By the kindness of God’s grace, I’ve been a Christian since I was five years old. Over the years my family has endured many difficult situations, such as my parents’ divorce, my brother’s divorce and separation from his son, my father’s hospitalization for dementia, etc. Like you, I am very familiar with the fact that suffering comes on in full-blast and seemingly doesn’t relent. Through the trials of life and my walk with God, I’ve been sustained over and over again by the rich streams of godly teaching on prayer, and on the sure footing of a healthy prayer life. In this article, I want to share how prayer has played an immense role in my own spiritual growth and how you can have a healthy prayer life through praying consistently, viewing prayer in relation to quality over quantity, and having a prayer list.
In 1st Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to “pray without ceasing”. Many people take this verse to mean they must pray literally unceasingly. While that is a nice idea, it isn’t quite possible to pray without stopping—ever. What Paul has in mind here is prayer as a regular habit, whereby His people take hold of God, and His promises in all of life. The apostle could say this because he has given the example in his letters to fellow believers (1st Thessalonians 3:10; 2nd Thessalonians 1:11; Ephesians 1:16; 3:14).
Praying with consistency means having a time (or perhaps several times) during your day in which you take time to pray. I find that my best praying is done on a prayer walk. I also pray when I first get up every morning, simply thanking the Lord for another day to know and serve Him. Throughout the day I stop and pray as I write or work on a message, as the Holy Spirit leads. In order to develop healthy prayer habits in your own life, you first need to realize when it is best for you to pray, and then devote that time to prayer. Often we tend to follow the prayer patterns of others and never develop our own. Use the principle of praying consistency to develop your own prayer habits. Paul’s point in 1st Thessalonians 5:17 is that you have a regular habit of praying. I encourage you to think and then write out a plan for how you can pray consistently.
Quality over Quantity
One of the greatest prayer killers is that we think we have to pray for a certain amount of time. You may say, “I’ve spent 5-10 minutes in prayer and tomorrow I’m going to spend 15-30 minutes.” There is nothing wrong with an increasing desire to pray. Luther was known to have spent at least two hours in prayer every day. There is nothing wrong with increasing one’s time in prayer. Where the quantity of time in prayer becomes an issue is when we use it to make others feel guilty for not spending time in prayer, or when we compare our lesser times in prayer to those of other believers (or even ourselves in condemnation when we don’t meet our own goals).
In my experience people often feel guilty for their lack of prayer. They think, “I’m not a super-saint because I don’t pray [fill in amount of time].” This view, however, is the wrong one. Nowhere in the Bible do we see Jesus or the apostles assigning themselves, or others, a certain amount of time to pray. If you look at Jesus’ praying or Paul’s prayers in his epistles to the churches, you’ll see that they emphasize quality over quantity. We don’t know how long Jesus prayed to the Father. We don’t know how long the Apostles prayed, only that they prayed about three times a day.
Rather than focusing on the quantity of your prayer time, focus on the quality. Spend quality time with the Lord, not only giving Him your requests, but praying the Word back to Him, and thus claiming His promises. This will help bolster your prayer life and confidence, which in turn will increase your assurance and faith.
Throughout my Christian life I’ve had a variety of prayer lists. Sometimes these prayer lists have become cumbersome to me and I’ve abandoned them entirely. Typically these lists include prayer requests from/for friends, family, and others. You can develop highly structured lists or just have them loosely gathered together by name and request-type like I do.
Prayer lists can be a helpful tool in the Christian’s prayer journey. Prayer lists are one way we can pray regularly and consistently; I have friends who also use prayer journals. Whatever tool you use, make sure it doesn’t take the place of supremacy in your prayer life. We have summons to boldly come before God because of the finished work of Christ (Hebrews 4:16). Let us then come with joy and gladness to the Lord, not out of duty.
A Final Thought
I know well how hard it can be to develop a prayer life. I’ve been a Christian nearly my entire life and heard nearly every sort of teaching on prayer. I’ve found that praying honestly and authentically to the Lord is the best way to pray. When I pray, I want to lay out my heart, my struggles, issues, and circumstances before the Lord.
The principles I’ve discussed here in this article have helped me to develop a healthy prayer life, but everyone is different. By praying consistently and valuing quality over quantity, you’ll find that your prayer life will not only grow, but continue to blossom. I encourage you to boldly go before His throne in order to develop a healthy prayer life that consistently is nurtured by His grace.