A Practical Plan for Prayer

One of the often-neglected tools in developing healthy spiritual rhythms is making a plan. To many, it feels somehow inauthentic to work out in detail how we are engaging with practices of prayer or reading Scripture. However, I have found that one of the best ways to grow in these areas is by taking the time beforehand to think through what we are going to do and then seek to do it.

Prayer is an area where I have certainly found this to be true. There are all sorts of things we should be praying for, but rather than spurring us toward continual petition, the breadth of those things often leaves us feeling lost. Virtually every Christian I know, myself included, feels like they should be praying more, but we often don't know where to start.

I've tried several approaches over the years, but most recently I have found it helpful to have made a detailed plan to guide the focused time of prayer I seek to have each day. I thought I'd offer that structure below. This particular approach isn't what you must do - we should feel freedom in spiritual disciplines to discover what works for us. That said, if you are struggling in this area, it might give you somewhere to start.

A note on how this works: I go through this process every morning, usually after coffee but before I shower and eat breakfast. It takes around 15 minutes; a bit more if there's a lot of personal business the Lord and I need to do. I give myself the freedom to wander if something is on my heart, but after chasing that rabbit trail I come back to the next step.

1. Read a Psalm
It is always helpful for our words to flow out of God's Word. The Psalms, as the hymnbook of God's people, are a wonderful way to orient yourself for prayer. Often, it ends up connecting to the various prayers that follow.

2. Praise and Thanksgiving
Give thanks to God both for things He does for us and especially for who He is in Himself. Sometimes this flows from the Psalm of the day. Sometimes it flows from other experiences. The key to prayers of praise is that they should be adoration, not utilitarian. Rather than listing all the good stuff I'm grateful for each morning, I try to take one piece of who God is and one blessing in life and really rejoice in those things.

3. Prayers for Global Church & Current Events
First, I focus on some country or region in the world, both for its peace and especially for the church there. (Remember, North America only accounts for about 10% of the world's Christians, and Western Europe another 15%. We are a global community of faith, and that should shape our prayers.) We know people working in various countries, whether through missions or other vocations, and I lift them up. Because of the importance of planning, I actually made a 4-week chart to touch on many of the places I want to be remembering before the Father. It is printed below this post. If you don't know what to pray for these countries, Operation World is a wonderful resource for offering specific needs.

Under this heading, I also pray for major current events. In particular, I seek to pray for wisdom and justice for our leaders and for God's will to be accomplished in whatever is happening. I can be a bit of a news junkie, which is fine, but the Christian posture in such an activity should always be prayerful rather than anxious or simply entertained.

4. Prayers for Local Church & Communities
Years ago, I remember complaining to a friend about some issues at the church we were both attending. His response: "Have you been lifting those problems up in prayer? [Silence.] Well, then I'd start by confessing to the Lord that they're partly your fault." Ever since, I have been deeply aware of my critical spirit and sought to make prayer the first response.

I've been using another sub-list of needs for the local church - it is also below. In addition, during this time I try to remember one of the communities we are connected to, either currently or in the past.

5. Prayers for the Lost
There are people I know who are great but who I long to see meet Jesus. I pray for one of them each day.

6. Prayers for my Wife
Every day. After all, she has to put up with me that often.

7. Prayers for Family
I rotate through our kids, praying specifically for one of them each day. I also rotate through our extended family on a weekly basis.

8. Prayers for Acute Needs
9. Prayers for Occasional Needs
These two categories are more general. There are lots of people who ask for prayer or who I know I should be interceding for. I sort them into "acute" (more immediate and urgent needs) and "occasional" (long-term needs). I list them in a notebook and leave space as God moves to record answers and how things resolve. I also try to make specific requests - if your prayer is simply "help so-and-so," it is hard to know when God shows up. Something like "provide them with a new job" is much clearer.

10. Prayers for Self (Confession, Needs & Day's Activities)
First, I confess those sins God has laid on my heart and pray for His help. I also spend a minute here asking what practical steps I can take to seek to grow in those areas. Then I pray for any current needs and pray over the activities I'll be doing that day.

And that's it - that's the plan. Again, don't feel like this is some law you have to follow exactly, and also recognize that all of this must be done with grace. There are mornings I go through this process and my heart feels five sizes larger; there are others I spend the entire time just working to corral my wandering mind. That said, if prayer is an area you want to grow, I would encourage you to take the time to make some kind of plan. It isn't the totality of faithfulness, but it is a good place to start.

List 1: Global Church

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Saudi Arabia
North Korea
Other Americas
U.S. & Canada

List 2: Local Church
Sunday - Gathered Worship
Monday - Growth in Discipleship (Make the church more like Jesus. Help us to be faithful in spiritual growth.)
Tuesday - Elders (Elders are Scripture's leaders of the church. I pray for each of them individually, although that's partly because of my role as one of them. You can also pray for your pastor(s) during this time - theologically, I would understand them as elders.)
Wednesday - Congregational Families (We offer a list of families every week in the bulletin, rotating through our whole congregation.)
Thursday - Specific Ministries of the Church (Various programs and activities. This is when I also pray for our staff.)
Friday - Outreach (May we be a blessing to our communities and witnesses to the gospel of Jesus.)
Saturday - Other Churches (Both the other churches in our communities and for other churches we have been a part of over the years, as well as for our denomination.)