This world can be pretty overwhelming sometimes, can’t it? Just spend a few minutes watching the news and you’ll find more than enough material to fill your prayer time.
But can I be honest with you about something? With so much going on, not only in the world, but also in my personal life and in the lives of those I love, sometimes I freeze up when it come to prayer.
My mind swirls with all the concerns my friends have, the health issues family members are facing, and my own personal journey through my crazy emotions. Then when you add in prayers for the Church and for missionaries and those that don’t know Jesus, or those who know Him but are far from Him, all of it makes me want to curl up in a ball.
I get so overwhelmed that I either don’t pray at all or I just skim the surface hoping to cover as many topics and prayer requests as I can.
Even as I write this, I can feel my anxiety rising because of it.
Like many Christians, for years I kept a prayer list. Someone would ask for prayer and I’d throw them on my list. A missionary would come speak at church and I’d add them on. Someone would get sick or was in need or still hadn’t met Jesus and I wrote down their names and their needs.
But after a while, that list felt like a chore. I felt the pressure to pray for everyone and every thing every day.
I finally got to the point of feeling so overwhelmed a few months ago that I told God I was done. I wouldn’t be doing this prayer list thing anymore.
Honestly, I felt kind of rebellions. After all, what good Christian gives up her prayer list?
But as I laid that desire to get rid of my prayer list before God, I actually felt Him affirming it.
One thing I think we often forget when it comes to spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible reading is that God isn’t concerned about performance. He isn’t concerned if we’re powering through our prayer list and reading three chapters every day.
God’s more concerned with our heart behind our action.
Spiritual disciplines are great tools that can help build our faith and relationship with God. But they are just that–tools.
Over the years, however, the Church has often taught these disciplines as our way into God’s good graces. If we pray the right way, if we read so many chapters in the Bible each day then God will bless us and answer our prayers.
We’ve become a society where faith is built on performance, and that’s not okay.
When I got rid of my prayer list, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to pray anymore. Actually it was the complete opposite. I did want to pray more. Okay, maybe not more. I wanted to pray smarter, deeper. I didn’t want my prayer time to be rushed or stressful anymore, but intentional and focused.
So, together God and I came up with a new prayer plan.
My new prayer plan
At the beginning of each week I would ask God for a name, someone to pray for during those next seven days. Once He gave me the name, I wrote it down in the front of my journal and that person became my “focus person” for the week.
During my prayer time each morning, I’d pray for that person, taking time to pray over the things I knew they were struggling with and asking the Holy Spirit to guide me in praying for things I didn’t know about.
I prayed for other concerns and people too as they came to mind, but I set aside intentional time to pray deeply for one person rather than spreading myself thin trying to pray for everyone and everything.
Keeping a prayer focus person also gave me a reason to connect with them during the week. I’d ask them if there was anything I could be praying with them about and be more intentional about offering encouragement.
God also used this time to deal with some of the lies I was believing about prayer.
Prayer lists overwhelm me because I feel like it’s my duty to pray through the entire list, and if I don’t something may not happen that needs to. That’s why I got so stressed out. I felt like the future of people’s lives and salvation rested on my shoulders. If you’ve never experienced that before, let me tell you it’s a big, unnecessary weight to carry.
God had to remind me that I’m really not all that important. I don’t make things happen for other people because I prayed for them. And if I forget to pray it doesn’t mean God won’t come through.
All throughout this series we’ve been talking about how prayer is ultimately a time to commune with God. It’s our chance to lay our hearts before Him and get to know His heart.
When we bring our prayer lists before God, we’re joining other people in praying for their needs, and we’re sharing with God the things and people we care about. And while I do believe that prayer is powerful, God is the one who answers those prayers.
He’s the one who acts.
Our job is simply to be obedient, pray, and trust that God will do what’s best.
4 ways to cultivate a focused prayer life
Maybe you’ve experienced similar stress and overwhelm when it comes to keeping a prayer list. If so, I want to give you the freedom to throw the list away. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that you have to keep a list. If it helps you, great. But if it’s hindering your prayer life and your time with the Lord, maybe it’s time to try something different.
If you’re looking to cultivate a more focused prayer life, here are some ideas to get you started:
- Ask God for a focus person and pray for them throughout the week. You might even reach out with some encouragement and ask them if there’s anything specific you can join them in praying about.
- Make a prayer list then divide and conquer. Maybe having a prayer list helps you remember what to pray for, but you don’t like how overwhelming it gets. Divide that prayer list up. Pray for one or two concerns each day. This will allow you to be more focused and less stressed.
- Ask God to guide you in what to pray for each day. When you sit down for your prayer time and as you go about your day, allow God to lead you. Ask Him to put people and concerns on your mind and take some time to pray through each one.
- Use prayer cards. I’ve created a set of prayer cards with general topics to guide you in your focused prayer time. This set comes with 10 topic cards as well as two blank cards for you to write in your own topics. You can grab your free set here:
Prayer can be a really intimate, life-giving time of your day, but many of us miss this because we’re coming into it with the wrong motivation or beliefs.
It’s time to stop viewing prayer as a performance and simply press into this time with the Lord. It’s time to let go of the feeling like we have to pray for everyone and every thing every day.
Remember, this world is in God’s hands. He simply invites us to come play a part in it and get to know Him in the process.
Live in His love!
Related: Meaningful Prayer
15 thoughts on “Focused Prayer: Why I stopped keeping a prayer list”
I’m a list lover and have a prayer list that’s different for each day, Jazmin. So I can’t imagine not having that to reflect on. But I’m like you in that I don’t make this into an obligation to pray for every detail that I keep there. Some days I pray for all of the things listed and other days I focus in on certain people or needs. It truly is the time I just want to “be” with the Lord and never “do” by presenting Him with a bunch of requests. Thanks for challenging us all to rethink the way we pray. I’m pinning and tweeting, my friend!
Love this! I’ve know people whose prayer list gave them the same pressure and anxiety so I hope this helps many!
Jazmin, this is beautiful! And much needed. I’m on the side often where I feel like my spiritual disciplines are tied to God’s grace in a way that it is taken away if I am not doing enough or not doing it right. I needed this today as I was just praying yesterday that God would help me build my prayer life and passion for the Word, but in a healthy way. You are a part of God’s good timing today 😉
I love God’s timing! So glad this post was helpful and encouraging for you 😀
Love the message you’ve shared soooo well Jazmin!
When I became severely ill in 2011 my prayer list was one of a myriad of things I had to let go of. It wasn’t a choice, but a necessity! Confined to my bed and recliner, He taught me to “be”….. not “do!” My prayer life changed radically with these words coming to me from God: “while you can breathe you can pray!” My prayers changed from huge long requests & lists to a breath with a one word prayer. It may have been the name of one person & just simply saying their name as I breathed, as God knows their needs better than me!! Or it was a word God would give me, like “refresh” & again I sensed it was a covering word for many people & situations. It was a difficult life-changing time with my health restricting my life in sooooo many ways, but it opened up my prayer life to what God wanted for me & it was a relief and release! It led me to a word for the year in 2012, which was “embrace.” God has given me a word for the year ever since, each being significant. 2019 my word is “open” hence why I’ve shared my experience openly here & pray it helps and blesses others too. Thanks for your blog that God led me to. I look forward to what He leads you to share. Blessings. Kerryn
Dear Jaz, I am an older woman, 85 , and I love the Lord with all my heart, but I have been like many others frustrated that I could not pray for everyone and every thing. Trying different methods that seemed great but soon became left behind in frustration. Often I would think “Does God really care how I pray, isn’t the important part to just come to Him with a caring heart? I am going to try relaxing in Him and doing my best with a caring heart.
Prayer can be a challenge that way. There are a lot of voices out there telling us how it should be done, but this is another layer of relating with him. When we’re able to remember that prayer is simply conversation with him, it takes the pressure off how we go about. Like you said, he simply wants us to come to him.
What do I do with the list after I’ve prayed over the names. DO I burn them tear them up what do I do please assist me thanks
I don’t know that you have to do anything with them. Usually if I have a prayer list it’s in a journal so it just stays there. You can do whatever you want with that list.
Thank you so much for this article. I have been a prayer warrior for many , many years. I also have became very overwhelmed with prayer request, to the point that I don’t pray like I used to. It has just become totally overwhelming. Use to i always prayed for the request and generally forgot to pray for myself. Now I get so bogged down I have to pray for me because I was losing it. I feel that my prayers are losing heartfelt compassion as people would say things like, “I know you are still praying…” wow, and some I would ask how they are and they would be fine, but never even thought to let me know I could start praising God for the miracle that took place long ago. I am like you, I am getting overwhelmed and anxious just thinking about this. Just one thing I implemented months ago was to pray immediately , with the person giving in the request then i didn’t feel obligated to write it down and that has helped. But, i still feel guilty sometimes if i don’t continue praying for that need. I am going to take some good advise from you and others too. Thank you for your obedience. May God’s blessings be with you.
Glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. I constantly feel the weight of praying for everyone and everything, it’s so overwhelming that I often end up not praying for anything.
You are certainly not alone in this
This has blessed me in more ways than anyone knows! It is complete confirmation and beautifully highlights that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is LIBERTY—
2 Corinthians 3:17
Thank you Jesus for releasing me from the bondage of guilt!
Thank you so much for this. I really identify with you. I have struggled so much for how to create the perfect prayer list. I feel so guilty that I don’t pray more for others. It isn’t that I don’t care about them. I just forget because there is always so much to pray for. I felt like Jesus was shaking His head in disappointment with me. Yet at the same time if I tried to use a list, it seemed so artificial, like it wasn’t really coming from the heart. I have realized that the best prayer time is when I am fervently passionate about what I am praying for–something that has deeply touched my heart. My desire has been to be a real prayer warrior for God. But I struggle with being faithful in praying yet not letting it just become an activity of going through the motions. I guess we have to come up with our own answers. Thank you for having the courage to be so transparent. It helps me to put things in perspective.
Thank you so much. I have been stuck in this rut. I have found prayer time to be absoloutly exhausting and i always feel if i dont pray for a certain person or thing that day something bad will happen. I love my prayer list however i do want to find a better way to organize it so its not so overwhelming. I love the idea of divide and conquor. Certain prayers certain days. Any other suggestions will be more than welcome if anyone here doesnt mind. I just want my time with jesus back.