Praying for People I’ve Never Met

I keep a prayer journal. For each day of the year, I have a list of names– people who are celebrating a birthday or anniversary. I also list one location (nation, region, major city, etc.) and I have room for urgent prayer requests. As I read through the names, places, and situations on the list, I can lift them up in prayer. Today, I had the names of two young women– distant cousins I’ve only ever met once or twice at family reunions. I know who they are in relation to myself and my husband; I know that one of the young women became a mother earlier this year. But my list today also included the nation of South Africa. I know very little about South Africa, and I am not aware of knowing anyone who lives there. I also received a request to pray for an infant who is critically ill. I have never met her.

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How do I pray for people I have never met? I do not know any details about their needs or anything about their background. I do not have a relationship of trust or mutual experiences with them. They don’t know that I have prayed for them or what I have said about them or their needs.

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But God does! And in lifting up others to Him, I am not praying into a vacuum; I do not need to know any details, or get the words “just right.” Jesus Himself gave a blueprint, when He prayed for those who would come to faith long after He had ascended into Heaven after His resurrection:

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. 24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17:20-26 New King James Version (NKJV) (taken from biblegateway.com)
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Even when praying for people I know well, it is not my knowing them that makes prayer important, effective, or worthy– it is not the subject of my prayers that makes them worthy or noble–it is the act of bringing EVERYTHING to GOD in prayer. The known, the unknown; the global crises, the aches and pains and heartaches of friends and neighbors, and the unspoken request of a stranger– all of them are welcome at the throne of Grace and in the presence of the King of Kings!

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Never discount the wonder that someone, somewhere– someone you have never met–has prayed for you; may be praying for you in this instant. Why? Because God loves you that much! And He loves every stranger you’ve never met just as much. Don’t hesitate to pray for those you’ve never met. You may yet meet them and enjoy their company in eternity!

Small Gestures

My mother is famous (in our corner of the world, at least) for sending greeting cards–hundreds each year for birthdays and anniversaries.  Nearly every day, she sits down and chooses birthday cards, signs them, puts them in envelopes, addresses them, stamps them, and dates them to put in the mail box.  She has learned over many decades just how long it takes for cards and letters to travel to various parts of the country and world, and times each card to arrive as close to the actual date of the event as possible.

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As a girl growing up, I found this ritual time-consuming, wasteful, and bizarre.  The calendar was a crowded mass of names, copied faithfully from last year’s calendar and crammed full of new births and recent marriages.  Once the card had been chosen and signed, Mom would have to look up addresses in an ancient address book crammed with scraps of paper and index cards with changes, notes, and other esoteric information.   Mom sent cards to people I had never heard of or met– old friends she knew from school, people my father knew from his army days, distant cousins, people who used to live in the neighborhood from before I was born.  Each year, there would be cards returned to sender as people we barely knew moved and mom lost contact with them, often for good.

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When I was old enough and sassy enough, I asked her why she bothered.  What value did she see in doing something so simple, yet so complicated– who cared whether someone they had never met (or barely remembered) sent them a 2-cent greeting card?  She patiently answered that perhaps no one cared (though she hoped it meant something), but she did it because one year, when she was young and times were very tough, she had received a beautiful birthday card from an unlikely source– the only card she received that year.  It came from her “uncle” Ralph, who was not actually her uncle, but a dear friend of the family.  “Uncle” Ralph had grown up in an abusive home, and had lost two sisters in childbirth.  He knew the pain of being forgotten on his own birthday, and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to his “niece.”  Mom’s birthday wasn’t “forgotten” that year, but there was no money for fancy cards that year– just enough for a small, unfrosted cake and many good wishes.  Mom faced other “tough” years as a young wife and mother, when she couldn’t afford gifts or cards for birthdays.  This one small gesture so impressed my mother that she made it her mission, when she could afford to do so, to send as many greeting cards as she could to as many people as she could.  As a follower of Christ, moreover, she does it from a heart that wants constantly to show love to just one more person for whom Christ died.

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In the many years since my impertinent question, I have seen the incredible ministry my mother has had, and have heard from some of the many lives she has touched with her cards and her kind thoughts.  Time after time, I have heard of people who were strengthened and encouraged by her example and her thoughtfulness.  She is the living extension of God’s heart as she lovingly signs each card, walks it out to the mail box, and sends it on its way.

Many people have stopped sending greeting cards– we are more likely to send a text message or tweet a birthday greeting– if we think about it, or if it pops up in our news feed and we can just click a button. Yesterday was my birthday…I received three actual paper greeting cards (and yes, one was from my mother, one from my mother-in-law, and one from the ladies’ group at church).  I was blessed and touched by each one– and by the dozens of on-line greetings and random birthday wishes in the days before (and probably after), as well as the hugs and special time spent with my husband and other family members.

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I don’t send cards through the mail as my mother does, but I find myself typing Happy Birthday greetings on all my friends’ news feeds– sending happy thoughts to them,  their children and grandchildren; their spouses and cousins (though I’ve never met them)–and each time, I am reminded that even a seemingly small gesture can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.  And, because of Mom’s example, I write every name in my prayer journal.  As I turn the pages each day, I see the names of two, three, or even ten precious souls– all infinitely and passionately cherished by the creator of the universe–and I have the honor to lift each one up in prayer to the One who knows and loves them best.

Who Is My Neighbor?

One of the best known among the parables of Jesus is the story of the “Good Samaritan.”  Jesus tells the parable in answer to a follow-up question from a n expert in the law:


The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

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Jesus paints with a broad brush, here– perhaps because the law expert “wanted to justify himself.”  Our neighbor is anyone who crosses our path, engages our attention, and has a need for mercy, or help, or encouragement.
How do we apply this to prayer?  Most of us are willing to pray for those in dire need or those close to us– friends, family, and such.  But there is so much more we can do!  Prayer is powerful and mysterious–much more so than most of us realize.  If we want to pursue prayer, we need to consider how we can lift others up–including our “neighbors” who may not otherwise come to our attention.  Here are a few suggestions to try:

  • Make lists.  It’s easy to list members of our families or close friends.  Try some other lists:  co-workers;  the people who live on your block or on the floor of your apartment building.  Are you feeling really adventurous?  Dig up an old yearbook or staff directory from an old job; list all the people in local, regional, state or provincial, and federal government who directly represent you.  Lists will help you to remember to pray for people, not because you already love them or know their needs, but because God already loves them and knows their needs!
  • Find a focus–Choose a person (maybe someone who is facing chronic pain, or someone you don’t know as well as you would like, or even someone at random:  Pray earnestly for that person every day for a week– or a month!  Don’t turn it into a bludgeon (“I think you should know I’m praying for you, because I think you really need it…” In fact, you don’t need to tell the other person you are choosing to focus on them, but you may wish to ask if they would like prayer and how they would like you to pray for them).  
  • Pray for your enemies!  You may not have a long list of “enemies”, but it is likely that you know several people who are “difficult”.  Don’t pray at them or about them– pray for them.  If they have caused you pain, ask for the grace to forgive them.  (Keep asking as necessary!)  Ask the Lord to bless them, and to help you be an encouragement to them.  This is one of the most difficult things you will ever pray, but it can be life-changing.
  • Pray the calendar–write in three or four names or general prayer requests for each day of the year.  For example, on February 14, I could pray for my nephew who has a birthday, three couples I know with anniversaries that day, and for those I know who struggle with being alone on a day when others celebrate their relationships.  On February 15, I can pray for those who broke up yesterday (even if I don’t know of anyone specific), for a friend who celebrates her birthday that day, and for marriage and relationship counselors.
  • Pray the newspaper.  NOT the TV or internet news!  By this, I mean that the newspaper is organized into sections– pray for national and international news issues one day a week.  Another day, pray for local issues; weather/environment on another day, etc.  When I do this, it causes me to see God in every aspect of what is happening around me– business, government, entertainment and culture…
  • There is no perfect formula for being a “Good Samaritan” in prayer.  But there is good reason to pursue ways that God can be glorified (and we can reach maturity in our walk with God) through our prayer life.
  • See more suggestions in the pages section of the blog.

Why Journal?

In this blog, I try to focus on three basic aspects of prayer:

  • The purpose of prayer
  • The power of prayer and
  • The practical pursuit of prayer.

Today, I’d like to just put in a plug for journals as a very practical way to pursue a better prayer life.  For a more detailed list of ideas to get started, please see this page:  Prayer Journal

Journals are as individual as the people who create them, but the very practice of writing and keeping a journal has certain universal benefits.

  1. It develops discipline.  Prayer should be a daily practice, but having a journal can provide structure, accountability, and motivation.  Writing down requests, answers to prayer, questions I want to bring before God, even feelings or events of the day, can help establish a routine and a reason to come back to the same place (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) each day.
  2. It serves as a focus for each day’s prayers.  There are times when prayer is difficult–maybe the stresses of the day are distracting; maybe I just can’t think how to begin because there are so many thoughts running through my head or needs that I want to bring up.  If I begin with items in my journal, and add others to a list, it can be easier to bring order, focus, and steadiness.
  3. It serves as a witness and testimony.  One of the values of writing things down is that it gives me a chance to look back and review.  Sitting down every few weeks or months can reveal how many times God has answered prayers that I’ve already forgotten about.  It can also show how my ongoing prayers for certain situations may reveal changes God has made in my own heart and my own thinking, which sometimes helps me see why God didn’t “answer” my prayer when or how I imagined.

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  4. It serves as a reminder of God’s general faithfulness.  In times of doubt or pain, it can be encouraging to see and remember how God has helped or healed so many others around me.  Even if it brings up questions, like “Why did you heal that person, and not me”, in the end, there are mountains of examples of God’s care and faithfulness that allow me to see that He works “All things” together for good.  All of which can be written in and added to the journal as a further reminder!
  5. It serves as a reminder of God’s specific faithfulness.  If I look at the list of people and situations in the past and present, I am often overwhelmed at the amount of love that God has showered on me in the form of friends, family, opportunities to meet and be inspired, or share and give kindness.  In big ways and small ways, God has brought in and through my life miracles, amazement, and blessings– so very many.  It is tragic that I can so easily dismiss such blessings, or be distracted by the same worries and fears that God has brought me through in the past.  The journal sparks powerful memories of God’s enduring love for each one of us.
  6. It convicts.  As I mentioned above, it is tragic to think that I can so easily be dissuaded and discouraged by present troubles, when there is so much clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past.  But the journal can also show times when I have been unfaithful or lacking in faith.  This is important, not to beat myself up or become despondent, but to turn me back from such behavior and help me get back on track.

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  7. It inspires.  As mentioned above, each person’s journal is unique and personal.  God has given each of us passions and interests that can be brought into our prayer journal.  If I have a heart for missions, I can include prayer requests from missionaries of my acquaintance, or from web sites.  I can research cities and nations and people groups being reached by missions organizations.  If I have a passion for art, I can include drawings and sketches that flow out of my worship time.  My journal (and yours) can be filled with unique expressions of our heart for God– our deepest questions, hopes, worries, aspirations, and worship.

If you don’t already keep a prayer journal, I hope you will consider starting one.  It’s never too late or “the wrong time” to start one, and it can be as personalized as you wish– keep a notebook, a sketch pad, index cards, a electronic journal, a calendar– whatever works best for your resources, your personality, and your needs.

 

Praying in Tune

I have a song that Jesus gave me,
It was sent from Heaven above;
There never was a sweeter melody,
‘Tis a melody of love.

I love the Christ who died on Calvary,
For He washed my sins away;
He put within my heart a melody,
And I know it’s there to stay.

‘Twill be my endless theme in Glory;
With the angels I will sing;
‘Twill be a song with glorious harmony,
When the courts of Heaven ring!

In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody with Heaven’s harmony;
In my heart there rings a melody;
There rings a melody of Love.

Hymn by Elton M. Roth (1891-1951)

My grandfather had perfect pitch–he could hear a musical note and tell you what the note was or whether it was “in tune”.  He loved music and taught himself to play several musical instruments, including trombone, ukulele, auto harp, thumb harp, saxophone, violin, flute, banjo, dulcimer, trumpet, penny whistle, ocarina, and harmonica.  My grandmother played piano, organ, and a host of percussion instruments.

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My grandfather could hear perfect pitch, but he rarely sang.  He could make wonderful music with instruments, but not with his own voice.  He might have done so, but he never bothered to practice.  In fact, while he could play a multitude of instruments, he never became proficient on any of them.

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Prayer is accessible to anyone, as is music, but tuning and practice are required if we want to pursue prayer as a discipline and a means to develop a more harmonious relationship with God.  Prayers that are out of tune can be sharp– nagging, complaining attempts to bargain with God; or they can be flat– lifeless and empty of trust and affection.  Prayers that lead to growth, healing, and change are those that are “attuned” to the heart of God.  What a sweet song of praise when we live in harmony with God and others– working, growing, sharing, and singing together.

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I don’t have perfect pitch– I can usually hear if my voice or my flute seems out of tune with another instrument or other voices, but sometimes I need help.  The same is true of my pursuit of prayer.  I need help to keep in tune– a prayer journal is one tool I use.  But it also helps to have a prayer group or prayer partner, a prayer list, or a book of prayer.  For more ideas, see:  Proactive Prayer Points  and Prayer Journal.

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Mapping A Prayer Journey

Prayer encompasses many things–it is a conversation, a discipline, and a journey.  It involves talking to God about every aspect of one’s life, and listening for guidance and assurance from Him in return.  It involves seeing Him for who He is and giving praise accordingly.

Often, we take this journey without ever making a plan.  We commit to praying at mealtime (grace) or in times of crisis or stress (thoughts and prayers), but we pray without seeing it as a journey of faith.

tablegrace

That’s one reason I started keeping a prayer journal, and why I recommend it to others.  I don’t write down what I say for grace, or how long I prayed yesterday compared with today.  But I do write out various requests that come up each day.  I also write down specific people or situations to lift up ahead of time–like charting a journey–so I have an idea “where I’m headed” in prayer for the day.  Each day, I pray for a city, nation, or region of the world–that’s one type of “destination” for my prayers.  I also have a list of people who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.  Not only does this help give a focus to my prayers for this day, but it gives me insight from “where I’ve been” to help me in “where I’m going”.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t pray spontaneous and impulsive prayers.  But it means that I have an outlook and a purpose that goes beyond the immediate and personal.  God wants to have an intimate and personal time with me in prayer, but God is not exclusive in His love…He wants me to see others, to love others, and to include others in my thoughts, actions, and prayers.  Each day, I am challenged to look beyond to see what God has done and is doing around me.  And each day, I am challenged (and blessed) to participate in God’s work as I pray intentionally, and follow the “map” for this journey.

 

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No one will have the same map or the same journey, but here are some suggestions if you’d like to start keeping a Prayer Journal:Prayer Journal

GO!

Mark 16:15 New International Version (NIV)

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

The Great Commission (above and also in Matthew 28:18-20) is not a suggestion.  It is a command.  In the nearly two millenia since Jesus gave this command, the world has grown smaller in many ways– it no longer takes months to sail across oceans or travel over hazardous mountain passes; it no longer takes weeks for letters to arrive.   The Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages, and can be downloaded onto phones and other hand-held devices.  We don’t even have to physically travel somewhere in order to talk “face-to-face”– we can Skype!

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We live in a global society that was unthinkable even one hundred years ago– but there is no less urgency about the Great Commission.  God is still sending people out of their comfort zones, away from home and family, to spread His word, to awaken revival, and to bring news of peace and salvation.  Not everyone is called to travel, but all are called to go–how can that be?

Prayer is, of course, one element– we can pray for nations, people groups, mission organizations, and individuals around the world.  We can also give– money, time, materials–we can commit to being partners and team members “on the home front” or volunteer to visit or do short-term mission work.

I highly recommend both– but I want to issue a challenge to a greater involvement.

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Several years ago, I stumbled across a used book (it was already out-of-date when I found it) called Operation World: a day-to-day guide to praying for the world, by Patrick Johnstone.  For each day of the year, there was a specific part of the world/people group/nation to pray for, with maps, statistics, the names of national leaders, information or estimates about literacy rates and religious affiliation.  Later, I found a yearly calendar/prayer diary that did much the same thing– I assume it is no longer being published as I haven’t been able to find one for many years, and it was a great loss.

In the years since, I have tried to use almanacs, online sources (including the CIA Factbook), “Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…” Proactive Prayer Points  and lists in my prayer journal to broaden my outlook.  Even more than that, I have found it useful to “GO” to other countries by bringing them into our home– international cookbooks, maps, newsletters from missionaries and mission groups, music, photos, foreign language Bibles or testaments, “adopting” a child through Kids Alive (https://www.kidsalive.org/)  or World Vision ( https://www.worldvision.org/)or Compassion International ( https://www.compassion.com/)(either through financial support or prayer support or both).

God so loved the WORLD–He is a global God, who wants so very much for us to love one another, understand one another better, and learn from one another.  But He also wants the world to love HIM– not a pantheistic, watered down, homogenized version of a god, but the God of Creation; the God of Salvation and Reconciliation; the Messiah; the Ruler of All.

This doesn’t mean ignoring people close to home– pray for your neighbors, your family and friends, your community, and home nation…but often, we get so involved in our own burdens, our own drama, and our own concerns, that we get cut off and isolated from other children of God– and those who are longing to hear some Good News.

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Go–whether on a plane or on your knees; at your church or at your kitchen table– GO!

Reading the Charts

Many industries rely on charts.  Health care workers chart vital signs, fluid levels, symptoms and reactions to medication.  Publishers  of books and music chart sales by category, age of audience, geographical region, and more.  Transport and shipping companies chart routes, weather, road construction, and fuel efficiency.

Keeping charts, graphs, and records can improve performance, solve mysteries, and increase understanding.  It is good to keep charts in our Christian walk, as well.  Charting scripture can show us where we have or have not studied God’s promises, warnings, and wisdom.  Charting our prayer life can show us patterns in our communication with God, and help us see when and how God has answered our prayers.

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I keep a prayer journal.  Each day of the year has its own page, with lists of people to pray for in general, a geographical region, and more immediate special requests.  But the back of each page has blank space.  This way, as God answers prayers in these areas, I can record them.  I’ve been using this journal for three years now, so the back sides are beginning to get filled up.

But that is not the most amazing part of what I wanted to share today.  The most amazing part is that I have had to revisit some of the answers because God keeps answering them!  Here’s a case in point:  About two years ago, I wrote in a request for a friend who was looking for a job.  There was a promising interview, and many friends were praying for a “positive” outcome.  The job seemed like a perfect fit.  But it didn’t happen.  More prayers led to other opportunities and one of them seemed to be working out.  I wrote the “answer” in my journal.  But when I came across it again this year, I realized that God used both the previous opportunities to prepare my friend for something even better:  a job that no one imagined two years ago!  We prayed, expecting God to answer with something good.  When the first answer was “no,” we trusted God to bring about something else.  And He did.  But I’m glad that I had charted this request, because I almost missed seeing how God used prayer to prepare for more that we had asked!

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Another friend was going through grief and distress just a little over a year ago, and I was reminded of how God answered prayers for strength, peace, and rest.  But  I was also reminded to lift my friend up again on a painful anniversary, and to offer thanks for the ongoing healing I’ve seen– not just for my friend, but for her entire family.

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If you don’t do it already, I highly recommend making a prayer diary or journal.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated– I use wire-bound theme books and write in them daily.  But you could use an actual bound journal, or a simple memo pad or old address book.  Don’t worry if you miss a day or two– no one is keeping score or grading you–the main thing is to make it a habit to record prayers and answers.  You will gain insight, remember God’s answers and promises kept, and be encouraged in the wait for other answers to come.

Prayer Journal

Proactive Prayer Points

I Sing Because I’m Happy

There is a great old hymn– His Eye Is On the Sparrow– and the chorus says:

I sing because I’m Happy,
I sing because I’m Free.
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Full lyrics here

It is a great reminder that, as followers of Christ, we always have a reason to be happy and to sing his praises, even when circumstances are confusing or situations are trying.

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I love this old song, but sometimes, even though I have reason to be happy, I don’t feel like singing.  The same happens with prayer.  Some days, I’m just not feelin’ it.  It’s not necessarily that I’m miserable or angry.  Sometimes, I’m distracted, or even happy doing self-centered things.

I find it easier to pray when I’m sad or needy– my brokenness brings me closer to God.  When things are going along just fine, I sometimes forget the true source of my joy and strength.  I take for granted that God and I are close, not realizing that I haven’t spoken to him lately, or that I have whispered a quick, shallow prayer, but I haven’t spent much quality time with the lover of my soul.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says: “I don’t sing because I am Happy– I am happy because I sing.”

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At first, it may sound like this is a contradiction of the beloved hymn, but really it is a complement.  I sing because I’m happy, but if I sing no matter how I start out feeling, I find myself happier!  I pray because I want to be close to God, but I stay closer to God because I pray.  When I was younger, I used to base my prayer life on how I felt.  It’s yet another reason I now use a prayer journal. Read more about keeping a Prayer Journal  It keeps me disciplined and helps me maintain a stronger prayer life.  We all know that prayer is a key element in building a strong relationship with God and others, but it has to be practiced to be effective.  Other key elements are:

  • Reading the Bible/doing a Bible study
  • Fellowship with other believers
  • Obedience– Actively following God’s example
  • Confession/Forgiveness

Any of these elements can become lackluster and difficult, especially if we aren’t practicing them daily.  And all of the elements will become stronger through practice.  Not only that, but they will blend together better, and the end result is a stronger, healthier, happier you.

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And that’s worth singing about!

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