I recently heard a Bible teacher say, “Prayer isn’t part of the Christian life; prayer is the Christian life.”
And immediately I felt like a total loser.
Why? The answer is as obvious as it is common: I struggle to pray. It’s not that I’m anti-prayer. I believe prayer is important. I believe it works. I love the idea of prayer. I’ve even read some really good books about prayer. But prayer isn’t normal or easy for me. I brush my teeth and play Wordle and go running with more consistency than I pray.
Chances are, you feel like me—deeply desiring a better prayer life, but not confident you can get there. (By the by, if you are the statistical minority that feels confident in your prayer life, would you be so kind as to let me know how you got there? Not kidding.)
For the fellow prayer strugglers out there, I have good news. Prayer may never become, for you or me, as effortless as breathing. But it can become something we do more often—and, even, something we begin to love.
Something I’ve been learning recently is that God teaches us to pray as we pray. What I find helpful, more than anything, is an easy on-ramp to prayer. Small but possible changes. Because, in my experience, big starts often turn into false starts. But a small, recurring nudge to pray? That I can do.
And, I think, you can, too.
Here are four types of prayers I’ve found helpful. Each one of them acts like a simple on-ramp to a meaningful moment with God. And while you only need a few seconds for each, my hope is that you’ll find, as I have, that God invites you deeper as you go.
1. Centering Prayer
The goal of a centering prayer is to return—return our minds and spirits to the reality of God. Look, I get it: Life happens fast, and even on the most mundane days, there are thousands of distractions vying for our attention. We don’t need to heap shame on ourselves; but we do need a way to step out of the whirlwind, even if just for a moment.
With a centering prayer, you are laying aside the rush of daily life to return to what you know to be true. You are driving a fundamental truth deep into your soul by repeating it over and over and over. It’s the sort of prayer you want to flow from your lips almost reflexively.
Just as a song gets stuck in your head, the hope is that a centering prayer will get stuck in your heart.
How do I do it?
KISS—Keep it short and simple. The goal here isn’t to be comprehensive. It’s not even to ask God for anything. It’s to turn your glance skyward. So choose a statement that is biblical, memorable, and relevant for you.
- God of heaven, allow me rest in you.
- Satisfy me this morning with your steadfast love (Psalm 90:14). (You don’t have to say the citation!)
- Open my eyes to see your goodness.
- Holy Spirit, come.
- Lord, have mercy.
- I am yours and you are mine.
2. Responsive Prayer
As Eugene Peterson aptly noted, prayer might feel like an activity that we initiate … but in reality, God has the first word. In Scripture, God has spoken the first word in prayer. In prayer, we respond to the God who has already spoken.
One of the best ways to acknowledge the God-initiated element of prayer is to begin with a statement from God. For instance, one of the most common promises in Scripture is, “I am here” (Exodus 33:14, Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20, et al.). And it’s a beautiful way to begin in prayer: God’s intimate presence transforms our prayers, because it helps us realize that God is not far off and unengaged. Whatever our circumstance, God is near to us—near, and eager to listen.
How do I do it?
You may have to fight against the cheese factor here. But go with it. Imagine God sitting with you, looking you straight in the eye, saying: “I am here.”
Then let your response flow out of that truth: “Help me with …”
3. Conversational Prayer
If you read through the Psalms—for centuries the most consistent prayer handbook of the church—one thing you notice almost immediately is how honest and raw the prayers are. The authors seem unfiltered, even (at times) irreverent, in the thoughts they present to God. Very few of us would be as candid with God as the book of Psalms.
But we should be. God welcomes the honest prayers of his people, just as loving parents welcome the honest thoughts of their children. He wants us to pick up the moments of our day—high times as well as hard times—and carry them to him. In his presence, we can pour out our hearts, knowing he is a safe space for every emotion we experience.
And remember, similar to the Responsive Prayer, these questions arise from God. You aren’t just processing your day. You’re answering God’s question to you, “What’s on your mind? What’s on your heart?”
How Do I Do It?
There are a number of ways you can candidly tell God what’s on your heart. But if, like me, you could use some training wheels, it’s helpful to keep the questions direct:
- What’s good? (What in your life might prompt delight or gratitude?)
- What’s hard? (What in your life is bothering you?)
Ask the question, let tell God the answer. “God, this is tough right now …” or “God, I’m really grateful for …” Don’t clean it up before you tell him. Just tell him.
4. Listening Prayer
During his time on earth, Jesus was completely obedient to the Father and radically responsive to the Spirit. He lived with more intentionality than any of us, and yet, it seems that his time was often unstructured, his schedule always open for Spirited interruptions.
For those of us who want to walk in step with God’s Spirit, we need more moments throughout our days in which we pause to hear the Spirit’s voice. Discerning where God is at work is not a formulaic endeavor. But we know God’s Spirit is active. So we use this prayer as a cue to ask Him to show us where he is moving. Then we wait and listen.
How Do I Do It?
The question is simple: “God, where are you moving?” For this type of prayer, though, I find it helpful to think of when I might ask it. For me, transition times are most natural—leaving to drop the kids off, opening up my laptop, taking a lunch break. Rather than rushing from one task to the next, pause and literally look around. Then ask God, “Where are you moving, here, now?”
Don’t panic if you ask the question and there isn’t an audible answer. (There usually isn’t.) But be receptive to the Spirit nudging you—toward a person, perhaps, or a half-forgotten thought, or a reference from Scripture.
If you're ready to put these four types of prayer into practice, we recommend Sticky Prayers! It's a set of 4 tangible, and beautiful prompts to cue you to pray throughout the day.