A Simple Method to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

Today I want to share with you a simple way to deepen your prayer life. It requires discipline, time to pray (of course), and a desire to grow in godliness.

I learned this method of prayer during my first semester at seminary, when I found myself enrolled in prayer class. In retrospect it makes sense that a seminary would have a class on prayer, but at the time, I found it surprising. Even more surprising was the grading system. Most of our grade was derived from our daily prayers. We had to pray for an hour a day—every day—then record our prayers in outline form, turn them in, and the professor would grade them.

When confronted with the syllabus, I was shocked by two things, and I assume they are the same two things you are thinking of. First, is it even right to grade someone’s prayers? Turns out, the answer is yes, it is right. Or at the very least, it was helpful. Dr. Rosscup would slap cheesy prayer right out of class. I remember one student (now pastor Tony Arnds) say, “My paper bleeds it has so much red ink on it.” The red ink was daring us—“Go on,” it would say. “I DARE you to say, ‘Lord just be with so-and-so.’ What does that even mean?”

Over the semester, I learned to be thankful for the grading. It helped make my prayers precise by challenging me to think through what it is exactly I’m doing in prayer. What am I asking for, and why? It turns out that knowing a theologically precise professor with his apparently infinite supply of red ink was on the reading end of my prayers helped make me pray in a more thoughtful way than if I was simply praying to God. Obviously there is much wrong with that sentence, but somehow it was the truth—or at least it was the reality of Dr. Rosscup’s prayer class.

The second surprise: AN HOUR? How am I supposed to pray for an hour a day? Doesn’t he know that I’m a super busy seminary student? And, no, we weren’t allowed to split it up. An hour, all at once. That was just the way it was.

At first, the idea of praying for an hour was daunting. I didn’t really know where to begin. Stop watch, check. An hour of time set aside…ok…Dear God…ummm…ok, its been 30 seconds. This isn’t going well.

One of our assigned books for that class helped. It was An Hour that Changes the World: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer, by Dick Eastman. In it, he suggests that Christians should make it their aim to pray for an hour a day. He derives this suggestion from Matthew 26:40, where Jesus asks,“Could you not watch with me for one hour?”

Eastman says the best way to pray for an hour is to split up the hour into 12 blocks of five minutes, then pray with a timer, and pray through the different blocks, five minutes at a time. Now Eastman gives his 12 blocks of time (praise, waiting, confession, Scripture, watching, intercession, petition, thanksgiving, singing, meditation, listening, and a second round of praise):

I put this into practice, and over the course of the years, I have morphed the list. So while my twelve blocks have changed, I still use the same basic approach to prayer. Here is what my list looks like now:

  1. Praise
  2. Confession
  3. Thanksgiving
  4. Intercession (things in my own life)
  5. Petition (for others)
  6. Missions
  7. Church
  8. Evangelism
  9. Family
  10. Scripture/Meditation
  11. Prayer trough the passage
  12. Singing

So practically, this is what it looks like. I’ll close the door in my office, grab my list (I have this written on the front page of my Bible), and while I have graduated from the timer approach, I do still keep one eye on a clock. Then I spend five minutes doing each of the following:

  1. Praise—if you are familiar with the ACTS acronym, the first twenty minutes basically follows that. I’ll spend five minutes praying in light of God’s attributes. I’ll focus on one or two that are particularly on my mind that day. For these five minutes I try to pray like David in 2 Samuel 7:18-29.
  2. Confession—Here I spend some time confessing sins to the Lord. I examine my heart and pray that God would reveal sins of both commission and omission, that I then bring before the Lord, confident of his forgiveness.
  3. Thanksgiving—at around the ten minute mark, I begin thanking God for things that he has done and prayers that he has answered. It actually takes self-control to hold this section off, as my thanksgiving often creeps into my praise. But I aim for it here.
  4. Petition (my own life)—at this point, I pray for things for my own life. I ask for wisdom for what is going on at home, at church, or for events I have coming up even that day.
  5. Intercession (for others)—I have a little journal that I’ve used to keep track of prayer requests from other people. I’ll spend time praying through it, or through our church’s prayer list. I keep this focused on others.
  6. Missions—Here I pray for our church’s missionaries, and particularly for the ones that my wife and I support. Honestly, this is probably my favorite part of the hour. I love thinking about how the God who hears my prayers from Washington DC is the same God who rules the Chadian dessert, the Genevan suburbs, and Bhutanese mountains. All the stars are above me, but under him, and I know that our missionaries in many ways depend on our prayers.
  7. Church—After praying for our missionaries, I then pray for the two ministries I’m involved in: Immanuel Bible Church and The Master’s Seminary. I pray for our elders, and church unity. I pray for the professors and the students. This five minutes goes pretty fast.
  8. Evangelism—Then I turn my attention to evangelistic opportunities. This is probably the hardest for me, because these five minutes are the hardest to keep them from being redundant. It can easily seem that I’m praying for the same people day-in and day-out.
  9. Family—I’ve added this section in the last few years. I’ve found it helpful to keep my prayers for my family all in one section. I pray for my daughters, for my wife, for our parenting. There is no shortage of stuff to pray for here.
  10. Scripture Meditation—This is first time I open the Bible; I’ve found that if I open it earlier, I have a hard time getting back to praying. I’ll read a Psalm or a prayer, or maybe a chapter from a prophet, and then just focus on what the Lord was doing in that prayer, and imagine how it was answered.
  11. Scripture prayer—Then I’ll go back and spend five minutes praying through the passage I’d just been meditating on. Thanking God for what he did, and asking God for things in my own life that reflect on how I see his will in light of the chapter I’ve just spent five minutes meditating on.
  12. Hymn—I’ll close by either singing (if I’m alone in the office) or by prying through the lyrics of hymn.

Voila—one hour of prayer.

If you are having a hard time deepening your prayer life, let me commend to you this approach. Your list of may vary—you might like some of Eastman’s categories that I vetoed for example. The point is that a large chunk of time is quickly filled when it is divided. The act of dividing up your prayers makes you more intentional and thoughtful about their content. And, as I learned from Dr. Rosscup, the more precise your prayers, the more you appreciate the answers.

Has anyone else tried this approach to prayer? What are your thoughts? Share them below.

Jesse Johnson bio

Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master’s Seminary Washington DC location.

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