In a previous article, we discussed the idea that prayer is an invitation into the life of the Trinity. This is essential to remember as we think about helpful prayer practices and aids to prayer. Keeping in mind that prayer is not simply another thing to do or another box to check off but an invitation to communion with God, some of the ideas and resources below can help to enrich your prayer life.
Praying without Ceasing
We are to pray at all times—“without ceasing” or “continually,” says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. But how does one actually pray that way? I mean, we can’t spend our entire day muttering non-stop prayers to God. We’ve got to eat, talk with others, and think about other things.
Praying without ceasing is always being in a posture of prayer—that is, a continual recognition of our dependence on God. Praying without ceasing means always being attentive to what God is up to and acknowledging our need for him. This posture can express itself in small prayers throughout the day, sometimes as simple as, “Thank you, Father” or “Help me, Jesus.”
Praying the Hours
Praying the hours is a practice that goes back at least as far as the first century. It generally involves two to four times of set prayer time each day—morning, noon, evening, and compline.¹ In some societies the bells would toll at specific hours everyday to call workers to prayer. In many monasteries, the entire day is structured around set times of prayer.
Praying at set times each day helps you to remember God throughout the day, and to be continually in a posture of prayer. Praying the hours is also strikingly formative. It is hard to maintain anger, pride, or lust when you are continually going to God in prayer in this fashion.
There is no mandatory agenda for these times of prayer or any specified length of time you need to spend praying. You can simply offer up whatever is on your heart. Some people find it helpful to follow a pattern. The Book of Common Prayer includes liturgies of prayer that you can use for each of the four times, as well as allowing space for spontaneous prayer. You can also download the Daily Prayer App, which will guide you through the daily hours.
Praying in Secret
Following Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6:6, we should take time to go into a quiet space, close the door, and pray to our Father in Heaven. Jesus is contrasting this with the hypocrites of his day who liked to stand in open spaces and say elaborate prayers for everyone to hear. Our goal in prayer should be communion with God, not the notice or praise of others.
We have a tremendous opportunity to spend quality time with our Father during extended times of unseen prayer. Going into a quiet room is ideal, but sometimes it is hard to stay awake in such environments. A journal can be useful in such spaces. You can keep a journal with the names of people you wish to pray for so you do not find your mind wandering as much. I personally find it helpful to write out my prayers to God in my journal. This practice helps me to slow down and really ponder what I want to say to God.
Praying on Your Knees
There is no doubt that God hears us in whatever position we pray. However, there is something formative about praying on our knees. When we pray on our knees, we are acknowledging our reverence of and devotion to God. We put ourselves in a position of humility, remembering who God is to us. Of course, many are not able to do this for health reasons, which is why it is the posture of our hearts that matters most to God. However, if you are able, try praying on your knees and see how it might affect your prayer life.
Praying the Psalms
The book of Psalms is the prayer book of the people of God. In it, we find wonderful expressions of praise and thanksgiving accompanied by cries of bitter lament, frustration, anger, and grief. However you happen to be feeling at the moment, there is probably a Psalm to express that feeling to God. Praying the Psalms is a practice in which you read a Psalm back to God, making it your own prayer. This is also a rich way of soaking in Scripture while praying.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer
Many people have come to believe that saying the Lord’s prayer is simply a dead ritual. But this overlooks the fact that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, this is the prayer that he gave them (Luke 11:1-4, Matthew 6:9-13). While you don’t necessarily have to pray this prayer word-for-word, the words themselves are incredibly formative. In this prayer we acknowledge who God is, we pray for his Kingdom to come, for his will to be done, we acknowledge our dependence on him, we pray for forgiveness, and we pray for protection. Try praying this prayer and stopping after each section to insert your own prayers.²
Praying the Examen
The examen is a prayer of daily reflection and discernment. It is traditionally prayed at the end of the day. There are many forms of this prayer, but at its most basic level it involves a few simple steps:
- Invite God to be present with you as you review your day.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal times during the day for which you are most grateful or times that you felt most connected to God and others. Thank him for those times.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the times during the day for which you are least grateful or the times that you felt least connected to God and others. Acknowledge your weaknesses and pray for strength, while recognizing God’s love for you even in the midst of discouragement.
- Seek wisdom and guidance for the coming day. Commit yourself to God’s loving care. You can do this as simply as praying: “God I commit myself to Your care. I recognize my dependence on you. Give me the strength to trust You.”
Praying with Helps
There are many more resources that are available to aid you in your prayer life. We will only mention three here.
- If you are looking for something short and easy to digest, you can’t do better than the book Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves. In this 50-page book, Reeves orients us to praying alongside the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Sometimes praying is hard because we are not confident in who we are or who God is. In their book, Beloved Dust, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel help us to see our true relationship to God. We are dust, but we are incredibly loved by our Father in Heaven. Recognizing this truth can change the way you think about prayer and your relationship with God.
- C. S. Lewis is widely known for his fiction series The Chronicles of Narnia and his works of Christian apologetics. However, towards the end of his writing career, Lewis turned towards writing books about our relationship with God. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (published posthumously) is one such book. This short book is a series of fictional letters to a friend named Malcolm, in which Lewis discusses the nature of prayer. Addressing such questions as “How can God hear all of our prayers at once?” or “Should we pray written or spontaneous prayers?” and “Do postures matter in prayer?” This is one of the most unique and valuable resources on prayer that you can find.
There is no one set method for praying, and this is by no means to suggest that you should begin implementing all of these practices of praying at once. I find that a variety of the practices and resources above have been helpful at different times. Above all, remember who you are talking to—a Heavenly Father who is eager to know you in prayer.