well in his book.)
The prayer card method is exactly what is sounds like: a physical stack of index cards. In our wired-in, electronic world, this may seem a little outdated or bulky (I will address that in part 3), but it can also be incredibly freeing. Putting down the phone, tablet, laptop, or whatever device you prefer is a good thing. And to be effective in prayer, you need space from the distractions they cause. It’s that simple. I’m not saying you can’t use a device to read your Bible or pray, but you have to find a way to disable notifications and stay focused on what you’re doing with that Facebook app whispering your name.
Putting down the phone, tablet, laptop, or whatever device you prefer is a good thing. And to be effective in prayer, you need space from the distractions they cause. It’s that simple.
Prayer cards are individual index cards, each one labeled with a person or thing you want to pray about. The advantage that individual cards have over a list is that you only have one subject in front of you at a time. It’s a lot easier to focus. A list can seem overwhelming and somewhat random, but a card is focused and to the point.
Here are a few of the guidelines Miller uses for making and using his cards:
- The card functions like a prayer snapshot, so I use short phrases to describe what I want.
- When praying, I usually don’t linger over a card for more than a few seconds. I pick out one or two key areas and pray for them.
- I put the Word to work by writing a Scripture on the card that expresses my desire for that particular person or situation. [Aaron’s note: I would suggest writing the Scripture out rather than just the reference.]
- I usually don’t write down answers. They are obvious to me since I see the card almost every day.
Here is a sample list of cards:
- A card for your spouse
- A card for each of your children
- A card for your extended family
- A card for yourself (remember to put areas for growth & heart issues in addition to the red ferrari)
- A card for your Missional Community (needs, people’s growth, mission, vision, etc.)
- A card for your church (leaders, teams, MC’s, disciple-making, unity, etc.)
- A card for lost people you are asking the Lord to save
- A card for the nations (in our case probably requests for our work in SE Asia and the workers we have there)
- A card for work (people, aspirations, needs, etc.)
- A card for the city (specific people, people groups, leaders, needs, etc.)
- A card for the nation (needs, challenges, leaders, church planting and disciple-making, etc.)
- A gospel card (multiple verses or passages that clearly point you to the gospel and to Jesus early and often–a good card to start with each time) (I got this idea from Tim Challies.)
- A confession card (verses or passages that lead you to humility and confession–a good card to follow your gospel card) (Also an idea I got from Tim Challies.)
You may have other categories or more than one card in a particular category. This is just a sample list. You can also see how you can combine this method with the concentric circles method we described in part 1 of this blog series.
If you can work on consistency, length and focus will take care of themselves.
It’s worth repeating what we said in part 1: If you miss a day or struggle to pray for long periods of time, cut yourself some slack. Remember that praying is more about relationship with God than asking for things–and consistency matters more than length (via Paul Miller in A Praying Life). If you can work on consistency, length and focus will take care of themselves.
Once again, happy praying!