Wednesday, April 22, 2009

how I organise my prayer life

There are so many people to pray for that I'd get nowhere if I tried to pray for them every day! So here's what I do.

I think of the people in my world in concentric circles.

In the middle circle, there's God, my family, and me. I pray about them nearly every time I pray.

In the next circle, there's Steve's and my families - our parents, brothers and sisters, and their children.

In the next circle, there's close Christian friends, people I get together with and chat or pray with regularly.

In the next circle, there's people I minister to: women in my Bible study group, children in my Sunday School class, anyone I'm mentoring, people who read my blog (hi!).

In the next circle, there's our church and the university Christian group my husband pastors.

In the next circle, there's our community: friends and neighbours who don't know Jesus.

In the next circle, there's Christians I know who are working overseas to tell people about Jesus.

In the next circle, there's Australia and the world.

There are 7 circles after the middle one - one for each day! I used to pray through 1 topic daily. Now that I have 4 children and a life disrupted by sleepless nights and chaotic days, I don't pray daily for an extended time, but I still work through the list.

One of the reasons I use a list is that I don't pray in a structured way every day, and it ensures that I still pray for people regularly. I've written the categories and people on a page from a notebook, which I fold and keep in my Bible. When I sit down to pray, I grab my list. I move onto the topic after the one I prayed about last time.

Here's how I pray for 10 minutes. I praise God for who he is and for Jesus' death, or I pray about what I've learned in the Bible that day. I ask for forgiveness and pray for God's help to overcome the sins I'm struggling with. I deal with my heart before God by bringing my anxieties and discouragements to him. I pray for my husband and children. I pray for my day. Then I pray about whatever topic I'm up to.

I'll admit, I never really get to number 7 - somehow, I cycle back to number 1 before then, usually because it's a while since I've prayed and I've forgotten where I'm up to! But most of the people get prayed for at least once a month. My list keeps me praying for people, but it doesn't overwhelm me.

How do you organise your prayer life? Your ideas would be helpful for the rest of us!

image is from stock.xchng


Pam said...

OOh, I love hearing about how people organise their prayer lives. I love to glean ideas.

I really like the seven categories. Mine is similar but more unwieldy.


non- christian family members (basically my side)

christian family members (mostly dh's side)(don't pray for these as often)

close friends (I limited the number of friends to pray for; it was unworkable before but now I don't know what to do about the other friends I'd like to pray for but less regularly)

church- several sub categories such as bible study group, elders, events, services, growth and godliness

other non-christians I have committed to pray for (including people who have fallen away)


neighbourhood, Australia

so, eight categories.

I need to have something I can carry around in my head for when I am breastfeeding, or stuck on the lounge with a small child. What I have been doing lately is really working well. I use the fruit of the spirit to pray for people. Each day I move on to to next fruit and run through my list. At the end of the nine qualities I added wisdom/discernment and needs. Needs means I can pray for those things that I know are specific for different people.

I also try to think through the day ahead in the morning and "put the day to bed" in the evening. Running through my actions/thoughts etc but also praying for people I saw/spoke to etc. I am thinking about using the love verses from 1 Cor. 13 to prompt my thinking about myself but haven't got that far yet.

Actually, there are seven categories if I don't count the first. The trouble is that I like to pray for some of them every day (friends, church, missionaries) and some less often. Then I get stuck trying to work out some system.

I hope some other people reply. I also use a prayer book throughout the day and really appreciate that. It amazes me how a phrase I read every day can jump out and mean with meaning and intent one day. This book also includes the Psalms to be read through once a month (bad 'translation' though, sadly) which is my bible reading at the moment, apart from what I do for my weekly bible study.

It sounds impressive to say I aim to pray four times a day but what it really means is that it gives me four short bites of the cherry. This for me, still with younger kids around, has been more doable than one longer devotional time.


Jean said...

Pam, that was very inspiring, especially the "4 times a day" - good advice for busy mothers who only have time here and there! And I like your other ideas too, like the fruit of the Spirit.

Thanks for reminding me about "putting the day to bed" - I'd like to do this more. CJ Mahaney talked about it very helpfully in his talk on sleep, which I talked about here.

One of my friends had a great idea for dealing with all the "extra" names - the friends and people who've been in our lives over the years. She has a list of all the women she's mentored - but really only the ones she stays in contact with (you can't keep praying for everyone!). I can't remember exactly how she does it, but I think she tries to work through the list and pray for one every day of the month?? The list also reminds her to contact people, which she does about 4x a year, I think. I might check with her and get back to you. But a list like that could help with the people you want to pray for, but not as often.

I'll ask others to respond if they haven't in a few days, but we'll see how that goes - depends if they're inspired to reply. But I'll put it out there! Remind me in a week by putting a comment here if I forget, won't you?!.

Meredith said...

What a lovely subject to cover.

I wonder if I might throw in a thought and a little idea to help with the "extra names" list - because it seems to me that it is often this list that tips me over and leaves me feeling overwhelmed, particularly as it is this list that just seems to grow and grow the older we get.

One thing I figure (and I am not looking for an excuse NOT to pray here but simply for a means of rationalising one's list)is that as various people move out of our spheres and therefore out of our immediate prayer focus, one would hope that they move into someone else's sphere and onto their prayer list. That at least is for the Christians on the move. God does give us people in our lives for a season. And so we pray in that season (and I guess as they and we transition to the next season.)

The other really helpful thing I have found is this...a wise, elderly Christian told me a good twenty years ago that when a person pops into his thoughts out of the blue he always prays for them. And what a wise thing this was to hear.

I have prayed that God will prompt me to pray for others when they are in need so when someone does come to mind for no apparent reason I always stop and pray for them immediately. And I have been blessed to learn down the track that I prayed for a friend who at the very time I was praying, was giving birth to her son who has cerebral palsy, (God woke me up in the middle of the night for that one!) and for another friend, who at that very time was sharing the gospel with her dying mother who subsequently came to Christ in her last hours. These are two very dramatic examples but there are many more - less dramatic but no less important - too.

This is not a system as such. But it is a profoundly useful thing to add onto any system that our seasons of life allow. It is good to pray that God will prompt us to do this work of praying for others. It is also good to pray that He will help us to recognise and respond to that prompting.

I hope that is an encouragement.
God bless.

Jean said...

Thank you Meredith. I agree with what you say about people moving out of your life. I think Heather also allows this to happen, but will keep in contact and keep praying for some people she's mentored in the past when appropriate.

I love your suggestion of praying for someone to come to mind - I might try and do that.

The main way I pray for missionaries, actually, is not when I get to this topic in my prayers (which rarely happens, it's at number 6 and I've usually already prayed for them - see following) but when I receive their prayer letters. As soon as I get the letter, I try to read it; as soon as I read it, I pray. That way I know I've prayed for them. Then the prayer letter can be deleted / thrown out and it doesn't sit around for weeks being ignored.

It's the same when I tell someone I'll pray for them. I pray then and there, or sometime in the next 5 minutes if possible, to make sure I keep my promise!

mattnbec said...

I have found that I've used different things at different times. I used to try to use a category approach, like you do Jean and like Pam mentioned. That used to work better for me than it seems to now (or did so I changed approach).

I do use the 'if someone pops into my head' approach, as Meredith mentioned sporadically. Now that I've been reminded of it, I'll try to do it more consistently, I think.

One approach I use at the moment is to pray for people while I do particular tasks. Some examples:
- When I get my children's clothes ready for the next day, I stand next to them for a few minutes and pray for them while I watch them sleeping (combining two delightful parts of parenthood at once!).
- I aim to pray for my husband while i brush my teeth and I try to pray for others during my shower.
- I try to pray the IOUS prayer you shared and for the days activities while I walk to pre-school/playgroup etc.
- Whenever I find it hard to get to sleep (not often, now that I have little people) I try to pray for those who pop into my head or those who I might have forgotten more recently too.
- If I get an email asking for prayer, I try to pray, however briefly, for the person who sent it there and then so I don't forget (and ditto if I say I'll pray for someone - did I learn that from you, Meredith? I have a hunch you told me about that).

A wise, older man once gave a talk about prayer and said that sometimes, mothers of small children will find the only time they get to themselves to pray is while they go to the toilet, if even then (*audience giggling while they imagine praying on the toilet*). If that's the case, that's when they should pray and not feel ashamed about it (after all, it's not like God doesn't know what you're doing anyway!). I've found that a freeing way to think - that we can multi-task and not feel bad about doing it if a set time doesn't seem to work so well. The other thing I find useful in this approach is that it increases my chances of re-orienting my attitude throughout the day when I need it, is sometimes reminds me to ask God for more energy when I'm lagging, confess my sin as soon as I commit it etc because it makes my whole day more God-oriented rather than being tempted to think I've done my God-bit for the day. Of course, it does fall prey to the distractions of a wandering mind and multi-taking as well as the realities my sinfulness and my forgetful brain which forgets to pray while I do the other tasks. However, on the whole, I've found it a useful way to pray.


mattnbec said...

I should add that I think part of the reason this works for me is that I'm not always a very disciplined, organised person so regular quiet times for long periods don't necessarily seem to work well for me for particularly extended periods.


Jean said...

Thanks, Bec, for some brilliant ideas, especially for busy mums! As I get older and busier and more distracted by family concerns, like you, I find that lots of my praying for people happens at odd times. It's probably a sign of growth in godliness, isn't it? - that prayer isn't just limited to certain set times (although these can be helpful to keep us praying) but that you learn to pray to him about everything everywhere.

Meredith said...

My other "busy mum" multitasking technique is to make use of my recipe rack in the kitchen to display things other than recipe books! I have our church directory and also the prayer diary for a missionary organisation I support on it. As I find myself in the kitchen quite a lot I can pray systematically through the church congregation and also the missionaries while I am spending time in the kitchen preparing food or cleaning up after food.

William said...

Been blessed by all the comments, I might share a little bit of my prayer priorities.

My lack of prayer seems to be in tune with my lack of reading God's Word daily. I am hinting this as a sign of how much trust I am putting on Him.

In my prayer, I always started with thanking God for sending me Christ as Lord and Savior. And thanking God for His Word, follow through by reading it.

Then I started moving on for:
church members
people i am serving/ministering in different variety of roles

Randomly at other times, I would pray for different things:
1. the world: reconciled to God
2. missionaries
3. government
4. the poor
5. events based (birth, death, disasters, evangelism, party, etc)

having a list like you all did sounds impressive, I have tried to plan and be more organized in this area, although it does not seem to work so well.

However, priorities on what to pray always fall on:
1. close friend/family that I knew directly/indirectly that are going away from the faith. that I would pray closely and intensively
2. thanking God for welcoming someone to His family

ps: the brush teeth and shower prayer seems like a good idea.


Jean said...

Great idea Meredith - I should try that!

Jean said...

Thanks, William. I like your prayer priorities.

Pam said...

Great ideas.

A friend used to have her bible memory pasage taped to her window, above her kitchen sink, so she could see it often.

I do that thing of praying for people straight away, too. It's just too easy to forget.

I went through my list of people I think I should be praying for (christian friends etc) and thought about them in terms of whether someone else might be praying for them and realised that many of them I really can leave with a clear conscience and others will get prayed for as I see them.

Reading others' ideas here has helped me (hopefully) tighten up the prayer list a bit, which I'm really thankful for.

I get overwhelmed praying for big things like Australia and the world. I have decided to mainly focus on persecution of Christians and similar themes and have found there are some helpful resources out there to help you pray daily. There is a website where you can get prayer points for various countries over a month.

Does anyone know of any helpful resources to pray intelligently for Australia?

I have to confess, I think I will have to change my aim to praying three times a day. I just can't get to pray in the early evening. I don't want to give up but for now I might have to. Reality check.

Jean said...

Pam, I love your ideas about praying for Australia and the world. The fact is, this is just too hard, which is one reason I rarely, rarely get around to it.

I pray for persecuted Christians in the same way I pray for missionaries - when I read prayer letters / magazines. I have a pile in the toilet, and read through them. One comes from Barnabus Fund, which supports persecuted Christians across the world. So I do pray for persecuted Christians at least, just not in my quiet times! Others are about reaching out to Muslims - again, I try to quickly pray through the prayer points. Others are from Tear Fund and World Vision - I guess I could pray about those too!

It's a good idea to use something on different countries like what you suggest. I guess the daily unreached people group on the Joshua Project website would be another way.

If I watched the news, that would be a good starting point for prayer - but I have to admit, I don't. I pray about Islam etc. sometimes when it pops into my head - similar to the person popping into your head idea!

Good question about Australia! Can anyone answer it?

Gordon Cheng said...

Prayer letters. I never ask for e-bulletins, though people insist on sending them to me (and when I get them I try to pray). But given a choice, I always want to get paper letters. I also try to pray for them the moment I receive them. Then, they end up in a little stack next to the toilet.

So the more upset my tummy gets, the more people get prayed for!

Jean said...

Tee hee. I hate emailed prayer letters for the same reason! Although somehow I never think of the simple solution of pressing "print".

Thank you for adding your own unique element of elegance and style to the discussion, Gordo.

Cat P said...

A belated comment, but still a great topic!

I find it quite difficult to pray by myself, so it's really helpful to make sure we build prayer into our family life. We briefly pray in the morning for each of our days before we all go our separate ways - each person prays one prayer point for someone else.

We have family devotions after dinner and pray about what we've been reading in the Bible. (Recently we've been going through the Lord's prayer phrase by phrase, and Poppy has been loving 'expressing' the phrase that we've just talked about.) When we put her to bed, we all say prayers together again and pray for some of our family friends. We have a chart on Poppy's wall which says which friends are on which days. We also say thanks for things in the day and particular needs that we've heard of.

Prayers for the poor happen when we have our weekly 'rice night' - plain boiled rice to eat and water to drink. It prompts us to pray for the poor, keeps us thankful even for those things and reminds us of our rich we are, too!

Tim and I usually read the Bible together at night, and that often prompts one of us to pray.

It's not perfect by any means, but it really helps me to have it built into the routine of our day. I'm not so good at being disciplined about my free time, but it's much easier to be disciplined about family time!

Jean said...

Thanks, Cat, for some belated but very helpful ideas for prayer!

I like your wall chart for Poppy - what a brilliant idea. I would like to pray more for different things with Lizzy at bedtime, and this might help.