Tool #1: Practice
It is comforting to know that prayer is a learned behavior (Luke 11:1). It is also comforting to know that nobody, save Jesus, is an expert at prayer (Luke 11:2-13). However, scripture is clear that God expects people to pray (cf. Matt. 6:5; Col. 4:2; Luke 18:1; I Thess. 5:17). Thus, if it is something Christians are expected to do, getting in and actually doing it is important! A prayer does not have to be long or eloquent to be effective (Neh. 5:19; Matt. 6:7-8; Luke 18:9-14). Maturing in prayer life will find us developing the discipline of prayer so that we turn to God first in our lives when joys or sorrows or anything prevails (Jas. 5:13; 1 Pet. 5:6-7).
Tool #2: Pattern
Studying the prayer life of Jesus or some of the great heroes of faith like David, Nehemiah, Daniel, or Paul will help in gaining an understanding about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of prayer. Nehemiah, it seems, was skilled in seamlessly weaving prayers into his daily work and calling upon the Lord for His blessing in big and small challenges (Neh. 5:19). Praying while driving, cooking, working, and relaxing are great. So too, praying while withdrawing, reflecting, meditating, and worshipping are part of the pattern of spiritual people.
Tool #3: Posture
Sometimes the standard posture, “let us bow our heads and close our eyes” can be more of a hinderance than it can a help. When the body needs sleep, bowing can quickly become nodding! Sometimes when David prayed, he laid prostrate on the ground (2 Sam. 12:15-16). Some stood, some knelt, while others sat (Dan. 6:10; 1 Kings 19:4; Acts 20:6; Neh. 8:4-6). Jesus often looked up towards heaven (Mark 6:41). With prayer, it may not always be helpful to bow the head and close the eyes to keep the heart focused on petitioning the God of heaven. When praying privately, there is wisdom in considering these other prayer postures.
Tool #4: Planning
Jesus always had time and made time to pray, even when the busyness of life was pressing about Him. In fact, He would often retreat by Himself and spend time with His Father in prayer (Mark 1:35; 14:35; 5:16; 9:18). Daniel made a habit of praying three times a day, so much so, that his enemies knew his prayer life was a constant in his life (Dan. 6:10). For someone wanting to improve his/her prayer life: set an alarm on the phone or on the computer, retreat away from the daily grind, and plan to spend scheduled, meaningful time talking to Our Father in heaven.
Tool #5: Program
What do I pray for? I would pray, but I don’t know what to say! For folks like these, begin with the question Jesus asked blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want Me to do for you” (Mark 10:51)? What pressing concerns can God address? What weights can God lighten? Bible reading and praying scripture to God is a great program as well. When the heart is overwhelmed, happy and comforted is the person who can pray Psalm 61 back to God. As a practical note, “Echo” is a free prayer app that a person can list their personal prayer requests and the app will keep those for remembering throughout the day (See Tool #4).
Tool #6: Fasting
Fasting can help focus prayer in a powerful way (cf. Ex. 24:18; 2 Chr. 20:1-ff; Est. 4:16; Mat. 4:1; Acts 13:1-3). Fasting is stopping a daily function of life to devote all attention to petitioning God, attending to the things of God, doing all to the glory of God (see Matt 6:9-13; Jas. 4:8-10; 1 Cor. 10:31). Food is a basic need, however, so is prayer and feeding on the word of God (Matt. 4:1-4). When Christians abstain from food (or any regular activity) for the sole purpose of drawing nearer to God, it will help put a person’s priorities in perspective (cf. Lam. 3:24). Fasting is not so God gives more weight to those prayers, rather, prayers coupled with fasting will remind Christians who is ultimately in control.