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How has God worked in your life? How has God answered prayers? Tell us!
Prayer doesn’t need to be overly complicated. The goal is simply to be with our Heavenly Father, enjoying His presence, and communicating with Him. Here are a few different approaches to help you pray with more joy and intentionality. Remember, the goal is intimacy with God, so try whichever approaches are helpful for you!
Some people find it helpful to write out their prayers in a physical journal or digital document. It can help you stay focused and also gives you a record of what you have been praying so that you can track the ways God has been working in your life.
Praying based on Scripture can deepen and expand our prayer life in profound ways. We take a passage of Scripture (for example, the particular chapter from our MBC Bible reading plan for the day) and use that to guide what we pray for. You can read through the chapter slowly, pausing after a few verses to pray based on what you’ve read. You can also use the P.R.A.Y. acronym to guide your prayers based on what you see in the passage.
Our MBC Global Outreach team has created an amazing prayer guide to help you strategically pray for people in unreached parts of the world. It also includes information and prayer requests for some of our MBC missionaries. Download that guide here.
This is as simple as it sounds—walking while you pray. The change of scenery and physical activity can sometimes help to keep you alert and focused while you pray. This is also particularly helpful when you are praying over a specific location. You can also use the environment around you to prompt you pray for specific needs. For example, pray for your neighbors as you walk past their house, or your coworkers as you walk outside your office building.
Praying for others is one of our most profound spiritual privileges. God invites us to participate in bringing about His will, as we intercede on behalf of people in need. You can keep a list of people you’d like to be praying for during these 21 Days or simply set aside times where you pray for those who come to mind. You could utilize prayer cards, where you keep an index card for each person you’re praying for with a particular Bible verse and prayer requests you want to be praying for that person (see the book A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller for more details on this method). As you pray for people, feel free to shoot them a short text message or email letting them know you prayed for them!
Praying alone is vitally important in our relationship with God, but so is praying together. Spend time praying with your friends, spouse/family, or Church Group. You can invite them to pray with you on a regular basis (e.g. every Tuesday at 6:30am on Zoom) or just take time in prayer whenever you get together.
Sometimes it helps to use other people’s prayers as a guide to our own prayers. This can include the prayers recorded in Scripture—for example, the Psalms or Paul’s prayers throughout his letters—or written prayers from other believers throughout church history. Valley of Vision and Every Moment Holy are two resources provide written prayers based on a variety of different circumstances and biblical themes.
Deep, intentional breathing is known to trigger your body’s relaxation response. It can slow your heartbeat and lower or stabilize your blood pressure. Coupling this with prayer is an ancient Christian practice that can help us calm our racing thoughts and focus on God’s Word. First, get to a quiet place and find a short phrase from Scripture that you will use to focus on. For example, “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46:10 or “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek You” from Psalm 63:10. Then, begin by taking deep, slow breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. After you get into a rhythm, focus on the first part of the verse as you inhale and the second part of the verse as you exhale. So, using Psalm 63:1 for example, as you inhale slowly, you would pray in your mind, “O God, you are my God…” And as you exhale slowly, you would pray, “…earnestly I see You.” After several minutes, you could transition into a normal time of prayer.
A prayer retreat is when we block off extended time to be alone with God. We see this in Jesus’ life when he gets away from all his responsibilities and distractions in order to spend time in prayer all night (Luke 6:12). You can literally get away and stay in a hotel somewhere over night or you can just block off 4-8 hours and find a comfortable, quiet spot in your home or some place nearby. See the “Prayer Retreat Guide” below for guidance on how to spend that time. But it’s your retreat! Spend that time with God in whatever way is helpful and encouraging for you!
Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food in order to focus on God. We set aside a meal (or other normal activities) for a portion of the day (e.g. six or twelve hours), a full day (twenty-four hours), or even several days. When we fast, what we’re saying is, “There’s something more important in my life than physical nourishment. More than I need food, I need God.” Fasting is a physical reminder of that spiritual reality. As you prepare to fast, here are a few types of fast to consider.
In this type of fast, you drink only liquids, typically water with light juices as an option.
This type of fast involves removing certain elements from your diet. One example of a partial fast is the Daniel Fast, during which you remove meat, sweets, and bread from your diet and consume water and juice for fluids and fruits and vegetables for food.
This fast is a great option if you do not have much experience fasting food, have health issues that prevent you from fasting food, or if you wish to refocus certain areas of your life that are out of balance. For example, you might choose to stop using social media or watching television for the duration of the fast and then carefully bring that element back into your life in healthy doses at the conclusion of the fast.
F – Focus on God
Based on what Jesus taught us in Matthew 6, we don’t fast so that others will think we’re spiritual. We do this to honor God. Sometimes we fast with others, but the reason for fasting is to focus on God, not to draw attention to ourselves. It’s also feasting on God. More than we long for anything in this world, even the basic daily necessity of food, we need and long for God.
A – Abstain from food.
Food is actually a God-given addiction. So He’s given us a spiritual practice that involves taking something we actually must have—at some point our bodies are going to need food—and we put even this basic daily necessity aside in order to seek Him instead. Feel free to fast from other things, but when you think of fasting, think primarily of food.
S — Substitute eating time with praying and meditating on Scripture.
Fasting is not just physically starving yourself. Fasting is spiritually feasting on God. So, make sure to spend concentrated times in prayer and the Word in ways that fuel a continual focus on God throughout the day. Then, whenever you feel a hunger pang, that can trigger you to say, “I want food, but God, I want You more.” That’s a good discipline to build into your life. It fuels continual praying all day long, because the hungrier you get, the more you’ll pray.
T – Taste and see that God is good.
This is a direct quote from Psalm 34:8-10: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” So, when you’re tempted to give up, hang in there and trust that God will show Himself sufficient to us as we fast—and not just sufficient but satisfying!
NOTE: If you are fasting from food for an extensive amount of time, eat smaller meals before starting the fast. Limit exercise and activity, rest more, drink more, and focus your thoughts. Avoid caffeinated drinks and limit acidic juices (e.g. orange, tomato). When you end a fast from food, begin eating gradually with small light portions.
Welcome to your personal prayer retreat! This is a time to practice the pattern we see in Jesus’ life, where he would get away from distractions and demands in order to spend extended time alone with God the Father (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). This guide is designed to help you spend between extended time alone with God, resting in His abundant grace and reflecting on His Word and work in your life.
You might be thinking, “But I have so much that I need to get done!” And you’re right. But if you’re anxious about all the things on your to-do list, take a moment to consider these passages:
In your own words, what might God be showing you from these passages about priorities and productivity? Take some time to think about that and then dive in and enjoy this “mini-retreat” with God!
Guess what? God is with you right now. In this moment. He knows everything about you. He knows everything happening in your life. He knows everything happening in your heart. He knows what’s worrying you. He knows what’s tempting you. He knows what’s frustrating you. He knows you. And, right now, in this moment, He loves you. He is glad to be here with you. He has been looking forward to spending this time with you today because He delights in you, He wants to hear from you, and He has some things He wants to share with you. So, as you begin this time with Him, it’s important to remember who He is: Almighty God and Gracious Redeemer. But it’s just as important to remember who you are in His eyes. So, read these verses (or whatever verses remind you of God’s love for you in Christ). Personalize them. And thank God for what they reveal about your relationship with Him.
Our souls are a lot like boats. When you turn off the engine on a boat, it doesn’t stop moving immediately. It takes time to decelerate and come to a complete stop. My guess is your soul is still moving as you’re reading this. In his book The Imperfect Pastor, Zach Eswine describes the struggle we often face in prayer:
“Over the first several minutes my mind isn’t silent. The thoughts and feelings that have gone unnoticed amid the chatter of the day seize their moment and rise loudly to the surface as I try to quiet down. The first round of these thoughts is like foam on a soda or cream on milk. We clear it away to get to what lies beneath. So, I take each thought that vies for my attention, no matter what it is, how silly or terrible, how ordinary or task oriented, how biblically inaccurate or theologically sound, and turn it into prayer, saying of each one, “I hear myself thinking this thing, Lord, and I bring it to you. I leave it with you.”…It matters to know that often after the froth clearing and before the deep drinking in prayerful aloneness with God, boredom, restless mind, feelings of wasted time, and anxious fear all collaborate into a gang and try to loot us. They mosquito-bite us, and we want to get up, blow out the candle, and do anything but this. Instead, I invite you to hold on…Let’s face our tantrumming or clinging souls…”
Your mind will likely be flooded with all kinds of distractions and you’ll think of all kinds of reasons to check your email (just one last time), refresh Instagram, send a quick text. Resist that urge. Turn off your phone. Sit in silence for a few minutes, even if you need to set a 3-5minute timer. You don’t need to do anything, pray anything, think about anything or say anything. Just let your soul slow down like your body has. Breathe. Remind yourself that you are in the presence of your heavenly Father who loves you. If you remember something important you need to do, write it down and set it aside for now. Remember, God is with you and this is time devoted to being with Him. So just sit. Close your eyes. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you calm your soul (Psalm 131).
You can use the rest of this retreat time however you want. But below are three movements to consider including in your time with the Lord today.
Take time to rejoice in God’s character and reflect on God’s Word. Spend time praising Him through singing, listening to worship music, or in prayer. The goal is to stir your affections for God and express your joy and trust in Him. This time should also include reading and reflecting on Scripture. Whether it’s intensive Bible study or more devotional reading, remember that this time in God’s Word should be relational, hearing from God and enjoying intimacy with Him, not just intellectual. See “Additional Resources” for various ways to reflect on God’s Word. You could also spend time reading a good Christian book that helps you process biblical truths about a particular topic.
Often, we can be so caught up in what’s going on around us that we neglect what’s going on inside of us. We hurry through life with so many unprocessed emotions and experiences and so many unexamined habits and choices. And when we neglect that prayerful self-reflection, we miss some of the deeper work God wants to do in us and the wisdom He wants to give us. We need to invite the Holy Spirit to search and reveal our hearts (Psalm 139:23-24) and we need to take time to consider our ways (Haggai 1:5).
Here are some self-reflection questions you can use during this time. Some people find it helpful to journal their answers so that they can come back to them later. But it might be better for you to get outside and reflect while you go for a walk. Whatever works best for you. And don’t feel pressure to go through all of them. These are just suggestions to get you started.
Praying for others is an incredible privilege. Think about it. In God’s mysterious design, your prayers can literally affect another person’s circumstances and even their hearts! We know that God is the One who does the work. After all, we’re praying to Him. But He has chosen to work through our prayers. So let’s pray bold prayers as we intercede for the people God brings to mind.
But let’s also pray prayers of thanksgiving for the goodness of God we already observe in the lives of others. The apostle Paul was constantly overjoyed as he thought about and thanked God for evidences of grace in the lives of the people around him. So let’s pray both kinds of prayer as God brings people to mind: intercession and thanksgiving.
Find a quiet place to be alone with God (Mat. 6:6). All you need with you is a Bible and a way to record your thoughts. As you begin, pause to praise God and express your desire to know Him more (Jer. 9:23-34). Then open your Bible and ask Him to teach, correct, and train you in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Be sure to guard against this time becoming mechanical or monotonous. Focus on the intimacy that is found in being with God (Ps. 63:1-8).
Each day’s Bible reading normally comprises two chapters of Scripture. You might read one chapter at a time and walk through the steps below, or you might read both chapters at once and then walk through the steps below (with either one or both of the chapters). Regardless, read each chapter slowly, prayerfully, humbly, joyfully, and carefully. As you read, consider any verses that you might want to memorize, and begin memorizing them. Go back and review any verses you have memorized throughout the day or from previous days.
To meditate simply means to reflect. After you read the Word, spend some time reflecting on what it says and means. Ask the following questions and write down some of your thoughts in response. You don’t necessarily have to answer every question. These are simply a guide to help you reflect on what you have read.
After meditating and memorizing the Word, apply it to your life. Think about this in three different ways: “Head, Heart & Hands.” In other words, how does this passage transform my thoughts (head), my desires (heart) and my actions (hands)? You could ask the following questions based upon the text(s) and write down your thoughts in response. Then come up with a plan to follow through with those applications. Again, you don’t have to answer every question.
Pray according to your examination and application of the text(s), asking God to change your heart, mind, and life based on the time you’ve spent in His Word. Let this specific praying lead you more generally to…
Conclude your time alone with God by committing to share what He has taught you with at least one other person (your roommate, spouse, child, co-worker, friend, small group members, etc.). Specifically pray through your schedule for the day (or the following day if you are spending this time at night), asking the Lord to direct you by His Spirit in everything you think, say, and do. Finally, ask the Lord for opportunities to share the gospel with others, ask Him for courage from His Spirit to obey, and then be ready to share in the opportunities He provides.