Two Types of Prayer
Prayer is the most essential ingredient of the Christian life. I hear it said all the time: Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. If that is true, then prayer is the foundation for that relationship. Communication is what makes a relationship real and living. Without talking, a relationship does not exist. When someone wants to cut off a relationship with another person, they often say “I never want to speak to you again”. That is because communication equals relationship. So, as people who have a relationship with Christ, we believers need to pray!
Prayer is not meant to be a religious experience as much as a conversation between Father and child. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about praying sincere prayers that are from the heart, not full of religious mumbo-jumbo that is meant to impress God. Thinking of God like an awesome Dad changes the way we approach him in prayer.
With all that said, I think there are two types of prayers that are needed for an effective and fully thriving prayer life. Hopefully you find this to be a helpful distinction.
Much of life happens on the fly, and our prayers should follow suit. Spontaneous prayer is prayer that happens sporadically throughout the day. It is usually triggered by an event or emotion that grabs our attention. Spontaneous prayer tends to be really short prayers said in the heat of a moment. Praying spontaneously is a result of trying to walk with God throughout the day. A “Sunday morning Christian” does not use much spontaneous prayer because they have placed God in a box, but a true believer follows the Bible’s advice to “pray without ceasing”. I tell my students to think of it like texting God. Most teens I know text people short sentences throughout the course of a day. Spontaneous prayer is just like that.
Spontaneous prayers for me are typically 5 or 10 seconds long and usually only one or two sentences. If you are having a hard time grasping what it might look like, consider a few examples.
- You see an ambulance drive by and pray “Lord, be with them”.
- You are about to make a tough phone call and pray “God, give me the words to speak.”
- You are feeling tempted to sin and pray “Jesus, show me how to get out of this.”
- You are walking down the hall and see a bully who has been picking on you coming your way, and pray “Lord, please help know how to handle this.”
- You are feeling stressed out from the day and pray “God, could you please refresh my spirit?”
- You see two people in the middle of a public argument and pray “God, please help them with whatever they are going through.”
- You have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone and pray “Jesus, give me the boldness to speak the truth.”
Spontaneous prayer is effective prayer. Don’t think that because it is short, on the run, or maybe even said silently that it is not as powerful as “regular” prayer. God hears everything and answers every prayer.
The other type of prayer is planned prayer. When most people think of prayer, they picture planned prayer – someone going off to a quiet place with the intention of having alone time with God. Planned prayer is awesome and should be a staple of every believers life. Yet, I know that planned prayer has always been a struggle for me, partly because I tend to be busy and partly because I sometimes have a hard time focusing. Regardless, planned prayer is something we need to work at if we are going to have a well-rounded prayer life.
My own prayer life really took off when I started to take control of my planned prayer. I have a more regular “devotional” time that seems to help me be more consistent with praying. But the biggest change I made was writing down things to pray for. Writing down prayer requests helps for several reasons.
- It helps us to remember prayer requests we said we would pray about
- It helps us to pray for more people than we probably would if we didn’t write it down
- It helps us to pray for people more often than we likely otherwise would
- We can keep track of answered prayers better
- It brings to mind acts of love that we can do for the people we pray about
- It reminds us to keep in touch with people we may have forgotten about
You can use any system you want, but here’s what I have been doing now for almost 2 years. I have 30 index cards that represent the 30 days of a typical month. On each card are different prayer requests. They consist of family members, friends, neighbours, people I am mentoring, community leaders, organizations, specific events, people I am witnessing to, and people in my church. Each morning (or evening) I pray for everything listed on that days card. Sometimes, if I find that my focus is good and I have the time, I will pray through several cards in one sitting. This system allows me to pray for a lot of requests that would never randomly cross my mind. It also allows me to pray for people by name at least once a month, often more than that. It feels great to be able to pray for such a wide range of needs and do so regularly.
You Need Both!
What I find is that most people gravitate to one of these two prayer types. People who are less organized and self-disciplined tend to pray mostly spontaneously. Those who are planners and more regimented probably have a strong devotional prayer time. But the truth is that you need both prayer types to have a truly thriving prayer life. If you only pray spontaneously, you will miss praying for a lot of people. If you only pray planned, you are missing out on communion with God and setting your mind on things above. A healthy, daily mixture of both spontaneous and planned prayer is the key to a solid prayer life.
- Which type of prayer do you gravitate to: spontaneous or planned? Which one do you need to work on?
- Take time to write down prayer requests to pray for regularly. Come up with a system to pray through them.
- If you struggle with spontaneous prayer, try this trick: Place small stickers in places where you will see them throughout the day. In our youth group we call them “prayer stickers”, which are meant to remind us to pray all day long. Some places you might try: on the bathroom mirror, in a drawer at work, on a binder, on the sunflap in your car, on your keychain, in your sock drawer, in the garage, or anywhere else you can think of!