I asked a number of people what they pray for, and here are the answers I got:
- 94% ask for guidance and direction.
- I agree; prayer should be your first stop when you are confused or at a loss for what you should do.
- 92% confess sins and ask for forgiveness.
- I am heartened by the high percentage; this is excellent.
- 90% discuss your personal problems and anxieties with God.
- If you can’t talk these things over with God, who can you talk them over with? Of course you should talk to a trusted advisor if necessary, but prayer is an essential.
- 81% ask for specific things that they need.
- It is a good thing to ask for specific things in prayer, because over the years you can learn the will of God by His answers. I say it takes years, because often the reason why God says no to a request doesn’t become clear for a long time. God is a long-term kind of guy.
- 81% ask for specific things that other people need.
- This is virtuous and unselfish and it also helps your walk with God, because over the years you learn His will by His answers. However, if you are failing to pray for your own specific needs, you need to figure out why. You do have specific needs. Do you think it is bad etiquette to expose them to God? Jesus commanded you to pray for the things you need. Are you afraid that your requests might not be granted and you are protecting yourself from disappointment? Then you need to step out on faith and pray.
- 79% plead with God when other people are in distress.
- This is a good, virtuous, unselfish, and commendable thing to do.
- 77% plead with God when they are in distress.
- I do too, this is the first place to go in time of trouble. If you do not go to God when you are in distress, then see my comments under ‘asking for specific things that other people need.’
- 69% seek peace and oneness with God.
- This is a good thing, but Jesus commanded you to pray for specific things as well.
- 48% pray for general things, such as peace in the world and a cure for cancer.
- You should pray for these things, but make sure you aren’t praying for generalities with no specifics.
- 25% pray about loved ones who have died.
- This is an excellent way of working through grief issues. How often people say, “I never told him that I loved him,” or “I never got him to forgive me for thus and such.” What better way to deal with these unresolved issues than through God? If you are bereaved, and you aren’t praying for the deceased, you might think about starting.
- 17% do not pray in words, you just sit and clear their mind.
- I don’t recommend emptying your mind because you create a vacuum into which anything can come. Instead, fill your mind with contemplations of God. Again, Jesus commanded you to pray in words and for specific things. Contemplation is okay, but not to the exclusion of prayer.
- 12% do not ask for specific things.
- Again, you should reconsider this technique. Jesus commanded you to pray for specific needs. Ask yourself why you don’t. Is it because you think it is bad prayer etiquette? It is not. Is it because you think you might reveal that prayer had no power? Then you need more faith, and the way to get it is to ask for specific things in prayer.
- 2% ask God to take revenge on people who have hurt them or who have done evil to others.
- A lot of people think this is wrong, but I disagree after reading the Psalms. Surely you can take all your raw emotions to Him! By asking God to take revenge, you are being honest about your feelings. You are also confessing that you should not take revenge and you are deferring the matter to Him. I encourage you to pray this way when you feel the need. God has a marvelous way of answering prayers like this!
What do you do when you pray?
Here are the results, and my crackpot comments as usual.
- 96% of them have a conversation with God.
- This is an excellent technique that I commend to everyone. However, there are times when words fail you, so you should also have other techniques in your repertoire, such as praying psalms, memorized prayers, or preprinted prayers.
- 82% of them pray in Jesus’ name.
- I also do this. Jesus told us to pray in His name, so I always wonder how Christians can pray any other way.
- 71% of them pray silently, not moving your lips.
- It is necessary to do this if you are praying in a public place where you can be overheard. Otherwise, praying silently makes you extremely susceptible to distraction. When I try to pray silently, I usually find that my mind wanders, then after a while, when I remember I was supposed to have been praying, I say Amen in embarrassment. For this reason, I try to avoid silent prayer as much as I can. Silent prayer is not the beginner’s slope, because it requires phenomenal powers of concentration. I notice that when we have silent prayer in church, everyone is finished at exactly the same time! No one finishes early, and no one struggles to finish with the rest! So either this is a great miracle or silent prayer isn’t a very good technique.
- 59% of them pray out loud.
- I agree; I think we should pray out loud wherever it is practical. It is amazing how many distractions come up the moment you start to pray. All of a sudden I can think of a million things I should be thinking about or doing! I wonder sometimes where those distractions come from. The sound of my own voice helps me to concentrate and keeps me from being distracted.
- 57% of them pray the Lord’s Prayer.
- This is a good practice, especially since Jesus commanded it. It is also helpful to use the Lord’s Prayer as an outline for what you pray. Make sure that you conduct your life in such a manner that when you pray for God to forgive you the same way you forgive others, you are not pronouncing a curse upon yourself!
- 41% of them read a psalm aloud.
- I have found that this is an excellent way to pray, especially when I am angry, upset, or in a crisis. The Psalms legitimize my feelings and articulate my pain and allow me to say things I wouldn’t otherwise think were proper to include in a prayer. I also find this to be a very effective prayer technique.
- 41% or them pray a series of prayers in one session.
- I used to think that when I set out to pray, I had to do it all in one stretch. It was very hard to keep everything in one coherent prayer. Then I discovered I could pray a series of prayers, each on a different topic. That was a lot easier, and it helped me to concentrate on what I was praying rather than on the form of my prayer. Now I can pray longer and about more things.
- 29% of them follow a structure given in a prayer book, such as a missal or the Book of Common Prayer.
- I used to think this was bad practice, but there was a time in my life when so many things were going wrong that when I opened my mouth to pray, all the concerns rushed together in one big traffic jam and nothing came out. I started, “Dear God…” and there the words died. So I used the Book of Common Prayer and it cleared out the logjam very effectively. While I don’t think you should limit yourself to what is printed, a prayer book is a great way to build a discipline of regular prayer and a structure for prayer. Prayer books keep you praying when your adversary would rather you didn’t pray at all.
- 27% of them add a Trinitarian doxology, such “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” or an equivalent.
- I always do this, and I heartily recommend it.
- 22% of them combine everything into one, giant prayer.
- Many people pray this way, one humongous prayer. I used to think that was the only way to do it. It never occurred to me that there was a different way. Monster prayers require great oratory skill that I don’t always possess when I am in need of prayer. I find it a lot easier and and a lot more effective to pray a series of smaller prayers.
- 12% of them don’t use words when they pray.
- There are times when you have no words, and there are times you should just listen, but I don’t recommend this as a primary or sole technique of prayer. If this is your only technique for praying, I recommend that you try talking to God, because I think you are missing out on a lot.
- 12% of them use a rosary.
- The rosary is a tool in a Roman Catholic prayer discipline. It is a string of large and small beads, which you use to keep track of your prayers. You pray one prayer for each bead from one end of the string to the other. On the large beads, you pray the Lord’s Prayer, and on the small beads, you say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.” (You can pray the rosary without having a physical rosary, but it does help you keep on track.) There have been adaptations of the rosary for Protestants. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head all day? It seemed to set the theme for everything you did, didn’t it? It was probably also annoying. Well, imagine if you had a prayer stuck in your head all day long. That is the idea behind the rosary—if you get the prayers stuck in your head so they are always going on in the background of your thoughts, then you will have obeyed the biblical injunction to pray without ceasing.
- 4% of them use a prayer rope.
- The prayer rope is a tool in an Orthodox prayer discipline. The prayer rope is simply a rope with a series of knots in it. You pray one prayer for each knot from one end of the rope to the other. The prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is the Jesus Prayer, adapted from Luke 18:13. You don’t actually need the rope, it just helps you keep track. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head all day? It seemed to set the theme for everything you did, didn’t it? It was probably also annoying. Well, imagine if you had a prayer stuck in your head all day long. That is the idea behind the prayer rope. If you get the prayers stuck in your head so they are always going on in the background of your thoughts, then you will have obeyed the biblical injunction to pray without ceasing. Sometimes I do this discipline when I take a walk. Instead of saying “left-right, left-right” or “hup two three four,” I pray in rhythm to my walking, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Eventually it settles into the back of my mind, where it continues as I pray other prayers.
Where do you pray?
- In church during the service.
- Whenever and wherever the Spirit leads me.
- In bed before falling asleep.
- At home, in a customary or special place.
- At my place of employment, during a break.
I think it is a good idea to set aside a special place for prayer in your house. That way, just going into that special place, even if it is just a chair, will put you in the mood for prayer. It’s also a good idea to set aside a specific time of day. By all means, you should pray when the Spirit leads you. That sounds very spiritual, but that should not be the only time. It seems to me that prayer is all the more urgent when the Spirit doesn’t seem to be leading me!
It is good to pray in church, but sometimes you need more privacy to talk things through. It is good to pray before sleeping, but it’s a good idea to pray at different times, when there is no danger of falling asleep before you’re finished.
In general, how often do you pray?
- 55% of them said:
- More than twice a day.
- 24.5% of them said:
- Several times a week.
- 9% of them said:
- Once a day.
- 7.5% of them said:
- Twice a day.
- 4% of them said:
- Once a week or less.
You eat regularly, you shower regularly, and I hope you brush your teeth regularly; why not pray regularly? Your soul will last longer than your stomach, your body, or your teeth, so you should care for it just as lovingly. What would be the state of your teeth (let alone your social life) if you brushed them once a week or less?
Aside from table grace and prayers before sleeping, I think it is a good idea to have at least one formal session of prayer each day. I won’t give my reasons. Just try it for a year and see if you don’t agree.
As a result of the questions about prayer:
- 82% of them planned to pray more often.
- 64% of them planned to pray about more specific things.
- 64% of them planned to study the Bible about prayer.
- 55% of them planned to pray at regular times.
- 45% of them planned to read more about prayer.
- 45% of them planned to pray for those whose deaths you are mourning.
- 36% of them planned to set aside a special place of prayer in your house
- 9% of you planned to tell God what you are angry about and ask Him to take revenge.
- 5% of you planned to pray about less specific things.
- No one said they planned to pray less often.