Earlier this week I started a poll on how many people used a prayer list. It was meant to be a simple question, but I received some strong opinions about preferences over Twitter. There seemed to be some strong feelings that a prayer list is less spiritual.
What are the arguments against a prayer list?
There are two main complaints against prayer lists:
- They focus more on the request than on God.
- They don’t leave room for things not on the list.
John Piper identified what those in the anti-prayer list group are feeling.
There can be long lists of things that we pray for, and long lists of Bible verses we read, and long lists of things we thank him for. Yet there is no fire. Why? If we lose focus on the glory of God in the gospel as the solution to all our problems, then we devolve into a set of “grocery list” prayers, made rather desperately. When we are done, we only feel more anxious than before. The presence of God is not sensed because God is really just being used – he is not being worshipped.
John Piper is no more against prayer lists than he is over reading the Bible, but they both have the same pitfall. We can get so focused on the activity that we can forget the Person we are meant to engage.
What are the benefits to a prayer list?
The main benefit for a prayer list is organization. By writing down a prayer list you pull out of your heart the things that you really care about. It can also help remind you about what God cares about. The Bible tell us to pray for those in authority over us, but how many remember to pray for our President (1 Timothy 2:1-2). A prayer list can also remind us to pray for missionaries, siblings, co-workers, and influencers in our society.
An Example of Balance
In the early years of marriage, my wife and I were dedicate prayer listers. We were so determined to honor God and have Him pleased that we used the list to keep us on the perceived narrow path of following God. One day my wife was praying and had an extraordinary experience with God. She felt He was talking and spending time with her. It was a wonderful time with the Lord. After she had spend some time with God, she started to feel pressure that she had not done her prayer list. She heard Jesus tell her that when you spend time with me you already bring the things that are on your heart.
Prayer lists are not to be the method to gain God’s approval, but they can be a great tool to direct your prayers. They can help lead you into areas of prayer that you would have forgotten. They guide your heart into seeing if God has anything He wants you to pray about that subject. For some a prayer list is the tool God has given you to enter into His heart. For others it can restrict your relationship with God. There is no right answer here. Just be open to the God’s leading.
For one final thought: if you are someone who is adamantly opposed to a prayer list, I would expect God has something meaningful in it for you. I’ve noticed that God can be playful like that.
- The prayer list poll is still open. Go to the Prayer Coach Facebook page to participate.
Kevin Shorter is the founder of this prayer-coach site and have served for several years in ministry and churches teaching on a variety of Biblical topics. Go to the contact page to request him to speak at your conferences and seminars.