First, let me say, “You can pray if you can talk or think.”
Not getting started on prayer may happen if people are asking the question, “Why?”
Many people think there’s some big formula for praying. Others think prayer is not necessary because God already knows what we need. Some feel the need to pray but don’t know where, how, or what to pray. In addressing the how to part, understanding the other issues of prayer need to be addressed first. I will touch on each of those areas below.
God wants us to.
In John 16:24 Jesus says,
“Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive that your joy may be made full.”
Jesus wants us to ask Him for our needs and even our wants. In John 15 Jesus is giving His disciples some final instructions before His last entry into Jerusalem. Verse 7 includes prayer in those instructions:
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.”
Both of these verses contain conditions. In John 16:24, Jesus says to ask in His name (for the things worthy of His name).
John 15:7 says we need to be abiding in Him. Some translations say, “remain in Him.” What does that condition look like? The Amplified Bible explains it as “if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart.” The underlying factor is that Jesus wants us to pray.
But Doesn’t God Know What We Need?
As for God already knowing what we need, prayer is not really about getting what we want or what we need. I heard it said once that the purpose of prayer is to get on our hearts what’s on God’s heart.
Of course, God knows what we need, and He often supplies everything we need before we even know we need it, but praying helps us recognize what’s important to God. It also puts in our head the things God wants to do, so we know when He’s answered.
How Do We Pray?
So how do we pray? When do we pray? There are no one-size fits all plans or techniques for praying. So I’m going to share one of the most useful tools I use to pray.
Using this method satisfies the question of recognizing what’s important to God. It also is a great source of encouragement to keep praying. This tool has a simple name: A Prayer Journal.
There is no right or wrong way to use or make a prayer journal. Really it’s just a glorified list of things to pray about, those things on our hearts and minds.
First, you acquire a notebook of some type. I know some who get “fancy” journal books for this because it imparts to them the significance of praying. I use a simple spiral bound notebook.
The Three-Column Prayer Journal
You make three columns in it. The first column is narrow and this is where you put the date of the request. I make sure to include the month, day, and year. Some of the items in my journal have been in there for several years and I’m still waiting for answers. In the second column you can use bullet points to list the things concerning you and the people you are praying for.
I have found it to be most helpful if I actually write out my prayers to God with specific requests. It makes the last column more meaningful and interesting. Sometimes my entries are half a page long, but more often each request takes 4-5 lines. A few are just bullet items.
The last column is to record answers to the requests. This is an exciting aspect to the prayer journal. This is where we see when and how God moved. Next to each prayer request I write updates on the prayers. The updates may just say a date and “continue to pray.” Other updates explain how God answered, often in ways I did not expect but that led me to praise and thanksgiving. I have found that His answers usually far exceed my prayers. Seeing and recording how God answers prayer keeps me focused on praying because I see the results. That is a big plus for a prayer journal.
Let me share a story about my prayer journal. Before my son was born I started praying for him. I’m an insulin dependent diabetic and there were a lot of risks surrounding pregnancy. Every time I prayed there was a new request for my health, the baby’s health, wisdom for the doctors, and eventually for him to grow into a godly person.
After he was born he had some relatively minor health issues, but those were all prayed over and recorded in the journal. We could tell early on that he was mentally developing ahead of schedule (we are teachers and know the developmental stages of children).
I became worried that he would be too smart and come to look down upon others and not be able to relate to others. It’s recorded in my prayer journal, specifically that he would be able to relate well to others of all backgrounds and abilities. God answered in big ways. He now works in sales for a computer company and is well-liked and well-respected among colleagues and customers.
As he continued through his school years we prayed over athletic competitions, plays, presentations, and academics, and prayed that he would continue to grow spiritually and socially. My journal records prayers for him when he had conflicts with other students or teachers. It recorded prayers over his heartbreaks and struggles. There were even prayers for his relationships with girls and especially for one girl who became his steady. There were also prayers for a future wife even though we didn’t know who it might be.
I kept all that recorded in my prayer journals. When my son was in high school he became disillusioned with the church and spiritual matters for reasons beyond my control. Going to church became a chore for him. As soon as he could, he got a job where he had to work on Sunday mornings getting him out of the chore and the habit of church attendance. I don’t know if he did that consciously or not, but I was disappointed. And I added it to my prayer journal. I continued praying and writing out the prayers in my prayer journal as he moved through college and into young adulthood.
Having that record is great, but the most pleasure comes from looking at the answers. By looking back every once in a while and recording the answers, I could see how God answered my prayers and which prayers were the most important to Him.
Some things lingered and were rewritten many times without any answers recorded. All this praying and my son was still disillusioned with church and spiritual things. Yet as I continued to pray, I saw God open doors to share with my son a little at a time. I found out that he was not disillusioned with Jesus. I wrote that in the answers of my prayer journal.
Shortly after my son got his first professional job, I started going back through the prayer journals all the way back to his childhood. I wrote them out in a separate notebook, noted Bible verses that went with each prayer, and was amazed at all that God had done.
Then I had an inspiration. I wanted my son to know all that God had been doing in his life. So I wrote the requests with their dates or time frame in a hard-covered journal. On one page I wrote out a request and the answer. On the opposite page, I wrote out the passage of Scripture corresponding to the request. I had some pages left at the end, so I wrote that those pages were for him to fill in. I wrapped it up and gave it to him for Christmas.
Upon opening it and starting to read it, he smiled and he cried. I like to think those prayer requests and answers played a part in the return of his spiritual interest that happened shortly after that. So, I see the importance of a prayer journal in tangible ways. Answers don’t always come on our schedule, but they do come. I can live expectantly and eagerly await God’s promised answers. I know it can be a great tool for anyone who chooses to use one.