As we grow in our faith, we grow in our definition of Christian prayer. And this post will help us do just that.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs us to “pray without ceasing.” Sounds a little unrealistic at first. But as we broaden our definition of prayer, we begin to understand just how realistic this command really is.
In the Bible, Jesus models traditional Christian prayer for us:
This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” - Matthew 6:9-13
This is the primary biblical model for Christian prayer, but the Bible actually gives us multiple models worth exploring.
Mother Teresa says this:
“Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.”
So friends, let’s enlarge our hearts with these 5 alternative prayer practices:
1. The Listening Prayer
We already know that we can pour out our requests before God. But most conversations are two-sided. If a conversation isn’t two-sided, it’s probably not a very good one. Our conversations with God are no exception.
Jesus depicts this relationship in John 10:27-30:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
If we are His sheep, we will listen to His voice. And listening doesn’t just mean reading the Bible. It means sitting in silence and opening our hearts to whatever God might have to say to us.
Listening is harder than speaking. There’s a reason why there are so many commands throughout the Bible warning us to listen more than we speak:
● My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. - James 1:19
● Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. - Proverbs 18:2
● “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear. Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.” - Mark 4:23-24
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah gives us an example of diligent listening. Verse 8 says this:
So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
Sometimes escaping into solitude and getting alone with God is not easy. It took a great deal of effort on Elijah’s part. But we’re called to do it anyway. And we do need to be in silence. Here’s why:
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? - 1 Kings 19:11-13
Sometimes God speaks in a “still small voice.” He requires that we silence the rest of the world so that we may hear Him.
So if you’re ready to start hearing His voice, here are a few things to listen for:
● Listen for other people. Sometimes God may want to use you to speak affirmation over them or to give them something they need. (And if He tells you to give them a subscription box, we’ve got you covered.)
● Listen for your next steps. Ask God to show you what He would have you do in this season. Ask Him if He’d like you to remove anything from or add anything to your life.
● Listen for Scripture. Ask Him to bring certain verses to mind that He wants you to focus on in your current season.
● Listen for your identity. What does God want you to know about who you are? If you receive it, make sure it lines up with your spiritual identity established in Ephesians 1 as a loved, blessed, chosen child of God.
2. Prayer Through Poetry
Now before you dismiss this one as a little too woo-woo for you, hear me out. 5 books of the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) are written as poetry. Furthermore, dashes of poetry are sprinkled throughout some of the other non-poetic books of the Bible as well.
In Psalms, David produces poetry both of praise and of anguish and pleading. Some live under the misconception that Christian prayer cannot be authentically emotional, because we have to worry about saying what God wants to hear. But we forget the intensity and passion that David models for us in the Psalms. The poetic form was David’s way of communicating with God. Why not make it ours?
But what is poetry exactly? Here’s how a few secular poets attempt to define it:
● Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” — William Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads."
● “I would define ... the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty.” — Edgar Allan Poe, from "The Poetic Principle."
● “Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” — Paul Engle, from an article in The New York Times.
Poetry is not easy to define in simple terms. But one thing that poetry relies heavily on is the power of association. Perhaps the most common expressions of association are simile and metaphor. Take a look at these poetic verses from Song of Solomon 1:13-14:
My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of Engedi.
These verses associate the “beloved” with both a container of incense and a cluster of flowers. Of course prose can always lean on such metaphors as well, but poetry is more impressionistic. It has no obligation to explain itself. It seizes the associative imagination and runs wild with it, in an attempt to conjure raw emotion.
David writes this in Psalm 139:15-18:
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
So now that you have some poetic inspiration under your belt, here are a few prompts for poetic prayer for you to use when they feel true of your emotions:
● Write a poem of praise. Describe various attributes of God’s glory.
● Write a poem praising His creation. (This one may be best written in nature or having just returned from experiencing nature.)
● Write a poem articulating your wants and hardships. David was remarkably honest with God when it came to his emotions. This honesty can serve as a model for us.
● Write a poem about the history of your relationship with God- His faithfulness and provision for you. Look to Psalm 139 for inspiration.
3. Gratitude and Praise
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. - Psalm 34:1
Praise is something we are commanded to do, not a feeling we get. We don’t have to wait until we’re feeling thankful in order to give thanks. We’re called to give thanks in all circumstances:
● And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." - Colossians 3:15
● "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” - Colossians 4:2
● Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
● Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Ephesians 5:20
● "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” - Psalm 107:1
● I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High." - Psalm 7:17
Notice how these last two verses highlight the reasons why we should give thanks. And these reasons have nothing to do with our circumstances or fortune. We give thanks to God because “He is good,” and because of “His righteousness.”
So don’t wait to give thanks. We’re called to praise Him now, “always,” “for everything,” and “in all circumstances.”
So let’s get started on praising Him. I’ve tried so many Christian prayer journaling prompts in the past, but I have to say that gratitude journaling has been the easiest to sustain. It only takes a minute to think of a few things you’re thankful for and jot them down, but it makes the world of a difference in your mindset long-term.
So give gratitude journaling a try each morning. But here’s another way to give thanks: by telling someone else about something you’re thankful for. This is a way of praising God in public, whether you mention Him or not. Your thankful attitude glorifies Him. Sometimes it’s easy to have a good attitude in our alone time with God, but then quickly lose that attitude when we go out into the real world and deal with real people. So this little task of resorting to tell someone about one thing you’re thankful for brings your gratitude into the realm of the real-world.
4. Prayer Through Mindfulness
This one you can practice while you’re out and about, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. It makes the command to “pray without ceasing” possible. Mindfulness in the secular world is simply the act of becoming present to yourself or your surroundings.
But to make it prayerful, we can become acutely aware of God’s presence in ourselves or our surroundings, wherever we are. And in that moment of awareness, we send up a silent prayer of awe and wonder at who He is and how He manifests Himself in our world.
The mindfulness prayer is versatile, but here are just a few examples of instances in which you might practice mindfulness:
● Practice mindfulness when you’re eating. Psalm 34:8 says to “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” We are called to experience God with our senses including taste. Each sense allows us to perceive His goodness in a unique way. So when you’re eating, becoming acutely aware of the taste and send up that silent mindfulness prayer.
● Practice mindfulness when you’re exercising. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” Your body is His temple, so being present to your own body during exercise can be an excellent way to gain awareness of the Holy Spirit Himself.
● Practice mindfulness in the midst of heartbreak, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Psalm 34:18 promises that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” In the midst of heartbreak, you can be sure that He is there. So whether you’re comforting someone else or trying to find comfort for yourself, be mindful of the fact that He is near, and tune into His presence.
5. Prayer Through Song
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. - Psalm 33:1-3
Don’t worry. You don’t have to be musically inclined like David in order to make this one a reality.
Music is more available to us now than ever before. So don’t make worship wait for Sundays. Next time you’re in the car, rather than putting on some background music and zoning out, put on your worship music and think through the lyrics. Dedicate them to Him.
Do it when it’s convenient. But learn to do it when it’s inconvenient too. Do it at the most unlikely times. Paul and Silas model this for us in Acts 16:22-26:
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
Paul and Silas sang hymns to God in the most dire of situations, and we’re called to do the same. There is power in singing praise as a direct response to trial and pain.
In closing, we’ll end with this quote from C.S. Lewis explaining prayer well:
“I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.”
Thanks for reading! Are you going to implement any of these practices into your Christian prayer life? Let us know in the comments!
Erica is a professional writer and editor, helping ministry leaders and entrepreneurs share their stories.
She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.