For six years, I was in ministry in the Methodist church. I worked with children, teenagers, and their parents. I love facilitating a good Bible Study or just participating, and I’ve listened to sermons that changed my life (PS, I love this church’s online offerings, if you’re looking for that). I’ve sung (probably too loudly) in choirs, led mission trips that made a lasting impact on my faith journey, and participated in life groups that held me accountable and became my closest friends. I’ve also had several different moments in my life where I felt God’s presence in a completely overwhelming, all consuming way, and in those moments, I knew, undeniably, that something mysterious was happening in my life by His power. I am not a person of little faith. But having a consistent, meaningful, disciplined prayer life? Ugh. Prayer is the thorn in the side of my spiritual life. I’ve often felt like I never learned how to pray in a way that felt meaningful to me.

That sounds terrible, but it’s true. I can certainly say a lovely prayer in public, like any decent public speaker would be able to do. But to actually spend time with God, in silence, on a regular basis, just listening for his Word and speaking to Him from my heart? I suck at it. I really and truly do. I’ve found a couple of cheater tricks that have added a layer of richness to my faith life, and I thought you might benefit from them, too.

These are NOT tips for folks who already have an awesome prayer life. If that’s you, I hope you’ll share with us. These ideas are for beginners or just folks who have struggled with prayer for the entirety of their faith journey.

Encounter God

How to Pray with Gratitude Journaling

Nothing revolutionary here, Mama. This idea is not particularly fresh, but maybe I’ll present it differently in a way that speaks to someone. Even in the depths of the valley of your life, you’ve got something to be thankful for. And honestly, the absolute hardest times in your life is when gratitude journaling might help you the most.

I like to do gratitude journaling in the morning, at the start of the day. I drag out my notebook alongside my breakfast and coffee and just quickly jot things down my three things. If we’re going to choose gratitude in the midst of hard stuff, it’s going to come easiest at the start of the day, before the weight of the world has fallen upon you.

Here’s what I love about gratitude journaling:

  1. It’s quick. A gratitude journal entry for me looks something like this: (insert date at the top)
    • I’m happy about the glass of wine and good conversation with Hubs last night.
    • Chicken Patty potty trained successfully and seems much more confident and happy this week.
    • Honey Nut Cheerios are gluten-free.
  2. There’s not time or space for my mind to wander. My pen is moving, and when I’m finished with my three things, I utter a single, unimpressive sentence that goes like this: “(insert deep breath) Thank you, God.”
  3. Throughout the day, I’m paying better attention to the little blessings I encounter because gratitude journaling makes me more in tune with the good things in my life that come from Him. It’s harder to be grumpy when your soul is leaning into the good stuff.
How to Pray

Asking God for Help

Post-It Prayers have allowed me to unburden myself, follow up with God about my previous prayers, and also gain perspective about my own priorities.

I like to do Post-It Prayers at night time, when I’ve been carrying around a whole bunch of mess all day. It never fails that by bedtime, I’ve had some sort of devastating news about my students’ home life, I’ve probably already yelled at my own kids at least once, and been exposed to a totally depressing news cycle. And I mean, great things happened, too, and I’m a generally happy person. Nevertheless, it’s time to unload my burdens. I need to take it all to God. When evening falls, I’m all tuckered out, overwhelmed, and chances are, I just wasted a solid hour on watching Netflix when I could have been reading the Bible or praying or doing something more uplifting. But no. I probably just watched someone get stabbed on t.v. for fun, or yelled at some detective on the telly. 

How to Pray with Post It Notes

You only need three supplies that you’ll store in your nightstand: 

  • A ziplock bag
  • A stack of post-it notes
  • A sharpee, Flair pen, or some other happy writing implement

Put on your jammies, brush your teeth, and climb into bed with some pillows to prop you up. Grab your post-it note stack and your pen. Write only one burden on each post-it note, and make sure to jot down the date in the corner. Here are some of my past examples: 

  • Please help me find the self-discipline to lose weight.
  • I need to forgive _______, but I can’t seem to get over it.
  • I’m worried about (friend) who is starting chemotherapy.
  • I am not feeling successful at work and don’t know what key I’m missing.
  • My student, ____________, treats me with disrespect and I can’t figure out how to respond to him in a way that helps rather than hurts.

I make a conscious decision to not write down the same burden more than once. When I’m tempted to re-write a burden that’s been on my heart a long time, I tell myself that God already knows and I need to trust Him with it. When you’re fresh out of burdens and you’re feeling better, put the Post-It notes in your ziplock bag, put the cap back on your marker, and utter something simple to God. I like to just say something like, “Thanks for listening, God.” 

Taking Time to Reflect on Past Prayers

Every once in a while, on a Saturday morning when by some miracle I have a moment to myself, I’ll drag that ziplock bag back out when I’m writing in my gratitude journal. I’ll start sorting through those Post-It notes to read about my old burdens over coffee like its the dang newspaper. It’s always fascinating. God sure does interesting stuff with those Post-It notes, but I often find that I can re-stick them into several columns:

  1. God answered the prayer in a way that makes me smile ear-to-ear.
  2. He answered the prayer in an unexpected way, but it turns out I’m cool with it.
  3. Nothing has happened yet. I’m still waiting to hear from God and it’s a daily challenge to trust that He’s working on it in His time.
  4. In retrospect, I’m not even sure how God dealt with this pile of Post-It Notes, but I find that it’s too trivial to even care about anymore. I’m not sure why I even bothered to write these things down. 

The process of sorting through my past burdens is very cathartic to me. See, we often think God isn’t hearing our prayers, when really, we just aren’t even remembering all the things we brought to Him. By the time He answers a prayer in His own special way, in His own time, we’ve often moved on to fresh troubles and never bothered to say “Thank you, God” for all His power and might. We’re rather ungrateful, self-absorbed creatures. It helps to document our pain and see what God can do with it all. 

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Anyone else struggle with prayer? What have you found that helps you connect meaningfully with Him? Tell us about it!