If I could give believers one piece of advice on where to focus their energy in terms of their spiritual growth, it would be to invest quality time in studying the Word and to cultivate a deeper prayer life. Nothing else will translate to greater confidence, breakthrough, and movement of the Lord in and through you than will a deeply rooted habit of consuming scripture and faithfulness in consistent prayer.
For many, the first of these two—spending time in the Word—seems to come more naturally. It is less confusing. Yes, it does take time to come to the point of craving the Word as opposed to merely going through the routine of Bible reading, but for most of us, the actual habit itself is less difficult. Once something is a habit, it is simply a matter of time before you will move on to a deeper practice with each season of life that passes.
On the other hand, the habit of prayer can be more difficult to develop. This has been true for myself, and many other committed believers I know have told me the same thing. To be clear, I do not claim to have the mastered the prayer life that I ultimately hope to have one day. What I can tell you is that the amount of time I have put into growth in this part of my faith walk in the last 6 months has given me a deeper understanding of the power of the Lord available. It has also yielded a greater sense of intimacy with the Lord and I have noticed my confidence in praying with and for others grow. What I want you to understand is that it didn't happen by accident. It took intentional work and sacrifice, which the Lord honored and responded to. He continues to do so in the times I am faithful to the discipline of prayer.
We all know people who are mighty "Prayer Warriors." When you hear them pray, you are amazed at their faith, their confidence, and their boldness of belief. We assume that it comes naturally for them, and while they may have a natural inclination to spend time in prayer and possess the qualities of a strong person of faith, even those who do not have the gift of intercession are called to be dedicated in prayer. I also want you to understand that you can develop new levels of strength in your prayer disciple which will translate to breakthrough in your entire spiritual walk.
Just a few of the benefits of prayer in the believer's life:
Prayer helps us draw closer to God. Prayer changes our perspective. Prayer demonstrates our reliance on God. Prayer grows us together with other believers. Prayer touches the heart of God. Prayer helps us to overcome the desires of the flesh. Prayer strengthens our faith. Prayer can impart healing. Prayer can fight off the Enemy's attack.
Praying Out Loud:
The first benefit to praying out loud is that words have power, both mentally and spiritually. Speaking words of life over ourselves is more effective than merely thinking them. The more times you hear something, the more it takes root. This is especially important to understand as believers, because every time we speak words, we not only proclaim them, but we affirm them to our spirit. I don't know about you, but often times when I start praying about something, I don't do so from a place of great faith. But, I have noticed that when I pray out loud, what starts as a meek prayer becomes a powerful and bold prayer by the end! As I hear myself pray, I start to believe the things I hear. This gives me boldness and confidence as I continue to press deeper in my prayer to the Lord. If we are speaking and praying with even the smallest amount of faith, it will multiply and grow. The Bible says in Matthew 17:20 that even faith as small as a mustard seed, when backed with the power of spoken words, has the ability to move mountains!
Praying out loud also helps you to focus on one train of thought at a time. If you are anything like me, when you pray in your head, you might find that it is easy to get distracted. When you pray out loud, it is so much easier to focus. You don't have multiple thoughts competing for your attention at one time.
Pray Scripture-Based Prayers:
It can be difficult to know what to pray sometimes. When we use scripture as our guide to pray, we can be sure that we have aligned our requests with the heart of God, because we are literally repeating the truths found in the Word of God. My favorite way to pray the Word is to use the promises of God found in the scripture to claim over myself and others. There are may guides available online or in print that give you scripture that applies to a topic you may need prayer on. You can also use your Bible's concordance to find key words in scripture that apply to your specific need.
So say for example that you want to pray a prayer asking the Lord to help you with peace, but you aren't sure how to actually start the process of obtaining the peace of the Lord. You might look up and find Isaiah 26:3, which says "You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You."
Then, use it as a guide to pray:
"Lord, you say that You will keep us in perfect peace if we fix our mind on You. Help me to keep my heart and mind connected to You throughout the day so I feel the calm and peace of Your presence. Make my character and my thoughts inclined toward Your ways and pleasing in Your sight. You tell me that when I commit myself to You by leaning on and hoping in You, I can expect more of Your peace as my guard. Help me to lean into You for strength and attach my confidence to You. I ask that You help me deepen my commitment to You so that my hope is directed toward this truth. I thank You that Your peace will act as a guard and covering over my mind. I praise You for this promise! Amen!
Prayer with the Word is a powerful weapon in the battle against the enemy. We can see this example in the encounter between Jesus and Satan in Matthew 4:1-11.
Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is sharper than a double edged sword.
Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God the Sword of the Spirit.
When we pray the Word, we are literally wielding a weapon against the enemy!
Pray Very Specific Prayers:
This isn't so much for God's sake (He knows what you need before you need it), but for yours! When you are praying over something, don't be general or vague!
Use this guide:
I pray ___ so that ___.
State what you are asking God for and then state why. When you do this, it helps to clarify the situation you are praying over and to solidify the requests you make to the Lord. When you do this, you become bold about your requests and God honors boldness in our prayers when they align with His heart. When you strengthen your own faith in your prayers and God's ability to respond, the Lord promises to respond with power.
"For this reason I am telling you, whatever things you ask for in prayer [in accordance with God’s will], believe [with confident trust] that you have received them, and they will be given to you." Mark 11:24
Praying over things with very specific purpose also helps us to see things from a more complete perspective. It allows us to go deeper into detail about the declarations and requests we need for the given prayer. It helps us to recognize when God moves on our behalf in the situations we being before him because we have envisioned them with great detail. It can also help us to remove any human limitations or preconceptions we might have unintentionally put on the situation.
Pray With Others:
Make it a habit to devote time to prayer with other believers. If you are married, make sure you are praying daily with your spouse. There is nothing that will strengthen your relationship and help you to align the direction of your life with God's plans as much as the habit of praying together. It does not have to be long or complex. My husband and I started a habit of praying in the evenings when both of us came home from work. Our prayers are usually only a minute or so each, sometimes even less. That might not seem like much, but over the course of our marriage, think how far that will go to impact our marriage and things of the Kingdom. We pray for our own struggles, for direction and guidance on our future plans, and for others in things we know they are dealing with. The important thing is that this process shows the Lord that we are committed to a daily sacrifice of our time and that He is first in our life.
If you have children, it is never too early to start praying with them. When they are infants, cover them in prayers of protection and speak the blessing and promises of God over their lives. When they are old enough to join in, let them! Seeing prayer through the eyes of a child will awaken a new sense of understanding about the way the Lord sees us as His children.
Whether you are married or not, seek out a few friends of the same gender and commit to praying with each other on a regular basis. You can do so in person and over the phone or Skype if necessary. Having a support system of peers who are mutually invested in one another's growth is of tremendous benefit. Find others who you can be open, real, and honest with. There is power and strength of a different kind found in this setting versus your spouse, but both are important. Also, be sure to join the Dashing Dish Member's Community Forum Page on Facebook for more prayer support with Sarah Shaffer!
Circle Prayers and Praying Through:
I read a book called The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson that changed the way I viewed my prayers for "big things." By big things, I mean the things that you know won't be solved in a day... The things that you know will take time and persistence to get a breakthrough on. In the book, Batterson talks about "praying circles" around these things and making sure that you pray "all the way through."
The reference of engaging in "circle prayers" parallels the 7 day march around the city of Jericho (see Joshua 6). If the men had stopped on day 6 of the 7 day march around the city (or even on lap 6 of the 7 laps which they were commanded to walk on day 7) they would have stopped just short of their breakthrough!! It can be difficult to give up when we feel like we are just bringing the same prayer about the same thing to God again. The truth is that we never know what the Lord is doing in the spiritual when we pray. Every time we pray, it is like making another "lap" around the situation. We are drawing invisible boundaries around the things that matter to us deeply, designating them as being under the influence of God's spiritual power and authority. We are "encircling" them and marking them as under the authority of God, and demonstrating our faith that persistence in prayer will make a difference.
The idea of "praying through" parallels the story in Daniel 10 where Daniel has been praying over the same situation for 3 full weeks without getting any breakthrough. Even when he does not hear an answer from heaven regarding his prayer, Daniel keeps "praying through." Finally, on the 21st day of prayer, an angel appears to Daniel and tells him that the Lord heard His prayer on the very first day that Daniel began praying and immediately sent the angel to go to Daniel. An intense spiritual battle ensued between the angel and the enemy which delayed the angel's ability to get to Daniel. Again, we never know what is going on in the spiritual realm on our behalf. "Praying through" allows us to stay the course while the Lord goes to work in the situation.
"So I say to you, ask and keep on asking, and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking, and you will find; knock and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you." Luke 11:9
Five Minute Timer:
First thing upon waking, set a timer for five minutes. Do this right away, before you do anything else. Then, start your day with a quick prayer to the Lord. To me this time is sacrificial, because it's directly against my flesh to do something like pray right away—I'm in a rush to start drinking my coffee! This habit tells God that He is more important than anything else and is a necessary and vital part to the success of my day.
I set the countdown timer on my phone for five minutes when I turn off my alarm. With that brief 5 minutes, I thank Him for the day ahead. I ask Him to give me the heart and attitude of Christ. I ask Him to keep my thoughts directed toward the things which matter in light of eternity. I ask Him to help me overcome my flesh and its desires. I ask for the opportunity to serve others and reflect the love of Christ. I ask for His eye to see beyond what I would be able to discern in my own wisdom. I ask for His strength and energy to complete the work for the day. I also ask for His hand over any specific event that may be unique to that day.
You certainly can also set reminders to pray throughout the day. This is also helpful to develop the habit of prayer until it becomes something you do more automatically. I still recommend that you start with the 5 minutes (at minimum, you can always go longer!) in the morning as it helps set the tone for your day.
I hope these ideas are helpful as you pursue a deeper level with the Lord in your prayer life. If you decide to implement any of them, let me know in the comments below! I'd also love to get feedback on specific ways the Lord moves in your life as a result! <3