I've been thinking about what makes personal prayers more quality for me.
I don't know about you, but there's a big difference with some of my prayers. In response to a Moms' Retreat prayer challenge, I've been thinking about what factors make my prayers sometimes short and shallow, and other times deeper and more connecting to heaven. Here are 12 ways that help my prayers be better.
1) Being awake rather than waiting until I’m super sleepy.
It's amazing the difference it makes when I pray fully awake! I think I should start saying my personal evening prayer when my kids do, because sometimes I’ve been so sleepy by the time I get to bed that my prayers are short and shallow, rather than longer and deeper.
2) Kneeling rather than laying down.
This may sound like a no-brainer to you, but I teach early morning seminary, and sometimes by the time I'm ready for bed I am deliriously tired and forget to pray until I'm all snuggled up in the covers. Thus my reason for tip number one.
3) Praying aloud.
I have a distractable mind, so when I pray in my mind, it's not that effective. My mind wanders and jumps around. Praying aloud helps me focus much better. Saying my personal prayer with my husband works the best for me. Sometimes I just pray aloud while he falls asleep. He feels a little guilty but I can pray nice and long and not worry that I kept him up. He is kind about it because he knows praying aloud is like a 10 for me, where praying in my mind is like a 4, as far as how connected and empowered I feel from it.
|This is my reminder note on my bathroom mirror.|
4) Starting my prayer by focusing only on gratitude.
Sometimes I tell myself to thank Heavenly Father for ten different things first before asking for anything. Occasionally I’ll choose to have a whole prayer be nothing but gratitude. There’s something powerful about gratitude that really makes me feel more connected to God and lifts my mood. If you want to try a gratitude experiment, the next time you're in a grumpy mood, or your kids are fighting, try stopping what you're doing and playing a gratitude game for a while. Just take turns saying what you're grateful for. See if you feel the dark feeling turn to light and your and mood rise to a higher level.
5) Bearing my testimony in my prayer.
This may sound funny, but someone at church mentioned how they do this while commuting to work. He tells the Lord the things he knows are true about Him. It's a cool concept because bearing your testimony is one of the fastest ways to invite in the Spirit. I have done that in prayer sometimes and it’s a sacred experience. Telling Heavenly Father that I know He is all-powerful and all-knowing and created this earth for us and He loves me more than I can say virtually instantly fills me with the Spirit as the Holy Ghost testifies that those things are true. Try it sometime.
6) Ending my prayer by asking if there’s anything else God wants me to pray for, to repent of, or if there’s anything He wants to tell me.
A dear friend taught me this idea, and when I remember to do it, wow. And it goes without saying to stay there and listen after asking. Prayers are more powerful and empowering if they are a two-way communication. These kinds of questions invite two-way communication.
7) Pray with a journal and pen in hand.
Elder Scott said that when we write down personal revelation from God we are telling Him that we really value those answers and invite Him to give us more. My son who is on a mission has actually taken notes sometimes during conversations with me or my husband, and wow, that makes us feel loved and appreciated! So I can imagine that when we do the same thing with Heavenly Father, He feels loved and appreciated, and wants to give us more answers and guidance.
8) Writing down a prayer.
This may sound funny, but it’s a tool used in twelve step programs, therapy groups and more. I learned it years ago when I was overcoming an eating disorder as a young adult. Writing down a prayer or letter to God can be a cool spiritual experience. For anyone like me whose mind wanders when I pray silently, writing keeps my mind focused and intent on my conversation with God. It’s a great tool that I’d like to start using more again. It takes time, but the rewards are worth it.
9) Keep a list handy of things and people I’m praying for.
I love to pray for people I love who need extra help and support, yet I’m not that great at remembering them all in the middle of my prayer. So sometimes I write a list and keep it handy. I don’t think Heavenly Father minds at all if I open my eyes to remember who or what to pray for. Update: Wendy Watson Nelson gave a wonderful talk inviting us to pray for Heavenly Father to dispatch angels to help us or others. This has become one of my favorite things to pray for.
10) Scripture journaling.
Scripture journaling is a powerful way of combining prayer, scripture study and writing as a means of receiving personal revelation from God. Here's how it works for me. I start by asking a question in prayer, looking for an answer in the scriptures, and then pondering and writing about what I find. I may write a question at the top of a journal page and pray to ask Heavenly Father to help me find an answer in my scripture study that day.
A question might be a personal situation I need help with like, "What should I do to help this child" or "How can I better manage my time?" Or it may be an aspect of the gospel I want to understand better, "What does the gathering of Israel really mean" or "I want to understand and use the Atonement better." If I can't think of a question that day I may just say, "Please give me something to write about," and then I read until something stands out to me before I start pondering and writing about that. Or better yet, I may ask, "What question would Thou have me ask today?"
I may either read chronologically where I am or ask where the Lord wants me to read that day. I may start out in the Book of Mormon and move to a Conference talk and end in the New Testament or Bible Dictionary. As I study this way I often notice a passage stand out to me, and I write about that. I may write how that verse may apply to my question or life challenge with which I need guidance. I may write about another scripture or a quote or a life experience it reminds me of. Often it is as I write that the most personal revelation comes.
And it’s always good to end the session with a prayer of gratitude for the scriptures and for what the Spirit taught me that day. This process was taught to me by our BYU married student stake president. He felt so strongly about teaching us to use prayer and personal scripture study as a means of receiving personal revelation that his whole stake presidency focused on it in every talk I ever heard them give for years. It has been an invaluable tool ever since that I have shared with many people.
Update: Wendy Watson Nelson gave a 30-day challenge in a Worldwide Devotional about taking a question to the Lord in scripture study here. She also wrote a great book about this concept called Change Your Questions Change Your Life.
Update: In 2017 I created an online course called Heaven Journaling 30-day Program. Click here for details.
11) Pray in a place that’s quiet and free from distractions.
If I drive somewhere alone that is prime time for an aloud prayer in the car. My walk-in closet is another favorite place. When I had lots of littles at home it wasn't always easy or even possible to find a quiet distraction-free place. My kids are now ages 12 and older, but sometimes I still have to remind them to wait until I'm done praying to talk to me. Just do the best you can. I cherish the memories of walking into my parents' bedroom and seeing my mom on her knees praying for our family. These are powerful teaching moments that can leave a lasting impression in our children.
12) Pray with my kids as I tuck them in at night, even my teens.
This is a new-ish habit in our family that has hidden treasures in it. I want to do it more consistently! When kids grow into teens it's easy to say "goodnight" and let them tuck themselves into bed. But I've noticed when I take the extra effort to walk my kids and teens to bed and then pray with them, something magical happens. Our hearts soften toward each other. When it's my turn to pray I get to praise that child to the Lord and let my child know I notice all kinds of good stuff about him or her. I get to ask for specific blessings for that child like help with a musical or theater performance coming up, for academic or scouting goals, or for help with friend or sibling troubles. There isn't enough time in a family prayer to include a lot of specific things for each family member, but this tradition gives you all the time you need, right there at the bedside of your precious little or big one. Kneeling next to my son who is now on a mission and praying with him is a memory that makes me cry as it is so sweet to me.
Click here for a few more thoughts about power prayer.
Afterthought -- one more tip. Don't listen to that spirit that teaches a man not to pray, or to postpone praying.
In the Book of Mormon Nephi taught a powerful truth: "For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray" (2 Nephi 32:8).
I don't feel tempted to stop praying because I love the Lord so much and want to connect with Him, but the devil is good at tempting me to postpone praying and get distracted doing a hundred other things. Like I said I tend to get distracted easily, and it seems like I always have a million things I want to get done. Sometimes I think that if I don't do something now it will never get done because I'll forget or I won't have time later. Often when it's time to pray I'll have a thought like this:
- "Just hurry and answer that email first"(which can turn into answering a bunch of emails)
- "Just throw in a batch of laundry first" (which can turn into cleaning up the family room, doing the dishes, answering the phone, and forgetting to say my morning prayer)
- "Just hurry and make the bed first" (which can turn into doing make up and hair, talking with my kids, and forgetting to say my morning prayer)
- "Just hurry and sort that pile of papers on the desk first" (which can turn into any number of paperwork tasks like "write this list" or "answer that letter" or "pay that bill" first)
- "Hurry and post this on your blog or Facebook" (either of those can turn into getting ridiculously distracted by myriad of things and coming up for air an hour or so later wondering where the time went)
I want to see more clearly what is going on. The devil is trying to get me to do plenty of other things -- "good" and "better" things -- instead of praying first -- a "best" thing. (See "Good, Better, Best" by Elder Oaks.) If I listen to that voice, I may forget completely to say my personal morning prayer, or put it off until later in the day and miss hours of connection with God's deeper help and guidance and feeling His closeness. Or I might need to leave somewhere in the morning or get so tired at night that I only have time for a quick prayer, which usually aren't very deep or empowering for me. I want to see those distractions for what they are, and resist the temptation to put off praying, no matter how good the excuse looks.
I guess the exception to this is when God gives me a prompting and I feel to do it right now, like I did when I woke up just now to add this afterthought tip to this blog post. Now... I gotta go say my morning prayer!
Update: This definition of prayer from the LDS Bible Dictionary adds wonderful gems about prayer.
"As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings." ("Prayer," LDS Bible Dictionary, emphasis added.)