Prayer Tips for All

by Tim Isbell, major revision 6/2015. Added 1.5 & 1.6 in 10/2017


Parishioners welcome new resources that help them move beyond sending lists of needs to GodPastors continually look for fresh material for that Prayer Time Teachable Moment just before the weekly worship prayer time.  So whether you are a parishioner or a pastor, here are some fresh resources on prayer:

Tips for parishioners & pastors

Timothy Keller's Prayer 

This book, subtitled Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, refreshed my prayer life. My copy is now heavily annotated with underlinings, notes, and lots of "Q's" to denote quotes to harvest to my Quotes File.  For this book, I went back and typed up my takeaways from, rearranging them in an order that makes sense to me. You can access these notes at Concepts from Timothy Keller's book: Prayer.

Here's an example from Keller's book of some content I've used a few times for Prayer-time Teachable Moments. Paul’s prayers in the epistles are not so much asking to deal with the massive day-to-day problems the people in Ephesus and other churches must have experienced. In Eph 1.15-23, Paul prays for God to enlighten the hearts of his readers so that they will know God better. (Another scripture possibility is Phil 1.9-11) We must have these perspectives if we are to face life in any circumstance. (Prayer, pgs. 19-22)

Lord's Prayer Template

Pray the Lord's Prayer out loud. Then use it as a template for your prayer. Here's a personal example from the first few lines of the Lord's Prayer, as in Matthew 6.9-10.

Our Father who is in heaven.  Reflect for a moment on the privileged standing God offers through Jesus. Here Jesus tells me that God, the creator, and sustainer of everything, wants me to address him with the familial name that Jesus uses: Father. That's big. I don't know of any other religion that offers such a thing. Dwelling on this thought speaks deeply to my identity in Christ and within God's family!

May your name be holy.  My kids call me "Dad," which was what I called my father. So, here I'm asking my heavenly Dad to help me show a snippet of his holiness through my everyday life. Further, I'm urging him to show his holiness to all nations and cultures. Letting this soak in impacts how I carry myself through the day.

May your Kingdom come soon.  Here, Jesus shifts the metaphor from family to the family business: building Dad's Kingdom. So I'm asking Dad to plant his values so deeply in my life that I will joyfully follow them as I live temporarily at an address in a kingdom of this world. And I'm asking Dad to continue extending his Kingdom to every corner of the world.

May your will be done on earth.  Such a statement affirms to Dad that I'll accept adversity as part of my spiritual formation process - even though I may not understand it at the time. In the same way, I'm affirming that I will trust him as he extends his will throughout the whole world.

Sometimes I use this as a prelude to a longer prayer; sometimes it's enough by itself.

(Note: this perspective on the Lord's Prayer comes from my understanding and reflection on the first part of chapter 8 in Timothy Keller's Prayer - Experiencing the Awe and Intimacy with God.) 

Scripture Template

Praying scripture is an excellent practice. Just find a prayer in scripture and use it as your template. There are examples through the entire Bible, including and especially in the Psalms. Select one, such as from the Psalm of the weekly lectionary, read it, then use its structure to frame your prayer.

Quote triggered prayer

Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine. – Kathleen Norris

The purpose of prayer is to surrender our will, not to impose it. – Andy Stanley

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with the confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies. – Westminster Shorter Catechism

All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause, praying as if God were absent. – Teresa of Avila

Prayerful dependence on the grace of Jesus is our only refuge from our own sin. We cannot go into God’s presence unless we are dependent on Christ’s forgiveness and his righteousness before God, not on our own. -Timothy Keller in Prayer

Prayer is talking to God about what we are doing together. – Dallas Willard

We can pray because God is our loving Father, Jesus Christ is our mediator giving us access to the throne of the universe, and because the Spirit indwells us. – Timothy Keller in Prayer

Prayer is not about getting what we want – the fulfillment of our will; it is about learning what God wants – the bending of our will to God’s will. – Missional Church, Darrell Guder.

God is a person and, as such, must be encountered the same way as any other person- through time, conversation, and intimacy. It is one thing to meet a man once. It is something else to read his biography. But it is a whole new experience to know the man about whom others only read or speak. Prayer is the one avenue that makes this happen. – A. W. Tozer

Appearances mislead: prayer is never the first word; it is always the second word. God has the first word. Prayer is answering speech. – Eugene Peterson

Prayer is always and everywhere our cooperation with the movement of God’s Spirit already willing to help us, change us, and work through us. – Robert C. Morris

(All of the above quotes are from my Quote File.)

Pray Your Commute

This one is a stand-alone webpage of its own. Please click on Pray Your Commute.

Use a Swing Thought

Occasionally, use a memorable phrase or sentence such as: "God is in charge, despite all appearances to the contrary. This is what we believe; this is what we have seen; this is what we have to share with our world.” If you are a pastor, have the congregation say it along with you. Teach it to them any way you can. The goal is to drill it into minds so that it returns throughout the week. Make it a phrase that you can thread through the rest of the service, all the way to the benediction. You can find more "swing thoughts" like this at Identity in Christ. Once there, especially look at the first section that is labeled "Swing Thoughts."

When Too Distracted to Pray

This idea is from Mark Thibodeaux in Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer

As a high school theology teacher, I often had my students pray in silence a few minutes and then tell me what happened in their prayer. One day, a sophomore said to me, “I didn’t pray at all because I couldn’t stop thinking about the big math test I’m taking this afternoon. I tried to stop thinking about it and to get back to God, but the harder I tried, the more it bothered me.” 

Two points can be made about this: First, this boy’s fifteen-minute struggle to grow closer to God was prayer, a beautiful and self-sacrificial one at that. Second, maybe it was God who kept bringing up the math test in his prayer! The boy could have then used the distraction as the focal point of his prayer. He could have imagined himself simply placing that test on the altar of God and saying, “God, please bless my struggles with math and with any other hard tasks I have to face today.”

Ready-made Prayers

Mark Thibodeaux's in Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer suggests praying some ready-made prayers from your childhood, but adjusting them like this:

  1. Choose a ready-made prayer. Pray it aloud slowly and reverently, as you might imagine cloistered monks pray. 
  2. Then pray it again, imagining all your past yous standing before God and praying it with you. 
  3. Then pray it a third time, imagining your future yous joining the motley crew.  
  4. Finally, pray it a fourth time, even more slowly while you imagine all the yous merging together.
  5. Allow yourself some time for this to settle in.

John Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer includes 31 prayers for each day of a month. Write out a paraphrase of one of them and use it as a model. Pastors can hand out copies to the congregation so they can use it all week long. Here are links to the Baillie prayers that I have used in prayer-time teachable moments:

Saint Francis of Assisi prayer:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Or use this prayer of St. John Chrysostom:

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee, and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen

Here's one I wrote for graduates of high school and college:

Lord Jesus, we lift all high school and college graduates to you.

  • Please, help them recognize and reject lies.
  • Help them recognize and reject evil.
  • Help them recognize and reject ugliness.

Instead, help them live lives of truthfulness, goodness, and beauty.
We know you can do this because you embody all that is true, good, and beautiful.

(Obviously, it is easy to modify this prayer for other people groups or even individuals.)

Here's a Thanksgiving prayer from Sarah Anderson’s book “The Space Between Us

For family near and peaceable, Lord, we give thanks.
For family far and conflicted, Lord, we give thanks.
For the ones easy to love, Lord, we give thanks.
For the ones we fight to love, Lord, we give thanks.

For people who see as we see, Lord, we give thanks.
For people we don’t understand, Lord, we give thanks.
For people who don’t understand us, Lord, we give thanks.
For easy conversation and expressed affection, Lord, we give thanks.

For gentle discord within our discourse, Lord, we give thanks.
For unity, not sameness, Lord, we give thanks.
For charity in all things, Lord, we give thanks.
For a world that reflects your goodness, Lord, we give thanks.

For humankind that bears your image, Lord, we give thanks.
For a day when we’ll delight in our differences and not just tolerate them,
For a gathering of every tribe and every language,
For a table and a feast today, anticipating the one we’ll enjoy with you someday, Lord, we give thanks. Amen.

BLESS Template

Use the BLESS acronym to pray for people (or teach your congregation to do this). For B, pray for the physical needs of the person's body. For L, pray for their labor (work, schoolwork, housework). For E, pray for their emotional life. For the first S, pray for their social interactions with friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. And for the last S, ask God to bless them spiritually.

ACTSS Template

This acronym provides a model for prayer for many people. The steps are Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, and Submission. You can find more about this at Learning to Pray.

Begin with Praise

Notice that in the Lord’s Prayer begin with adoration and then asks for daily bread.

It’s not that God is insecure and needs our praise. We need to praise God to:

  • Keep us grounded in the ultimate reality of who God is.
  • Provide a place or rest from our worldly cares.
  • Complete our own joy.
  • Keep us humble

C.S. Lewis noticed that the humblest, and at the same time the most balanced minds praise most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praise the least. For example, good critics find something to praise in many imperfect books; bad critics continually narrow the books we are approved to read. Praise seems to be inner health made audible.

At the end of most days, just before going to sleep a friend of mine jots down three praises or thanks to God for that day.

Practicing praise changes us for the better. So let’s spend a little time praising God at the beginning of our times of prayer.

(Concepts from Timothy Keller’s Prayer - Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, chapter 12, “The Alpha Prayer.”)

2nd Commandment Prayer

This 2nd Commandment mini teaching helps us move the focus of prayer from the standard listing of needs to the living Jesus, as opposed to the many idols around us.

Tips primarily for pastors

The pastoral prayer is the only time in the week when some parishioners quiet their hearts and pray. Others pray regularly but will appreciate some tips on how to move beyond a dry routine of praying lists at God. You can use your pastoral prayer time to teach and model any of the ideas on this web page (those above and those below). This simple worship element of inserting a Prayer-Time Teachable Moment will enrich parishioners' prayer lives throughout the week.

I'm not suggesting that you package a mini-sermon on prayer into the worship flow every week. Just use 2 minutes before the congregational prayer to teach a fresh way to pray, and then immediately model it with the congregation. This requires about 15 minutes of preparation, most of it in a quiet, reflective prayer asking God for direction. You can count on God to show up when you do this. It invariably leads to vibrant prayer time. I'm sure God looks forward to these prayer times with his people, too.

So ask your worship leader to include a quiet song that leads into prayer time, It needs to be a song with a strategic "interrupt opportunity" for your teachable moment. After the teaching, invite people to join you at the altar while a musical reprise continues. In my case, I always kneel along with the parishioners. More people will respond than you expect. If children are present and you extend an invitation to them before the service, they will likely engulf you. This simple practice, kneeling at the altar when you offer the pastoral prayer transforms worship into a very precious time that people look forward to every week.

Fill in the Blank

Occasionally design an interlude in the middle of the prayer and invite people to speak out (just the) name of someone needing prayer. One week your theme might be for physical healing. Other times it could be psychological healing, employment, salvation, courage, wisdom, a hunger for holiness, and so on. Use the teachable moment to tip people off that this opportunity is coming, and they'll be ready. The first time I did this I hoped a couple of people would speak out a name. But in a congregation of about 100 people there must have been ten names spoken by ten different people. If you think your group needs still more encouragement, recruit some board members to model this open-altar prayer time. This practice is worth using often.

Popcorn Scriptures

Do the same thing but this time, invite people to speak out one-sentence praises/thanks, using scripture (or not). Again, use the teachable moment to tip the congregation off that this opportunity will come early in the prayer time. Then when it’s time for the interlude, without leaving the prayer time, just invite the people to speak out their sentence. Then be quiet for long enough for them to respond. Wait in silence for at least fifteen seconds. Worship needs more silence. You'll be surprised how people will respond, and you will feel God's affirmation.

Pray the Announcements

Find a way to pray the announcements. If they are not worth praying, perhaps they're not worth announcing.

Quaker Prayer

Try a Quaker prayer time: Presume that God longs to spend time with us when we just quiet down and listen. Project a pertinent scripture on the screen or print it in the worship folder, play soft background music, invite people to the altar and go there yourself. Then just read the scripture and let the next 3-5 minutes be quiet prayer time with background music playing. Close by re-reading the same or another scripture, and then say "Amen."

Introduce a Parishioner

Choose a parishioner to share what is on their agenda for the week, and one or two items that are in their current prayers. If the parishioner's family is present, introduce them to the congregation. Encourage the congregation to pray for this person's requests throughout the next week. Then invite people to the altar and include a prayer for this person's request in your pastoral prayer. A week or two later ask the parishioner to report. This also helps parishioners know each other at a deeper level and to know how to pray for each other.

Powers of Darkness

Do a mini-teaching about the Powers of Darkness and center the prayer time in response to this. Ask God to strengthen the church and its parishioners against the Powers of Darkness, for the Good News of Jesus Christ to penetrate the powers and to push them back. Spend as much time asking the Lord to give people courage and strength to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom as you spend asking God to relieve the church or its members of some problem.


Check out this link to find some good Benedictions.


For news from this site, including notifications of new content, please subscribe to the RSS or email feeds or email feeds.