Have you ever felt awkward when asked to pray aloud in front of a group of others? Or wonder why eloquent prayers seem to flow from everyone else’s mouths but not from yours? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Fortunately, God doesn’t need eloquent or formulaic prayers. He just wants our hearts and our ears tuned to His voice. Here are five different types of prayer you can try to refresh your joy and revitalize your prayer life.
How do you feel about prayer? I’ll admit I have mixed feelings.
I grew up in churches. I attended a Christian college and seminary. I have been involved with countless ministries. I have worked at churches. And I have prayed silently and out loud in every one of those contexts.
Still, for much of my life, I shouldered the weight of prayer-related shame. Similar to my lack of prowess at every sport I ever tried, I thought I was no good at prayer.
The prayer styles we most commonly see in worship services and ministry gatherings are up-front and out loud prayer led by individuals or group prayer huddles.
Over time, these examples teach us—perhaps unintentionally—that prayer is typically spoken aloud in the midst of other people. I will happily pray along silently as someone else prays audibly, yet I don’t easily pray out loud. Of course I’ve done it, I can do it, and I will do it again.
However, more than once the prompt to “turn to your neighbor, share about xyz, and then pray together” has sent me bolting for the door.
For me, audible, spontaneous speech about heart matters can feel like an intensely personal public performance. My brain stalls. My tongue ties. I stumble over words. I have to figure out how to be done, and so: Amen.
Gradually, I have learned to let go of what works for others, including approaches prescribed by Christian culture. (I’m looking at you, before-dawn prayer. Not a morning person, I need many cups of coffee before I can speak coherently with anyone, God included.)
I have leaned into the uniqueness God built into me. I have received God’s grace, including the freedom to release shame and embrace prayer styles that connect me with God in soul-nourishing ways. I have gratefully recognized how God invites me into spiritual practices that feel life-giving, adding color within my lines. They are practices that fill me with joy and provide rest for my soul.
Practicing the prayer styles listed below reassures me that God receives my prayers with joy. If you, too, have felt prayer-shame, felt self-conscious about what to say or how to say it, or if your prayers have become one more box to check off your spiritual to-do list, I pray one or more of these styles will ignite a new fire in your spirit.
For most of my life I have kept journals—countless books of all shapes and sizes in which I scribble the events of my days and work through my thoughts and feelings on all manner of things. Often, as I pour out my heart on the page, I find myself writing, “Okay, God, what next? How should I process this?”
Other times as I read my Bible, a word, phrase, or verse leaps off the page. I jot it down and continue writing as I listen for God’s direction.
For so long, I knew I was praying yet still felt like my journaled prayers didn’t count. I recall sitting in a church staff meeting when our pastor commented: “Writing your prayers to God is significantly cheaper than therapy.” I jolted in surprise as the comment locked in my journals’ legitimacy.
You don’t have to consider yourself a writer to journal, as no one but you needs to read it. A few minutes a day could relieve stress and add peace to your life.
What does one write in a prayer journal?
Keep an ongoing dialogue with God. Pour out your thoughts and feelings. Write about your family, including your joys, frustrations, and dreams for your children.
Write about how to apply biblical truth from the last sermon you heard. Write about what you read in your Bible or other spiritually-focused books. Write about what bugs you and ask for God’s insight.
Write a one-sentence or one-paragraph prayer to conclude your day. For more ideas, Pinterest has lots of suggestions under “Prayer Prompts.”
PRAY ON THE GO
The admonitions of Sunday school teachers and youth leaders to “Sit still, bow your head, close your eyes, fold your hands… [pause] Let’s pray…” convinced me that most prayer happened while seated among a group.
When our son was in preschool, I joined a moms group at church. One time, a speaker gave examples of how she prayed with her young children: “Wow, thank you, God, for the blue sky and those birds sitting on the wire. Thank you for the green grass and the tiny yellow flowers dotting the lawn…” and on she went.
I gave it a whirl as we drove home, speaking out loud to God about whatever I saw while my son listened. It flowed more naturally than I imagined it would and soon became a regular practice. Mostly he listened, but sometimes he chimed in. Always, he joined me for a big “Amen!”
I have three big dogs that require daily exercise, and as we walk I talk to God much like I did when my son was little: “Thank you, God, for the blooming roses and the hawk soaring overhead. Now, what should I do about…?” Walking and praying works out the kinks in my whole being and allows God to fill up those places with tranquility.
Sometimes I have no words, or the words I do have sound hollow. At those times, I am especially grateful for the Psalms—Scripture’s prayer book-hymnal combo. I don’t think I’ve met an emotion that isn’t represented in the Psalms. Consider these examples:
- When I seek God’s protective presence: Psalm 23.
- When I need to confess: Psalm 51.
- When I overflow with thanksgiving: Psalm 100.
- When I’m angry: Psalm 13.
- When I crave comfort: Psalm 46.
- When I can’t sleep: Psalm 4.
- When I need to recall God’s faithfulness: Psalm 91.
- A reminder of God’s never-ending love: Psalm 136.
The Bible records many prayers from which we can take inspiration. Moses argued with God (Exodus 3). Hagar (Genesis 21:8-21) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1) wept before the Lord. Mary sang praise to God in faith-quaking circumstances (Luke 1:46-55). Paul prayed pastorally that God would strengthen the believers’ knowledge and experience of God’s love (Ephesians 3:14-21). Of course, we can also pray The Lord’s Prayer right alongside Jesus (Matthew 6:9-13).
THE JESUS PRAYER OR BREATH PRAYER
Another ancient prayer comes from the Orthodox Church tradition.
Called “The Jesus Prayer,” we pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God // have mercy on me, a sinner.
What is the secret to this prayer’s lasting power? First, it’s so simple that anyone can memorize it to pray throughout the day. Secondly, you can time it to your breathing by deeply inhaling God’s name, then exhaling your sinful self. Most importantly, the prayer acknowledges Jesus as our Lord, the Christ, the Son of God, and us as humble sinners in need of God’s mercy. It recognizes the miraculous, merciful relationship God invites us to share with Him.
You can create your own breath prayers by pairing biblical phrases or simply by listening to what your spirit needs from God. Examples:
- Lord, have mercy // Spirit, fill me
- God, give me patience // Spirit, give me strength
- I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart // I will sing praise to your name, O Most High (from Psalm 9).
I’m not an artist, yet on occasional Sunday afternoons when I have extended time, I play with two creative approaches to prayer: painting with watercolors or creating magazine collages. The focused concentration opens up meditative space to be in the moment with God.
Typically I start with Scripture. Sometimes as I dwell on biblical words an image presents itself, like a garden with an arch inviting me to “Abide” or a figure kneeling before a throne. I think about how I might boil that down to basic colors and shapes, and then I let the paint do its thing. If watercolors intimidate you, crayons or colored pencils can be just as effective. Collage works similarly. Begin by flipping through a magazine and noticing what pictures, words, or colors draw your eye. Tear those out. Once you have a small pile, shuffle them until you feel satisfied. Then use a glue stick or Scotch tape to adhere them to a piece of paper.
When you’re done, talk to God about both process and product. What might God say to you through this experience? One time when I used collage to ponder the body of Christ, I created a hodge-podge body by assembling cutouts from many images. As I massaged a hand into place, the glue stuck prematurely, leaving it disjointed. The “mistake” led me to an epiphany that as a new participant in my church community, I felt detached and lonely. God and I had a good conversation over that one.
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
I used to think Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) was a lofty, unattainable goal for the ordinary Christian. I also used to think I was bad at prayer. I was wrong on both counts. As I write, walk, read, breathe, and craft prayers, I have woven prayer into the fabric of my life. God isn’t surprised when this introverted soul prefers private prayer over praying with others seated nearby in the pews. Rather, God is honored that I have worked through my discomfort to discover the joy of a vibrant prayer life, something He desires for all His people.
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