A quick disclaimer: the Bible never says you must make a prayer list. Therefore, do not assume using a prayer list makes you closer to God than those who don’t use one. Scripture records many prayers by prophets, apostles, and others. Some of their prayers have multiple requests. Yet, none say, “Lord, here’s my prayer list.”
That said, for years, I’ve personally benefited from using a prayer list. The practice of keeping a prayer list helped me make hard decisions and navigate tensions when they surfaced in relationships. It grounded me and kept me praying when multiple problems hit at once and kept me praying. My prayer list reminded me of God’s past faithfulness and often left me in awe of how close, kind, and involved God has been in my life.
Using a prayer list has helped me work out my salvation (Phil. 2:12). Still, though I cherish its value, I can go for months without writing one. So, I’m writing this to help two groups of people: those who have never used a prayer list and those who haven’t in a while. I’ll identify five benefits of writing down and regularly praying through a list of prayers. Hopefully, these benefits will encourage some of you to write and use a prayer list for the first time. If you used a prayer list before, this may remind you of its benefits and encourage you to revive the practice.
The immediate benefit of a prayer list is the focus. It moves you from general requests to specific ones. General requests occur when we’re panicked over a need. We beg God to “be with us” or “help us.” I once wondered about God answering that prayer by saying, “I am always with you. What do you want me to do?” It is at times like these when Philippians 4:6 is a helpful reminder. It says, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
There are twenty-six references to prayer in the book of Acts. All but four use the same Greek word translated requests in Philippians 4:6. In Acts, that word describes specific requests of God. Here, in Philippians 4:6, it portrays our specific requests as “petitions.” Following Scripture, we can affirm the legitimacy of general prayer and strive to pray specific prayers. We pray specific prayers to God because we have specific needs.
Writing down these specific requests hones them. Writing helps us discern our needs and shape our requests. The habit of writing prayers also makes our requests more proactive than reactive. Doctors want to prescribe medication for the disease, not just the symptoms. Writing out our prayers enables us to see the real need and helps us detail a specific request for it. Furthermore, it gives us peace. That’s been my experience. Though I know God already knows what I am experiencing and needing, recording my specific prayers reminds me of his specific love and care toward me.
Moving your request from general to specific, from reactive to proactive, and from symptom to disease means pausing and thinking before you ask. We see this in the life of Solomon. On the eve of his coronation, God tells Solomon, “Ask. What should I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon could ask for anything. Yet before asking, Solomon reflects on God’s kindness to his dad, King David (1 Kings 3:6). Then he considers God’s purpose for his life. By God’s command, Solomon would rule over Israel (1 Kings 3:7–8). With the weight of God’s righteousness over him and the burden of God’s responsibility upon him, Solomon doesn’t focus on asking for luxuries. He asks for what would benefit him most. Summing up his request in one statement, Solomon prays, “So give your servant an obedient heart to judge your people and to discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9).
When considering what to pray, learn from Solomon. Before asking God for anything, reflect on the person of God. His character alone will shape your prayer. Consider the purposes of God. Focusing on his kingdom will help you prioritize your prayers.
This simple exercise will clarify your prayers. Beyond praying prayers focused on our personal comfort, we desire God to be glorified in our lives. Our prayers should reflect this deeper truth and desire. This practice moves our prayers from being self-centered to being centered on God and his glory.
Luke 11 opens with Jesus’s disciples asking him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus gives them the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2–4. Then in Luke 11:5–8, Jesus encourages them to pray persistently by telling the story of a man pounding repeatedly on his neighbor’s door until he receives what he needs. Finally, in verses Luke 11:9–10, Jesus ends the story with a command saying,
“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Jesus commands us to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. Not only are we to be specific in what we ask. We are to ask persistently. A prayer list helps you do that because you can re-read it. If you do not understand the instructions, re-read the manual. If you forget company policy, re-read it. When I forget what my wife sent me to the store to buy, I re-read the list. Furthermore, I use the list to check off what’s in the basket and what I still need.
“Jesus encourages us to pray persistently”—Mark Becton
A prayer list allows us to keep praying for what remains unanswered. And if it remains unanswered for a long time, we can ask God if he wants us to ask him differently. In his book, The Doctrine of Prayer, T.W. Hunt says God sometimes says no to our prayers because we are not asking for what he wants or in the manner he wants.
Heightened Personal Worship
Thomas G. Long calls the psalms “poetic liturgical prayers.”1 David wrote about half of them. Reading David’s psalms, you get the sense you’re reading his prayer journal. They are the prayers of a shepherd boy secretly anointed king. After killing Goliath, he becomes the young general women sing about only to later be hunted by his nation. But when finally crowned king, David unites the people only to divide them because of his adultery. Yet before his death, he rallies them to give for building the temple and crowns Solomon king. And through it all, David prays, setting those prayers to music in what we call psalms.
I love David’s prayers because he’s honest. He agonizes to God about how others treat him. He cries to God feeling abandoned by God. And his pleas are graphically specific. Yet even when in prayerful anguish before God, David praises him. Some of his prayers are packed with unfiltered awe, praise, and trust. It is hard to read David’s prayers without worshiping God with him.
That’s the benefit of writing down your specific requests to God. You have a record of your hopelessness and God’s victory, your brokenness and God’s forgiveness, your need and God’s provision, your bewilderment and God’s guidance, your longing for God’s presence and God revealing his love for you in tangible ways. By penning your prayers and God’s answers, God enables you to write your own prayers like David did. And just like your desperation, your praise of God is too much to keep to yourself. You have to share it. That’s another benefit of writing a prayer list.
Sharing with Others
Most of my life I assumed because prayer lists were personal they were to remain private. Then, I looked at David and Paul. H.C. Leupold says David took his poetic prayers and handed them to the choirmaster for public worship.2 Once used in worship, they became part of the devotions and prayers of others.3 In his letters, Paul asked seven or eight of the churches to pray for him.4 Often, his requests were specific.
I, like so many others, have benefited from the vulnerability and honesty of David’s and Paul’s prayers in scripture. If they had not written them down and shared them with others, only they would have seen God’s answer and glory. Only they would have benefited. I’ve learned and often unrecognized value of a prayer list is sharing it with others. Sometimes I share only one or two requests from the list. And then, there was my desperate season.
Overwhelmed with multiple demands, opportunities, and potential conflicts in ministry, I wrote a prayer list. I left nothing out. It covered seven pages. Each page represented a different responsibility I carried. I prayed through one page each day of the week and asked three women I trusted and loved to pray it with me—I gave a copy to my wife Loree, my mom, and Ms. Audrey Davis—legally blind, today, she’s in her nineties. And during that demanding, often confusing season, I experienced splashes of joy. I saw God answer prayer and had three others who saw it and celebrated those answers along with me. It was beautiful.
Don’t underestimate the multiple benefits of a prayer list. There are more than the five I’ve mentioned. And guard your heart. Writing a prayer list can’t add any merit to the salvation that Christ has already purchased for you. However, if writing a prayer list for the first time, or doing it again after some time helps you work through your salvation, if it deepens your intimacy with God, practice it and praise God for it. He’s the one who says, keep on asking, seeking, and knocking (Matt. 7:7–8; Phil. 4:6–7; 1 Peter 3:5).
- Thomas G. Long, Preaching and the literary forms of the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 44. ↩
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1959), 9. Leupold writes, “for the present we offer only one suggestion, which to us seems the most reasonable of all, that the author of the psalm, usually David, put the psalm into the hands of the choirmaster with the intent and purpose that he might rehearse it with the Levitical choirs and so introduce it to Israel for public worship. Compare in this connection I Chron. 15:66ff.” ↩
- Long, 44. Long explains, “psalms are poetic liturgical prayers. This means, first, that psalms are poetry, Hebrew poetry to be specific, and that they obey the conventions of that literary form. It also means that the psalms are poems which eventually came to be sung, chanted, or recited over and over again in worship, and thus were stylized to fit into the liturgical context.” ↩
- Romans 15:30–32; 1 Corinthians 1:10–11; Ephesians 6:18–20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:2–4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–2; Philemon 1:22. ↩