This is part 1 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 2 here.
The Bible has A LOT to say about prayer, either in instruction or in examples, but most of us have a difficult time making sense of it and seeing much consistency or effectiveness. So we thought it would be helpful, timely, and even necessary to tackle it in a sermon series called Is God Listening?: Making Sense of Prayer.
Our goal in this series is to give a strong overview of what prayer is and how to do it, and a major part of that for us is giving practical tips, handles, and resources to help you learn to pray and do it with consistency and confidence.
Organizing Your Praying
If you want to do something well, you plan for it. If you have a job interview you dress accordingly, think about answers to possible questions, and prepare your resume and accomplishments…beforehand. If you are going on a date, you make plans for the evening, possibly reservations, again you dress accordingly, and you think through how to act and talk…beforehand. We would never expect any of these things to go well if the first thought we gave to them was the moment they began. But so many of us approach praying that way.
If you want to do something well, you plan for it.
We do not organize ourselves, our thoughts, or our time, yet we are perplexed and frustrated at our lack of ability to pray consistently or with focus. But we are getting exactly what we are setting ourselves up for.
Now, I want to acknowledge that there are other reasons we struggle to pray: lack of faith, busyness, confusion about what to pray, uncertainty if God will answer us, etc. But all of us know the experience of a time when we did sit down to pray, or made a renewed effort to pray, only to find our minds wandering, our patience short, and our hearts losing interest.
3 Tools to Help Organize Your Prayers
We want to offer you hope that effective praying is possible. Yes, even for you. One way to start is to organize your prayers. Over the next few posts we will be highlighting a few tricks and tips to help you do this. The first one: Piper’s Concentric Circles.
Pray in Concentric Circles
This method is described by pastor John Piper in a sermon he preached called Devote Yourselves to Prayer. He begins by praying for himself and moves outward in growing circles.
So praying in concentric circles might look like this:
- Pray for yourself – Remind yourself of the gospel and your identity in Christ. Ask the Lord to cement that in your mind and heart. Confess any sin and ask the Lord to help you repent. Ask for wisdom and thank the Lord for all he’s done in your life.
- Pray for your family – Pray for specific things in your spouse or kids.
- Pray for extended family – Pray for your parents, siblings, in-laws, etc.
- Pray for your Missional Community – Ask the Lord to meet needs, give wisdom or spiritual growth, to lead you to people of peace, etc.
- Pray for your church – Ask the Lord to lead and protect your leaders. Pray for unity, provision, clear vision and mission, or some other need you know is currently facing the church. Thank the Lord for the things he has already done.
- Pray for your city – Pray for city leaders, the lost, and the marginalized. Ask the Lord to cause the gospel to move powerfully in the city. Pray about known sin strongholds. Ask the Lord to give you spiritual vision for the city.
- Pray for your country – Pray for our leaders and the direction of the country. There are no shortage of things to pray for on this level, and that is not going to change. Pray for other churches, pastors, and planters you know. Pray about national issues and the state of the church and the spread of the gospel nationally.
- Pray for the nations – Ask the Lord to move among the nations. In our case you can pray for our adopted unreached people group, asking the Lord to draw people to himself, plant new churches, raise up pastors and missionaries, and draw whole villages to himself.
This is not a template–it’s just an example. Your circles may look similar or very different. Your thanks and requests might look different. Each time you pray God will bring different things to your mind, and you will feel a different burden for things over time. You may spend most of your time praying for your family one day and then pray for a minute or two in each area the next day. Or maybe there is a special emphasis going on among our team in SE Asia, and you spend the bulk of your time praying about that.
This is not a rigid formula. The point is to organize your thoughts, giving yourself a place to start and a track to move on. Don’t feel the need to say a certain prayer every time or spend a specific amount of time in each area. Just use this as a guide and pray as you feel led. If you get distracted and start thinking about something else, just pick up where you left off when your mind wanders back.
Cut yourself Some Slack
If you are not a consistent pray-er, it will take time to become one. No method is a silver bullet, including this one. But there’s no time to get started like the present. Don’t harp on what you haven’t done. Just get started toward getting better.
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.
Praying is more about relationship with God than asking for things–and consistency matters more than length.