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How To Pray


Moses talked to God, face to face, as a friend who sits across your table. Yeah, hard to believe, but it’s right there in Exodus 33:11.[1] It’s hard to believe because we talk to God like a man talks to a brick wall, rarely and ineffectively.

Moses is on a journey with God, in way over his head. Moses recognizes that God knows his name, and likes him a lot. Those two realities create conversation after conversation. If you are alive and following Jesus today, welcome to the life Moses lived. We’re in way over our heads, face to face with the God who wants to talk with us. We are His children wrapped into His plan to redeem His people and His world in which we live. There’s a lot to talk about.

When I first started dating Courtney, I didn’t know how to talk to her. How to ask questions, topics to dialogue around, how to fight through or even enjoy the awkward pause. Right before I would call her, I’d make a list, topics, questions, anything at all to would keep the conversation running. I know, regimented, ridged, lame.

We got married. Conversation has to start somewhere.

There’s one way to learn to pray: 1) Pray. However, there’s lots of ways to pray. Below are some nuts and bolts of prayer, a scattered pile of different ways to pray. Pick and choose, be free to fail. A real conversation is never clean, and maybe these will help you get it running.[2]

First, overall helps for prayer: You need to find a place to pray. Though we all hope to pray everywhere, all the time, we often won’t get there until we have found one place, physically, to talk with God. You need to find a time to pray. Try the early morning, last thing, or anytime connected before or after something that happens each day. The physical and spiritual are connected. Change your posture when you pray. Decide to kneel, extend a hand/palm towards God, fold your hands together, close your eyes, get comfortable, sit upright or prostrate.

Second, an overall process for prayer: a) Write it down. b) Pray it up. c) Join in God’s movement. We write, and therefore remember and focus on, things that are important. What is written is more likely to be prayed, and noticed. So, write it down, pray it, and notice God’s movement so you can praise, mourn, and join with Him in the work. Now, on to the pile of nuts and bolts praying.

Praying with a Journal.

1. Pray the Scriptures: Allow what you are reading to influence your conversation with God. If you read that God is rich in mercy, write down areas you desire His mercy in your (and others’) life. If you read Jesus praying for unity, write down the name of a specific broken relationship in your life and ask God for reconciliation. Here are some good places to start. The Psalms: Try anywhere in the 120’s, because they are short. Move on to praying any of the psalms. The Epistles (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians): Paul prays a lot. As you read his prayer, stop and pray along the way, asking for and praying in the same way for specific things and people in your life. Try it with Ephesians 1.15-23 or Eph 3.14-21. The Epistles are also full of great theology, thoughts about God. As you read a great thought about God, write it down and pray around that idea in your own life situation. Try it with Philippians 2.1-11. The words and prayers of Jesus. The things Jesus says and prays are worthy to spur our conversation with God. Try writing down some of the ideas from John 17 and praying for these things in your setting.

2. Praying the Lord’s Prayer Pattern (Matthew 6.9-13): Write the headings, “Glory; Give; Forgive; Lead” in your journal. Under each, list your prayers. Glory: Praise God for who He is and ask that He would reveal Himself in your circumstances. Give: Ask God for provision and for anything else. Forgive: Ask God to specifically forgive you for things you have done, and left undone. Lead: Ask God for wisdom and guidance is different areas of your life. (ACTS is also another helpful acronym for praying in a similar pattern: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication).

3. 360 Degree Prayer: Write the headings, “Up; In; Around; Out” in your journal. Under each, list or write out your prayers. Up: Praise God for who He is. In: Pray honestly about your soul, how you feel, what you are thinking/believing, any sinful desires or actions that need to be confessed. Around: Pray for other believers in your life. Out: Pray for those around you who don’t know Jesus, and ask Him to reveal Himself to them.

4. List and Line: Simply draw a line down the middle of your journal page. List your prayers on the left, and wait through the day, week, month, year, for God’s answers to record on the right. Spend time praising Him, or honestly dialoging with Him about the way He answers each prayer.

5. Stream of Consciousness: Just pray what you are writing, as you are writing it. Begin your day writing out your prayers to God as you think through what is before you. Come to Him again at the end of the day and pray through the specific details, praising Him for ways He revealed Himself, asking for forgiveness, asking for Him to move. The key here is specific details, and honesty.

6. LISTENING: God tells us to be still, recognizing who He is, and how He is moving in the world to exalt Himself (Ps 46:10). Listen to Him by remaining still, silent. Meditate on the scripture you are reading, the circumstances of your day, and the way He is communicating with you through others. We have His explicit communication in the bible, and He desires for His words to be applied specifically to our life situations, so we must listen up.

Praying with a 3x5 card.

Paul Miller walks extensively through prayer cards in his book, A Praying Life, which I would highly recommend. This is an adaptation of this method.

First: Write the name of a person in the middle of the card. This can be someone in your family, someone who knows Jesus, someone who does not, someone who is suffering, or someone you just met.

Second: Write down the big idea you would like to pray for in this person’s life. This is the main thing you desire God to shape in them. How do you desire for God to move in his or her life? Circle their name and the main big idea.

Third: Draw “web” lines out from the circle to different specific tangibles you are praying for this person, around this big idea. Include specific scriptures you are praying for them, desires you have for them, ways you hope to see God work all over the specifics of their lives, skills or character traits you hope for them to grasp.

Fourth: Take it with you. Carry the card in your pocket, pulling it out to pray for this person as your day progresses. Over time you may end up with a stack of cards, taking only a few with you each day. You may also choose to (rather than names) write events, groups of people, ideas/desires in the middle of the card and pray around these things as well.

Praying Together.

God has brought us into a family, that we would talk to “our” Father together. The benefits of prayer, together are endless and only experienced when we, well, pray together. So, simply adapt any of the above tools to the setting and group with whom you are praying. Learn from each other as you pray, don’t worry about fancy words or long prayers, actually avoid them. Talk to your Father, together.

[1] This Week’s Sermon “How To Pray” on Exodus 33, surveys the life of Moses, a continually praying man.

[2] These ideas come from my own life, from A Praying Life by Paul Miller, and from a sundry of other praying people who have helped me along the way.


Thanks for this post! I LOVE the 3x5 card idea. I've always wanted to be more intentional with praying for our kids and my hubby. This is a great way to remember throughout the day to pray for them! Especially to include scripture on the card! I put them around the house (by the sink, laundry, etc...) so I pray where I am often!!
Thanks! Every mom should try this!!

@Bill yeah, his book has been fantastic for my prayer life. So good. Glad you are back on the East Coast, let's connect soon.

@Ryan I just started using the cards for praying for the kids and Courtney, super stuff. I have been praying a ton more specifically and with focus. Loving it.

Matt, thanks for the great reminder of the foundation of our relationship with Jesus. I've been using the 3x5 cards this summer and it's been a big win. Nice work on the post...


I liked your blog, and I'm another big fan of Paul Miller's book. In fact, I think it's the best book on prayer that I've ever read. Hello from State College PA, my new home since late May....

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