We have both the command from God to pray, and the promise that He will hear us. Sometimes it is easy to pray. Words come easily and we know what to say. Sometimes, prayer is more difficult. We struggle with words to say and we can’t think of who we should pray for or what we should say. Our sinful nature also tends to laziness, so we don’t pray as much or as often as we should.
One way to combat this sinful laziness and the struggle to know what and who to pray for is to have a prayer calendar. Just as it is helpful to have a daily Bible reading plan or Book of Concord reading plan, a plan for intentional prayer can keep you disciplined and on track. This plan can be as simple or as complex as works for you and your family. I will let you know some things I do with my family and feel free to take what works for your family and change as you see fit.
The basic idea is that in addition to prayers of praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplications for yourself, you keep a list of other people for whom you will pray supplications. The list can be divided into categories, such as “Urgent,” “Family,” “Friends,” “Church Family,” “Pastors and Missionaries,” and “Authorities,” for instance.
The first category (“Urgent”) might be those who you know who are in some kind of crisis or suffering from some illness. This could include anyone in the hospital, those undergoing treatment, and those recovering from surgery or about to undergo surgery. It could also include any families you know grieving the loss of a loved one, those caught up in conflict or turmoil, and those suffering from catastrophe, loss, or persecution. Our family’s goal is to pray for those in this list every night during devotions.
In the second category, could be your family. Make a list of family members both immediate and extended. In our case, this is quite a large list, and our goal is to pray for two or three immediate families from the list each night. After we get through the list over the course of many days, we start back at the beginning.
The third category could be family friends and the fourth families from your congregation. As with the family category, we pray through these two categories a few names each night, returning to the beginning after we are done the list. Congregations normally have membership lists which are great to use for this.
As you pray for the people in these categories, certainly a general prayer for them is great. Include that God would bless them with true faith by the Holy Spirit and that God would keep them in His Church, separated from unbelievers. For those who are not believers, pray that God would work in their hearts through His Holy Spirit to convert them and that God would give you the words to give witness to the Gospel when you speak to them. Where you know of particular needs, also include those needs in prayer. For those that are members of your congregation but are inactive in attending Divine Service, pray that God might bring them to hear His Word and receive His forgiveness. For those who are sick, pray that God might give them His comfort and be their strength and if it be His will, to restore them to health or grant them grace to accept their afflictions. Remember also their caregivers and families who feel and share the burden.
Remember your pastor in your prayers. He is continually under the assault of the evil one as he brings God’s Word to sinners, because the devil wants nothing more than to prevent God’s Word from being heard. Pray for other pastors in your circuit, your circuit visitor, district and synod presidents, for seminary professors, and for missionaries. Missionaries often send out newsletters to let you know what is going on in their specific mission fields. Subscribe to those newsletters and pray for the specific needs and situations with which they are dealing. Pray that God would keep His messengers faithful to Him, that He would give them courage in the face of opposition, and boldness to proclaim God’s saving truth. Pray also that God would send more laborers into His harvest, for the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matt. 9:37-38).
Don’t forget to pray for those in authority. We have a specific instruction from God to pray for those in authority so that we might lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (I Tim. 2:1-2). Don’t let your anger over their corruption or wrongdoing prevent you for praying for them. Where they have erred, pray that God would grant them repentance and amendment of life. Pray also for those in immediate authority over you, such as your boss at work, and the teachers of your children at school. Their lives directly affect your life and the life of your family.
As a final category, pray for those who have hurt or offended you. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 6:44). Pray that their hearts would be turned in repentant faith to Christ, and pray that God would give you a forgiving heart towards them. Pray for the false teachers in our Synod and for all the enemies of the Gospel, that God would root out all heresy and of false teachers rid us (TLH 260 st. 3). Pray for those who persecute the faith at home and in distant lands.
These are some examples of how you might set up categories for a plan of intentional prayer. When additional needs or people come to your attention, add them to the list so that you will not forget about them. Don’t be surprised if God also moves you to be an answer to the prayers that you pray. In your prayers for missionaries, God may just open your heart to give generously to the needs for which you’ve been praying. In praying for more laborers for the harvest, God may just prompt you to attend seminary and work towards being one of those laborers. In praying for your authorities, hopefully you will be moved to contact your authorities and let them know of your faith and beliefs and request that your leaders lead according to God’s will.
These are ideas for an intentional prayer plan. Take, leave, or adopt what you find helpful for you. You can also simply divide all the people or supplications into 30 groups and set one for each day of the month. The overall point is to be organized and intentional in your prayers so that you can be more disciplined and that your prayers may not falter. God has promised that He will hear and answer our prayer in the way that is best (Matt. 7:7-11; Rom. 8:26-28), so we can boldly pray to God as our loving heavenly Father trusting His mercy for the sake of Christ.