Ever felt restless during a prayer meeting?
Here’s help
By Jonathan Graf

My mind kept wandering. I wasn’t going to make it through this prayer meeting.

Prayer after lengthy prayer covered everything mentioned during request time. I only had passionate interest in two or three of the issues being prayed about. On my knees, with my head in my arms, I was fighting sleep.

Was I a sluggard? A weak Christian, bored with the goings-on?
No. I had run smack dab into the middle of a prayer meeting filled with “list pray-ers” and people with the gift of mercy.
For many of us, growth in our prayer lives comes slowly because we never learn a basic truth about prayer: There is no “one size fits all.” Just as our individual personalities and spiritual gifts differ, so do our prayer styles.

Some people are very emotional when they pray. They seem to pour their hearts into the issue at hand. They pray passionately, often with tears or with great drama. Others need a list so they can make sure they cover everything. When they pray in a group, if someone’s request was missed, they’ll jump back in and remember it. Still others pray militantly, seeming to rebuke Satan and demons almost as much as they address God.

Some believers pray almost exclusively using Scripture. Others carry on a two-way conversation, saying something, then waiting for an answer from God, then talking and listening some more. Some can only pray short thoughts; others pray for minutes-even hours-on end. Some believers pray using a spiritual language or “tongues.”

Different cultures pray in different ways. Many African-American and Korean believers, when in a group prayer meeting, all pray aloud at once. One time when I was praying in a group that included a Hispanic brother, Ephraim, I experienced a style I had never heard before. Ephraim’s prayer became a combination of spoken words and sentences, grunts and groans, and even sung phrases. It was one of the most beautiful styles I had ever heard.
Is one of these styles the correct one? Do we know we’ve arrived when we can pray a certain way? No! As you grow in prayer, you need to find your own prayer style and then primarily develop that avenue of praying. Does that mean you should never pray another way or that you should refuse to pray with people who pray in another style? Certainly not. Learning to appreciate prayer diversity is beneficial to us individually and to the unity of the church. We all need to fight being in a box or a rut in regard to prayer. But this doesn’t mean we ignore our basic dispositions.

So how do we find our style?

A Variety of Gifts
We start by finding our spiritual gifts. When we accept Christ as our Savior and the Holy Spirit indwells us, Christ gives each of us special gifts to serve the church (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12). Recognizing our spiritual gifts is important because many spiritual gifts affect the way we pray.

Prayer leader Alice Smith is a pioneer in the relationship between spiritual gifts and prayer styles. Smith writes,
According to 1 Corinthians 12, “There are different kinds of gifts” (v. 4), “different kinds of service” (v. 5), and “different kinds of working” (v. 6). [Pray-ers] who possess different spiritual gifts (such as mercy, teaching, or word of knowledge) will pray differently. . . . Just as we need diversity of gifts in the body, different kinds of intercessors are required. . . .
If we can understand and put these differences to work, God will be blessed, the enemy crippled, and [the church] united in powerful prayer.

How does this relationship between spiritual gifts and prayer styles work? Well, do you have a gift of mercy? You might pray with great compassion and empathy for people in need. Do you have the gift of faith? You might be drawn to spiritual warfare or asking God to intervene in situations that seem impossible. Do you have the gift of evangelism? You may be motivated to pray for the nations and plead with God to send revival. Pastoral gifts? Perhaps you pray best when the church needs to be cared for and shepherded. The gift of administration? Then prayer lists might be your primary style. While none of these parallels are cut and dried, considering your spiritual gifts can help you understand why you are most comfortable praying as you do.

Foster the connection between your prayers and your spiritual gift. If you have a gift of mercy, make sure you are feeding your prayer life with mercy-related intercession. If you have a gift of evangelism, make sure your prayers are loaded with requests for lost people you know. If you have a gift of administration, offer your services to your church to help oversee prayer ministries.

Unique Personalities
The next step in discovering your prayer style is to see where your personality fits in. Optimists pray differently from pessimists. Intuitive people pray differently from concrete thinkers. Active people usually pray differently from less active ones. All of this is OK. God designed us to be that way.

Ask yourself these questions:
– What personality traits shape me as a pray-er?
– How can I use these traits to become a better pray-er?

I am easily distracted; if I were growing up nowadays, I would probably have been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder. When I attempted to pray for longer periods, I would constantly feel guilty because my mind got off track. I tried finding a place to pray where there would be no interruptions-to no avail. Then I realized I could be an effective prayer warrior without forcing it to happen in a style I couldn’t sustain or enjoy.
Because I was easily distracted, I thought, Where’s a place I can pray where I can get distracted without feeling guilt over it and still get back on task? The answer? Driving. I have a 30-minute commute to work each day. I spend a lot of that time praying. Yes, my mind has to wander to the road. But I can immediately get back on task without chiding myself.

If you find a solution that fits your personality, develop it. Are you an active person who has trouble sitting for 15 minutes to pray? While praying for a length of time is always a good goal to shoot for, don’t punish yourself if you can’t-and don’t push yourself into that box just to be disciplined. Discipline yourself to pray, but try praying a number of shorter times throughout the day.

Perhaps look for different places to pray. If you exercise by walking or by using exercise equipment, pray while doing that.

Valuing Our Differences
Because you desire to grow in prayer, the most important point I can make is, don’t force yourself into someone else’s prayer mode-or force them into yours.

I remember reading an article on praying the Psalms. It was very good, except that the author wanted people to do what he had found meaningful. He attacked the ACTS prayer acronym (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), commenting that anyone who used that format was immature. This author failed to understand that even though his personality would never fit comfortably into the mold ACTS required, the method did fit the styles and personalities of others. It didn’t make them immature pray-ers, just different from him.

Understanding prayer styles and personalities is particularly important when you are praying in a group. If you are a short-prayer person, don’t be intimidated by people who pray longer prayers. Fight against being annoyed by an emotional pray-er if you aren’t one. Be yourself, and respect how others pray.
Because one of my spiritual gifts is faith, I am much more “jazzed” about praying for needs that require the miraculous. I also have a teaching gift. This combination makes me want to teach and encourage others about trusting God for the miraculous. So I pray prayers that ask for God to move in mighty ways within our congregation. My church needs me.

But it also needs my friend Marv (with whom I love praying). Marv sees the problem or the need clearly. When I might soar off in a prayer that calls down miraculous workings of God, Marv prays with honest, matter-of-fact, impassioned pleas that rest in God’s sovereignty.

My church also needs Chuck. Among Chuck’s spiritual gifts is discernment. Not surprisingly, he is a strong spiritual warfare pray-er. When we are praying for someone who needs physical or emotional healing or who is under bondage to something, Chuck’s prayer style is vital.

Don’t ever forget that your family and your church-and God-need you as a pray-er. Don’t sit back and be annoyed in church prayer settings, and don’t neglect your prayer life because you are trying to fit into someone else’s box and can’t. Start developing and enjoying your individual style of praying.

Discipleship Journal

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