Many people start a new year resolving to pray more. A commitment to prayer is an excellent resolution, but it is hard to keep without a structured approach. So, where do you start? If we want to be people who are faithful and reliable in prayer, we need a list that will help us stay focused and stay fresh. Here’s how to create and maintain a prayer list. It is important to keep a prayer list. But for a prayer list to be practical and manageable, it needs to fit your spiritual life. It is one thing to create a list of things to pray for; it is quite another to know how to use that list and how to prevent it from overwhelming you. Therefore, before you create a prayer list, it is often helpful to make a commitment to pray, and to be specific about the time you’ll devote to it. If you don’t pray at all it is tempting to commit to praying for 1 minute each day. However, praying for 1 minute doesn’t give you much time to pray with any meaning, and praying without meaning will undermine your efforts to pray. So I encourage you to pray for no less than 5 minutes, but to set an initial goal of praying for 3-4 days each week. Over time, as you achieve this goal, challenge yourself to increase both the number of days per week and then the amount of time per day.
Before you create a prayer list, it is often helpful to make a commitment to pray.
Use categoriesHaving committed yourself to prayer, you’re in a position to begin to create a prayer list. At this point it is tempting to start listing off everyone you know that you think you should pray for. But creating a list this way can draw your focus away from where it needs to be and make your list irrelevant. A better way is to build a focused prayer list using categories to organize your prayer list. The following categories are based on what I use in my prayer list:
- Personal godliness
- My Family
- My Leaders
- People I minister to
- Infrequent acquaintances
- Other Ministries
- My ministry
ThanksgivingWhat are you thankful for? It’s easy to add things such as family and friends, or even the stuff we have. I also try to capture ways that the Lord has provided for me over time. For example I give thanks for the churches that I’ve belonged to that have valued the word of God. The Lord lead me to those churches and the influence of His word still weighs upon me heavily. I also thank the Lord for the way he has provided for our family, particularly over the last few years. I also give thanks for the leaders who are over me. They love the Lord and this is demonstrated in their desire to be faithful to scripture, so I give thanks because there are many churches and leaders who don’t have or demonstrate this concern. All these things help me realize that the circumstances I’m in are by the Lord’s purpose and plan and His plans are good. I also include the more obvious things like my family, my studies, and salvation.
Personal GodlinessI have several areas I know I need to grow in. Some of these are very practical, and some are strongly character based. Since I have a lot to do, I pray for my focus, energy levels, diligence, and discipline. However, more importantly, I also pray for some character traits that I need to work on such as humility, patience, gentleness and my sensitivity to the word of God. As I pray through these, I try to recognize my need and ask the Lord to help me to identify ways to change so that I can walk with His Spirit and bring glory to Him.
My FamilyI pray for each member of my direct family (wife and children) every day. I have several things I pray for them, but repentance, their personal love for the Lord and personal holiness is at the top of the list. Over the time I’ve been praying for them, I’ve become convinced that a critical part of praying for my family is praying for my role as husband and father. I’m convinced more each day that my example is one of the biggest influences in their life, so while they need the Lord to work in them, I can’t change others, I can only change myself and be a better example to them of what it means to love them biblically.
I can’t change others, I can only change myself and be a better example to them of what it means to love them biblically.In this list, I also have family members who I don’t have contact with every day, but for whom I have some responsibilities (primarily as a son, brother, uncle, in-law, etc). I pray for each of these weekly, but generally not daily.
My LeadersIt is easy to find things to criticize in leaders. They are, like us, human, sinners and finite. Because they are like us, we need to pray for our leaders so that they will be better than us. They need the Lord’s wisdom and protection. They need to grow in the knowledge of the word of God and godly character, and they have responsibilities, marriages, and families. We should pray for all these things. We should also include governors and national leaders in our list. Another important aspect of praying for leaders is praying about how we respect, talk about and respond to them. We are to obey and submit to our leaders as they “keep watch over your soul.” The way we talk about and respond to them affects them, so we should “let them do this with joy and not with grief” (Heb 13:17). So in praying for leaders, I often examine my heart and ask the Lord to help me be a joy to my leaders.
People I minister to, Friends and Infrequent acquaintancesWith these two groups I pray for specific needs. These are almost entirely character or circumstantial needs, though marriages feature heavily here too. I also pray for my role in their lives. The key difference between these three groups is the number of people in each list and how frequently I go through the list entirely.
Other MinistriesMy primary focus in this category is pastors within my country. I pray primarily for their ministry and marriages, but I also pray that they will be faithful to scripture and their love of the word of God and their submission to it will increase. I don’t talk to the people in this group as often as I would like, but I note what they are going through and add that to my list, whenever I hear from or about them. You might have missionaries on this list or perhaps ministries that have been influential in your life. I tend to pray for individuals who have been influential in my life in the infrequent acquaintances list. Having a focus on the ministry of others helps me remember that I’m a small part of a much bigger work, though I can help others as they also labor alongside the Lord.
My MinistryYou may have noticed that the progression of these categories is from the inside out, or from me to those somewhat removed. I start with the Lord’s faithfulness to me and my character; then I work my way out from my family to ministries further afield. However, in the end, I come back to my ministry. Having this last helps me to recall that my activity and work is subject to the Lord’s blessing. It also turns my attention to the day’s activities and what I need to do. I can then pray for different things I might have on that day.
How to manage your prayer life with a categorized list.A categorized prayer list helps keep our prayer time focused. Your set of categories may be different, because you’ll have a different focus. Each category has a specific set of things to pray for. Most lists have just a small number of items in it but some (friends and infrequent acquaintances particularly) have dozens of people listed. So how to manage all these people and needs?
A categorized prayer list helps keep our prayer time focused.Certainly if we were to pray for each person every day, we would spend several hours each day in prayer. However, it would be easy to lose the integrity of our prayer life as we pray the same things quickly for each person. When this happens we’re not really praying any more; our prayer becomes rote or almost a chant.
Some Categories I useTo avoid this, I pray for a certain number of items in each category every day, and I try to pray well for whatever comes up. Here’s how many of each item I pray for – this is a matter of preference, so your needs will be different.
- Thanksgiving – 1 item each day
- Personal Godliness – 1-2 items
- My Family – My wife and children daily, and two others rotated in with varying frequency. Some people I pray for more regularly than others.
- My Leaders – 2 people
- People I minister to – depends on my ministry load
- Friends – 3 people or couples
- Infrequent acquaintances – 2 people or couples
- Other ministries – 2 people
- My ministry – 1 list item plus items from my day that are on my mind.