We know that we should always pray, but do we always know how to pray? And by how to pray, do we know how to focus and direct our prayers, strategically?
In 1 John 5.15, the Apostle John says this: And if we know [for a fact, as indeed we do] that He hears and listens to us in whatever we ask, we [also] know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted to us] the requests (or petitions) which we have asked from Him.
God loves when we pray and He loves when we pray with specificity. Not necessarily that He loves it more or less, but it’s a special moment that draws us in. We see this several times in Scripture where Jesus Himself asks directly, “What do you want Me to do for you?” even when the need was clearly obvious (Matthew 20.30-34).
Why does He do this? It’s not because He doesn’t know or needs a hint. When God is asking us a question, it serves as a locator for our heart. He’s helping us to see where we’re at, to think about what we’re thinking about, and how to trust Him with our most basic and also deepest needs and wants. God loves this so much that we even see Jesus tell the disciples to pray for workers to help save the lost (Matthew 9.37-38); a prayer request that, like all prayer requests, He was more than capable of doing. So why tell them to pray for this?
When God tells us to pray, it’s to redirect our eyes and attention to Him – the Creator, the Holder, and the Fixer of all! It’s our opportunity to partner with Him in what He’s doing. And when you think of it like that, we truly to GET TO pray rather than it being that we HAVE TO pray.
Even the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6.9-13) was very specific in focus as they looked to God. Thankfully, just as Jesus was teaching the disciples how to pray here, so can we learn how to pray from this example and many others in Scripture.
Here are 10 ways (of many others) that you can powerfully and strategically pray.
1] Pray For Open Doors
Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us, too, that God will open a door [of opportunity] to us for the word, to proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I have been imprisoned; 📖 Colossians 4.2-3
We don’t always know what we’re doing, why, or the circumstances that we’ll encounter. But when God comes to live in us, we take Him with us wherever we go, in good and bad situations. But especially in difficult terrain, we should pray for God to provide an opportunity to proclaim Him and His ways. That doesn’t always mean preaching a sermon everywhere we go. It can simply mean taking the opportunity to model Christ in how we behave, perform, and treat people.
2] Pray For Boldness
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness. 📖 Acts 4.29
Doing God’s work and responding in obedience wherever we’re at is not always easy. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves and just figure it out. As we see with the disciples, we can ask Him for boldness to represent Him well and do what He’s called us to do where we’re at. Other translations use the word “confidence” here. It’s important to remember that God doesn’t want us to cower in fear when we’re moving on His behalf. He wants us to move in confidence and boldness as we rep His name!
3] Pray For Wisdom
If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him. 📖 James 1.5
Perhaps our favorite prayer – especially as young adults. “God, give me wisdom!” 🤣 It goes without saying but it should be said that God doesn’t want us moving in stupid. We’ll never have the answers to everything in this life, but He doesn’t leave us to figure it all out. He invites us to ask (pray) for wisdom. Dr. Tony Evans says that “Biblical wisdom is not merely information but to be able to take the right information and apply it to the decisions in life.” If God is all-wise, and we believe that He truly is, we should pray for wisdom in all the things we approach in our lives, big and small.
4] Pray To Be Harmless
Listen carefully: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves [have no self-serving agenda]. 📖 Matthew 10.16
It’s natural to act out of our self-interests or even our zeal, but this can be damaging in the wrong way, time, and place. Asking God to help us be harmless, to put away our self-interests, and to respond out of awareness, grace, and mercy helps us to co-mission with Him without getting in the way of people being able to see Him. Throughout the culture, especially in business and politics, we’re often praised for saying or doing the right thing in the wrong way, dismissing it as collateral damage. But in God’s Kingdom, He cares about the way too.
5] Pray For Open Hearts
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple fabrics who was [already] a worshiper of God, listened to us; and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention and to respond to the things said by Paul. 📖 Acts 16.14
Yo… Lydia was a worshiper of God but she had not yet heard the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. How often do we have some of it or most of it right, but we’re still missing something? And yet we don’t even know what we don’t know and are missing because our hearts are not open to receiving. This is so pivotal in witnessing and sharing truth, that we would do so to open hearts AND with open hearts as God leads us. With Lydia’s willingness to listen and God opening her heart, she became a faithful follower of Christ and the first recorded convert in Europe!
Later on, Lydia provided hospitality and shelter for the disciples as they ministered in the region. Not only did God transform Lydia’s heart but He used her to provide for the mission. When we pray for God to open hearts and for us to lead with open hearts, the possibilities are endless.
6] Pray For Conviction Of Sin
And He, when He comes, will convict the world about [the guilt of] sin [and the need for a Savior], and about righteousness, and about judgment. 📖 John 16.8
A lot of times we desire to help bring about a heart change in someone but only God can truly change a heart. And one of the primary ways He changes our hearts is to show us where we’ve gone wrong – as only a loving Father would do. It’s not our job to necessarily pray for specific punishments or how God should deal with someone, but we absolutely should pray for people to receive conviction for their sin. Not to pay them back or to see them suffer but so that they would turn from their sin (repent) and see and follow God. Turning from their sin first requires seeing their sin (conviction). And… seeing our own too (ouch).
7] Pray That The Holy Spirit Will Reveal Jesus To Them
But when the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, He will testify and bear witness about Me. 📖 John 15.26
Among them the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving to prevent them from seeing the illuminating light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 📖 2 Corinthians 4.4
Along with conviction of sin, we simply need people to see Jesus! It’s not just about seeing our sin, but realizing that we have a Savior for it; someone Who has already paid the price for our sin and gave us a way out. It’s understandable why we want to pray for people to start or stop doing certain things. But if we pray for them to truly see Jesus revealed by the Holy Spirit, He can get them to the place they need to be, and He’ll do so in His way and time. It’s hard if not impossible to make anyone do anything. Our prayer should be for Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus, and not just to the lost, but for the found as our daily guide and reverence.
8] Pray For Demonstrations Of Power, Signs & Wonders
So Paul and Barnabas stayed for a long time, speaking boldly and confidently for the Lord, who continued to testify to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders (attesting miracles) be done by them. 📖 Acts 14.3
One of the ways that Jesus is revealed to us is by the raw power and awe of God through miracles, signs, and wonders! While God is not a genie and will not allow Himself to be pimped out for show, we can also acknowledge that He is a God that likes to show. He demonstrates His power to redirect our gaze back to Him, and to get the glory as the one true sovereign King of all. With confidence, we can and should pray with expectation for God to show up grand, for Him to do the unthinkable, and for people to see this amazing God we serve through His power. That doesn’t always mean God will show up in a loud and miraculous way. Maybe it’ll be low-key and quiet or just in a way or timing that we didn’t expect. Sovereign means God always reserves the right to move how and when He sees fit, whether we understand it or not. But like a child who believes their mom and dad can do anything, we’re too invited to ask our Heavenly Father for His power and wonder in our circumstances and on behalf of others.
9] Pray For Their Salvation
The Lord does not delay [as though He were unable to act] and is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is [extraordinarily] patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 📖 2 Peter 3.9
When people look at the world falling apart and ask why hasn’t Jesus returned, this is why. Contrary to some denominational teachings, God doesn’t want anybody to perish and invites all to be saved in Him. For God, the timing is inconsequential because He lives outside of time. 100 years to God is effectively no different than 1 minute. But we experience time much differently.
Just as Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers to help save the lost (Matthew 9.37-38), we’re to partner with Him by praying for those who don’t yet know Him to make Him their Lord and Savior. This is probably the most important and consequential prayer we can offer, that God would open the hearts and minds of the lost and make Him their saving grace. Imagine… What would your job look like if everyone there gave their lives to Christ? What would your neighborhood look like? The city? The places you hang out? Though not all by any means, a lot of problems would go away if more and more people received Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So maybe instead of just praying that someone would stop or start being this or that, let’s also remember to pray for them to receive Jesus and come to bear the fruit of salvation because everything else flows from that.
10] Pray For The Spirit To Pray On Your Behalf
So what do we do when we don’t know what to pray or even how for a situation at hand? Plot twist… He’s already praying.
In the same way the Spirit [comes to us and] helps us in our weakness. We do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should, but the Spirit Himself [knows our need and at the right time] intercedes on our behalf with sighs and groanings too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes [before God] on behalf of God’s people in accordance with God’s will. 📖 Romans 8.25-27
It’s good to pray strategically with focus, and to make what’s important to God important to us. But when we don’t know what and how to pray, or the situation is too overwhelming, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit praying for us. And He doesn’t get tired or confused. He knows exactly what we need!
We too can pray into that, asking Holy Spirit to lead us in how to pray, what to pray, or who to pray for. That we would capture His heart and will for all that He desires to do and reveal. One of my favorite prayers is simply, "Lord, be loud in my ears and my heart."
Praying to be led in prayer is next-level prayer! God loves when we bring our specific needs, concerns, and wants to Him. Big or small, they’re all the same to a BIG God – and He cares.
Adapted from A Discipleship Journey by Dave Buehring.