I don’t know where I heard this, but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given when it came to prayer is this: set a timer for five minutes and try to pray the entire time.
It shouldn’t really be that hard; after all, we sit in drive-thru lanes at fast food places for longer than that. But it feels hard sometimes, because we’re forced to search deep inside of our hearts and express things that we otherwise wouldn’t.
Trust me, it’d be much easier to just say what you want to say and move on with your life, but that produces shallow prayers that don’t really reach down to the core of your being.
So if you haven’t tried the five-minute prayer yet, try it. You’ll be surprised at what comes out of your mouth.
But five minutes can be a long time, and sometimes we find ourselves at a loss for words as to what to actually pray for. It’s not that you’re not thankful (you are), or that you don’t need anything (you do), or that you don’t have anything to say (always), but it’s because either you feel like you’ve said it all before, or you don’t know how to express whats on your heart.
If that describes you, here are a few things you can start with.
1. Reflect on His Majesty
You can’t go wrong with this one. When you’re struggling to think of what to pray for, just take a moment and dwell on the attributes of Jehovah: how grand He is, how powerful He is, how loving He is, and how merciful He is.
It’s a tactic employed often by the psalmists. In Psalm 145, David does nothing for 21 straight verses except praise God for who He is. If you read the psalm, what you’ll notice in addition to that is how David moves the focus from who God is to what He’s done for us.
And that’s the real power of God: that although He can do anything He wants, He chooses to love and show mercy towards mankind.
Reflect on that.
2. Ask for Wisdom
At the start of his life, Solomon was on a roll. He accumulated wealth, began several construction projects (including the Temple), and successfully decided the correct mother between two warring women.
But his noblest act? Asking for wisdom.
Ironically, Solomon shows incredible wisdom in asking for wisdom when God offered him his choice of anything he could want (1 Kings 3:5-9). Solomon knew that the key in managing an empire was in his ability to make the right choice for the long-term success of his nation.
And so can you. You may not be in charge of an entire kingdom, but you’re most likely in charge of a family, other people at work, or in some other position of leadership, big or small. If not, you’re at least in charge of your life, and you’ll need wisdom to help make the right decisions there too.
Ask for Wisdom.
3. Pray for Unity
This is one of those things that is easy in theory, but difficult in practice.
Right before Jesus’ crucifixion, as He’s either in the Garden or still in the Upper Room with His Apostles, He “lifts up His eyes to Heaven” (John 17:1) and prays for a few specific things, but the foremost on His mind towards the end of the prayer is very simple:
Of all the things He could have prayed for – courage, love, an easy life, etc – Jesus prayed that His disciples the world over would dwell together in unity.
Of course, unity for unity’s sake is not real unity; real unity comes when we center our faith and our life around God’s Word (John 17:17). Only then can we find the rallying point that our souls depend on.
Pray that we will rally around God’s Word and not man-made doctrine.
4. Find Humility
Whether we realize it or not, all of us could use a dose of humility every once in a while.
I don’t mean getting the kind of humility that comes after getting destroyed by a nine-year-old in Wii Bowling, I’m talking about real humility – the kind that forces you to look deep inside of yourself and evaluate your shortcomings with an eye to fix them.
The old adage rings true: that which gets measured gets managed, and unless we’re truly measuring ourselves, there’s no way to fix those things that are wrong (2 Cor. 13:5).
Remember, the greatest king to ever sit on the throne of Israel went for nearly an entire year before acknowledging that he made a mistake with Bathsheba and Uriah, so if you think you’re an excellent judge of your own character, take a moment and do a full inventory of your life.
You might be right in your assessment of yourself, but the only way you’ll know is if you look at yourself honestly.
Pray that God would humble you so that you might be saved (1 Peter 5:5-6)
5. Forgive Others
I’m not a big fan of the phrase “forgive and forget,” because it’s almost impossible in our world to literally “forget” what people have done against us, but you understand the idea at least.
“Forgive and forget” is when we choose to move past what others have done in order to salvage a relationship that will hopefully grow past this. It’s a key factor in our own forgiveness, as Jesus laid out in the model prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12).
Ergo, unless we forgive others, we can’t expect God to forgive us.
Unfortunately, some of us refuse to forgive because it gives us some sick sense of validation. If we can hold a grudge against others, that means someone owes us something. It gives us a sense of importance due to the obligation we dangle over other people’s heads.
That’s why, at least in part, it’s so hard to forgive other people. To forgive means to forget ourselves and work for the betterment of others – a hard pill to swallow for someone who has wronged us so dearly.
That’s why we need God’s help.
Ask for strength to forgive other people.
6. Opportunities to Serve
One thing I have found true in my own prayers is that if you ask God to open doors (1 Cor. 16:9), He will do it, and usually in the most unforeseen ways possible.
Chances are, there are people in your church or community right now that could desperately use your help, but like the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-36), we pass right on by without paying a second thought. We’re either too wrapped up in our own world or we don’t recognize opportunity when we see it.
Ask God for opportunities to serve, and you’ll most likely find more than you know what to do with.