Your Prayer Life Might Be Better Than You Think

Your Prayer Life Might Be Better Than You Think

A Struggle with Prayer

“I don’t pray often. When I do, I just don’t know what to say. I know it should be more than a list of demands, but I stall out. I wish I had a better prayer life.” A young woman, Rachel (not her real name), confessed this to me many years ago. She had grown up in the church. She had wanted to pray for much of her life. But she felt a bit lost in it. For Rachel, prayer was a struggle. Indeed, having recently graduated from a Christian college and trying to figure out how to maintain a faithful Christian walk without the support and encouragement that Christian colleges afford, the struggle felt especially poignant. In response, for the first time in my life, I said, “Your prayer life may be better than you think.”

In the years since I have said this, or something like it, to many who admit disappointment with their prayer life. It is, of course, not a one-size-fits-all word. But I find it to be a form of encouragement that would spotlight the many mercies and graces already being worked by God in a person’s life. It is also a strategic introduction to Christian and ecclesial identity, which, perhaps surprisingly, has everything to do with a healthy life of prayer.

Praying Through

Some of Rachel’s unease revolved around not knowing what to pray, or at least what to pray beyond a grocery list of things she wanted. I asked if she read her Bible. Indeed, she did. “Then you have a lot of things to say in prayer to God,” I told her. The Bible is filled with God-given, Spirit-inspired prayers to God (e.g., the psalms, the Lord’s Prayer).

The biblical prayers are no mere containers for content, as though the chief thing to do with them is to learn truths from them. Their prayer form is important. And their prayer form is important in more than just a template-providing manner. When I open a word-processing application, I’m given the option of creating a new document from a template—a ready-made brochure filled with pseudo-Latin filler text: “Lorem ipsum . . . ” My job is to fill the brochure with my own content. The Bible’s many prayers are not given only as templates that throw us back on ourselves to fill with our own content. This was one of the sticking points for Rachel. She felt on her own, without help, needing to come up with supposedly self-originated prayers.

The Bible’s many prayers are more like example sentences given to foreign language learners to write out and take on their own lips. Such statements are not “their own.” Hopefully, they will mature enough to speak “for themselves,” but they won’t get there without first learning the language, which includes working through example sentences. In like manner, Scripture’s prayers, especially the psalms, are prayers we can and should take on our lips. We can pray through Scripture. It’s part of learning how to pray. For those who need to be so taught (see Luke 11:1), it is a crucial first step.

Thus, the early church in Acts 4:24–26 prays the words of Psalm 2 as their own prayer. More extensively and dramatically, the congregation of Israel is expected to take the prayer of David recorded in 2 Samuel 22 on their own lips in corporate worship (see Ps. 18). Biblical prayers are given to be prayed as our first form of prayer. If you are stuck at How do I start?, then know you already have words for beginning given to you in the Word.

Praying With

When I told Rachel that she was further along in prayer than she imagined, I especially had in mind her faithful participation in our local church’s weekly worship.

Consider what basically happens in Lord’s Day worship. The Lord gathers his people to address them through Scripture and ordained mouthpieces, and the assembly answers him with various words of fitting response. God’s opening call to worship is responded to by the church’s songs of praise. The reading of the law is responded to with confession of sin. The word of pardon is responded to with thanksgiving and passing of the peace. The proclamation of the word is responded to with confession of faith. And so forth. The whole service is, at its best, the body engaged in a well-ordered, meaningful covenantal dialogue with the covenant Lord—that is to say, it is corporate or common prayer.

We can pray through Scripture. It’s part of learning how to pray. For those who need to be so taught, it is a crucial first step.

Imagine someone going to a baseball game and cheering on the MLB’s best team: “Let’s go, Twins! Let’s go, Twins!” That person would be cheering in unison with others, voicing a cheer neither thought up on the spot nor uttered “in one’s own words.” But we wouldn’t for those reasons deny that that person is personally cheering. Are we tempted to deny or discount that we are personally praying when praying in unison with the Lord’s Day assembly in common prayer? If so, it might betray anemic understandings of church, Christian identity, and corporate worship. Corporate worship is the body at prayer, glorifying God “with one voice” (Rom. 15:6). And since each Christian is individually a member of the body, then this, too, is meant to be and is part of the personal prayer life of each.

Thus, if one is regularly and attentively engaged in corporate worship, then one is regularly praying, for I can pray with the Christian assembly. And in that very engagement, one is getting regular discipleship in the life of prayer, getting practice in differing words to pray, in various fitting responses to God’s varied words, in the rhythms and patterns of a communicative relationship with God.

Prayed For

As a member of the body of Christ by faith in Christ, my participation with the body in prayer is truly a part of my prayer life. What’s more, the body’s praying has an organic relation to my praying life even when I am not in the gathering, even when I am personally flagging in prayer.

There’s encouragement to be had in the fact that we are part of a constantly praying people. The point is not to give a blank check for indifference or nonchalance toward our personal pursuits and wakefulness in prayer, as if to say that so long as others are praying then I can ride on their coattails. The point is, once again, to remind us that prayer isn’t a matter of us individually conjuring enough strength of will and thought and emotion to do better at praying. We are not called to come up with our own words in prayer ex nihilo, but are given the Word with prayers to get us going. We are not charged to be DIY, autodidact pray-ers, but are taught and discipled in the life of prayer, in part through participation in Lord’s Day worship. And even when we falter and fail in prayer, we are constantly upheld in prayer, being interceded for by fellow believers.

I hope you are part of a congregation whose intercessory prayer ministry is frequent and fervent so that the point may be driven home in a local, tangible way. But even if you are not, you who believe in Christ are part of a catholic church with brothers and sisters scattered across the globe who are constantly at prayer both individually and in various gatherings for the good and life of the whole body of Christ, of which you are a part. And most fundamentally, the head of that body, Christ himself, is always interceding for you at the Father’s right hand (Rom. 8:34), and his Spirit poured out in your heart is engaged in the same ministry on your behalf (Rom. 8:26–27). You are always being prayed for.

Praying In

At the end of the day, the reason why your prayer life is better than you think is that you who believe in and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are in Christ. The life of prayer is not a work we must accomplish to recommend us to the Father whom we would approach. It is rather a gift of the gospel, for the Son alone always speaks the right word to the Father. Christ alone prays fully and only and always as God’s people ought to pray. And his praying life is reckoned as ours when we believe in him and raise our prayers in his name. The good news, as James Torrance has put it, is that “God in grace gives us what he seeks from us—a life of prayer—in giving us Jesus Christ and the Spirit.”1 Your prayer life is better than you think because, as the gift of God’s grace, you are united to the Son and participate in his ever glorious and good answer to the Father.


  1. James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 64.

Daniel J. Brendsel is the author of Answering Speech: The Life of Prayer as Response to God.

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Author: Daniel J. Brendsel

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