We live in a secular society where spiritual things are rarely discussed, yet the vast majority of us believe in God, pray to Him and ask for His blessings and intervention. Eighty-four percent of U.S. adults say that they pray once a week or more. In other words, four out of every five Americans pray frequently.
But is prayer working for us? Is it real? Is it meaningful, or is it just a ritual? Do we pray regularly or just in crisis?
Maybe along with all of our New Year’s resolutions — along with the diets and the commitments to be punctual or honest or kind — perhaps we should make New Year’s resolutions to pray more, and to pray better.
Here are five simple ways to improve prayer — ways to make prayer more vital, more real and more relevant.
1. Hold “prayer meetings” with your partner
If you are married, pray together — out loud. And instead of only one person speaking and the other listening, make your partnership prayer like a meeting where both partners can give thanks and ask for guidance within the same prayer.
Perhaps one partner could start the prayer and squeeze the other’s hand when finished; then the other could pray aloud. You could repeat this pattern as many times as you wish. When the squeezes have stopped, the partner who did not start the prayer could end it.
2. Let gratitude become a new focal point in your prayers
Most people acknowledge the connection between gratitude and personal happiness, but it’s even more than that. Gratitude is happiness in its most easily obtainable form.
If gratitude is just a vague feeling, a subject without an object, an intransitive verb, it is like saying “thank you” to no one. When gratitude is directed to God, it becomes more clear, more defined and more likely to produce happiness.
Start prayer by focusing on blessings, feeling those blessings and saying “thank you” for them.
3. Let God tell you what to ask Him for
If we try to develop faith in a God who cares about us, who knows us and who knows what we need better than we know ourselves, then it makes sense to base our prayers not so much on our own wants but on what He wants for us. Thus, it is an undeniably good idea to ask God what we should ask Him for. Prayerful questions like, “What do you want for me?” seem always to yield inspired thoughts and feelings.
Asking for things we have been spiritually prompted to ask for takes prayer to a whole new level, and it begins to magnify our sense of purpose as well as our faith.
4. Listen, and take “prayer notes”
If you were granted an audience, a private moment with a great and wise guru, and you had a chance to ask that person some questions, you would listen very attentively to the answers, and you would surely record or take notes.
Get a notebook or a book of blank paper, and start a “prayer journal,” writing down what you feel during your prayers. Listen as much as you talk. When you ask for something, pause. Then, write down any feelings, nudges or impressions that come.
5. Continue your morning prayer throughout the entire day
There is no rule that says a prayer has to be finished when you’ve accomplished what you have to say. Sometimes, it is both insightful and spiritually orienting to start a prayer in the morning and then intentionally not end it, keeping aware of God and trying to stay spiritually “tuned in” all day. Then, finish and close the prayer before going to bed at night.
There are many ways to improve ourselves and many ways to strengthen our marriages and families. Perhaps better prayer is the best way to do both!