Learn to Pray

• February 12, 2008 • Comments (3)

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This may be the most important post I ever write. While you’re in seminary, before you launch out into full-time ministry, you must learn to pray.

Nothing in your life will determine the power of your ministry and your survival in its stresses more than the strength of your personal prayer life.

From J. Oswald Sanders, author of Spiritual Leadership

In nothing should the leader be ahead of his followers more than in the realm of prayer. And yet the most advanced Christian is conscious of the possibility of endless development in his prayer life. Nor does he ever feel he has “already attained.” Dean C.J. Vaughan once said: “If I wished to humble anyone, I should question him about his prayers. I know nothing to compare with this topic for its sorrowful self-confessions.”

Prayer is the most ancient, most universal, most intense expression of the religious instinct. It touches infinite extremes, for it is at once the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try and the sublimes” strains that reach the Majesty on high. It is indeed the Christian’s vital breath and native air.

But, strange paradox, most of us are plagued with a subtle aversion to praying. We do not naturally delight in drawing near to God. We pay lip service to the delight and potency and value of prayer. We assert that it is an indispensable adjunct of mature spiritual life. We know that it is constantly enjoined and exemplified in the Scriptures. But in spite of all this, too often we fail to pray.

Full article here.

He’s right. People in ministry wrestle with this as much or more than ordinary folk. But for us, there is much more on the line.

Learn to pray now with the commitment and vigor that you expect of the godliest people you know.

Learn to pray in such a way that you see real life coming into your life and others’ as a result of your praying.

The best way to learn to pray is by praying.

Do prayer experiments. Try different ways of praying and see what happens. I did this while I was in seminary. My most memorable one was when I prayed visually as discussed by Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline. It was the first time I received in prayer specific and exact foreknowledge of future events.

Answer this question: how long each day do I think a pastor / missionary / whatever-ministry-you-aspire-to should pray each day?

Some practical suggestions from one who is no expert at praying.

  • Most of you probably already have a habit of daily prayer. If not, begin now, with whatever length you choose, and let it grow. Could be as few as 10 minutes, as much as a couple of hours. I think 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted prayer each day is a good target.
  • Find a quiet place where you’ll be uninterrupted, but one that has some room to move around. Cell phone off.
  • I know we live in the age of diminishing attention spans. I deal with this, too. To help my attention span grow and to be less concerned about the time, I set a timer or alarm on my cell phone, and simply pray until it goes off. This frees me from having to think about the time. When I catch my attention wandering, I simply bring it back and reengage until my timer goes off. Soon, you’ll be setting the alarm for longer times.

If you have attention issues, then create for yourself an environment for prayer with multiple attention stimulators:

  • CD player or iPod
  • Candles
  • Your Bible and a pencil or pen (I ALWAYS read the Bible with a pencil; helps me interact with the text. Underline, circle, write questions, etc.)
  • A devotional book (The Valley of Vision, The Book of Common Prayer, etc.)
  • A sketchbook with colored pencils or other art material.
  • A piece or two of sacred art.
  • Natural items: wood, stone, water, a cross

Spread everything out on a table or on the floor and get after it.

You might try the continuous online prayer meeting at the World Prayer Center.

Pray in unconventional ways. Find a posture that helps you. I pray well when I pace. If walking works, walk. Standing? Sitting? Kneeling? If you pray best while playing an instrument, then do it.

Find a prayer mentor. I recently met with another local pastor who prays for two hours every day. I’m nowhere near that, but I’m learning from him.

I cannot overemphasize how important this is. I believe that your lifelong ministry habits are begun in seminary (if not before). I’ve seen too many people wash out of ministry because their foundation in intimacy with God was not well established at the beginning. I plead with you: learn to pray.

Praying for Spiritual Awakening

Christianity Today Articles on Prayer

More Articles on Prayer

The complete text of Andrew’s Murray’s book The Prayer Life

(With contributions from Jordan, SSG.com research assistant.)

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Category: Spiritual life

About the Author

Mark Warnock is the founder and General Editor of Seminary Survival Guide.com. He trains church planters and coaches new worship leaders at Family Church in West Palm Beach, and is finishing a Ph.D in Christian Philosophy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Chad says:

    Hey Mark, I couldn’t agree more. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to my early prayer life was a lack of understanding. I didn’t understand what a prayer life was really supposed to look like. All the pictures I saw growing up were of the pastor sitting in his study, bible open, praying with that look on his face that says, “I just ate a chalupa”. It wasn’t until I began incorporating music, art, and even action into my prayer life that I really began to “connect”. Part of it may be my ADD, but I see those things as a natural “accompaniment” to my prayer, not a distraction. And you are sooooo right, the foundation laid early is what will sustain you during the long haul.

  2. Just a Guy says:


    I’m just now catching on my blog reading and came to your article… the cool thing is that I LITERALLY just posted a Two Cent Tuesday poll on prayer and seminary.

    I think a survey of seminaries would reveal that pray is not an emphasis… but shouldn’t it be?

    Thanks for the post!

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