How to Avoid Lazy Praying
How do we avoid laziness when it comes to our public and private prayer life? Adrian Reynolds reflects on the issues and offers five practical guidelines.
I’m always fighting the temptation to be a lazy pray-er.
This is not about failing to pray. Rather it’s about failing to pray meaningfully. Lord, please bless n, n+1, n+2 is just too easy as I work my way through my prayer list. Those kinds of prayers can be prayed in a heartfelt way, of course, but they don’t reflect any active engagement either with the person I’m committing to the Lord, nor the Scriptural patterns for prayer that the Spirit establishes for us.
And it’s not just personal prayer. I’ve long thought that our services lack prayer – but here’s a slightly different issue: that when we do pray publicly our prayers lack depth, intensity and connection.
Frankly, it’s all a bit lazy.
It’s not just a problem I feel myself – though I do so keenly. It’s easily observed in our family of churches. Each week we pray for churches as a staff team and in order to help us do that we ask for prayer requests. We get three kinds of responses. First, we are sometimes greeted with radio silence. That’s often our fault: because we’ve got the wrong contact details or because it’s the wrong time to ask (perhaps someone is on holiday). But not always. Which tells you something.
Sometimes we get very bland and generic responses. They seem to be well intentioned. But we end up praying exactly the same things for churches who make no response at all: Lord, save people; Lord, build Christians; Lord, raise up leaders, and so on. It would be wrong to assign motives but generic responses may sometimes reflect lazy thinking.
Then we get the best kind. Targeted focused prayer which reflects a praying heartbeat in the church. ‘Please pray for a Muslim mum A who’s been coming along to our Toddler group. Pray that our leaders would have gospel conversations with her.’ We love praying all kinds of prayers for FIEC churches, but we love these most of all.
Let me illustrate what laziness looks like. Let’s say my prayers for myself (which should be the most applied of all) are of this lazy kind: ‘please bless me today as I do A’ and ‘please help me today, Lord’. When someone asks me in a small group or triplet, ‘What can I pray for you, Adrian?’ they’ll soon see through me. I’ll have nothing to say. But if I am praying specifically for myself – using Scripture as a guide – then my prayer requests will have more specificity.
So, what would you say if I asked you the same question? Or more pertinently, what would you say if I asked what I could pray for your church? Telling question, ain’t it?
How do we fight this laziness in our personal and corporate prayer life? Here are five ideas:
- Make more use of Scripture. I once preached a self-explanatory series called ‘Paul’s Big Prayers.’ I’m not sure how much it helped others, but it made a difference to me. Now I try to use my Scripture reading for the day to inform my prayers. It really helps.
- Make a note of requests and answered prayers. I’m delighted that the guys at PrayerMate (full disclosure: I chair the charity that runs this app) are now working on incorporating this feature. It will be a great help to me.
- Plan out your public praying. We do this for our sermons, but it seems crazy that we don’t do it for our public intercession, especially if it’s an area of weakness.
- Write out some prayers. I don’t go overboard on this as I’m not a fully signed up member of the Liturgy Commission. But I find it useful in shaping prayers around Scripture and making them connect with the people I love.
- For generic topics (Lord, save more people), get specific. Say names. Pray for specific opportunities. Pray for targeted conversations. This is not always appropriate to do in main church meetings, but entirely right for church prayer meetings (you have one, right?).
And, of course, next time you get an FIEC email asking you for prayer points…