A Personal Prayer Rule

Image courtesy of khrawlings via Flickr.com

Image courtesy of khrawlings via Flickr.com

As a priest, one need I often hear people express is a desire to grow in personal prayer. Several times a week you may hear someone ask you, ‘Will you please pray for _______?’  To take the call to prayer seriously requires preparation, thought, and effort. Yet for hearts that are seeking God on behalf of others, there’s an awareness that we do not know how to pray well. Yet we desire to pray better. ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’ a disciple once asked Jesus. For two thousand years since that request, disciples have been asking the Lord the very same question.

When Jesus responded to that disciple in Luke 11, he gave his company of followers the short prayer now known as the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is a brief, orderly, and yet comprehensive way of prayer. It is the earliest example of what Christians would call ‘a rule of prayer.’ The Latin word regula is translated ‘rule’ in English. A rule of prayer is simply a form of intercessions and petitions that one prays on a regular basis.

If you want to grow in personal prayer; if you wish to faithfully intercede for friends and family members; if you want to take seriously the spontaneous prayer requests you receive in a week, you will need an intentional way of praying. To be intentional in prayer means making a plan for prayer. Don’t trust your memory because your memory will fail you. When your memory recalls prayer needs, the intercessions are usually scattered, anxious, and lacking in spiritual power. Instead, make an orderly plan, a personal prayer rule, for the relationships and needs that God has entrusted to you.

Think weeks, not days

In my life as a priest, I cannot fulfill my call to prayer without an intentional rule of personal prayer, especially intercessory prayer (prayer offered on behalf of others).  Like the Lord’s Prayer, I need a comprehensive way of praying for the relationships, needs, and concerns I carry in my heart on behalf of others. In my own personal prayer rule, I do not expect to complete the full list of intercessions in a single day. My goal is to complete all intercessory prayers over the course of a week.

As an extension of my own prayer rule, our church staff prays together for every person in our church over the course of a month. Of course, we pray more often for those facing sickness and crisis, but I believe church leaders should be praying for every person in their body on a regular basis, regardless of what is happening in their lives.

Learning different intervals of time to complete my personal prayer rule has been the key for me to pray in grace and freedom, rather than praying in guilt. Ultimately, I want to be fully present in prayer, to experience the compassion of Christ for a person as a pray. This means slower praying, which means I can’t pray for a hundred people everyday. But it also means I pray more deeply and sincerely each day. That means praying more from the heart, which is my ultimate goal.

My Personal Prayer Rule

By way of example, here’s an overview of my personal prayer rule. Since prayer needs are often private in nature, I’ve cleared any personal names from my plan. On the prayer rule I use, most every box is filled with names, though not all. Fridays, for example, are my family day and I take a lighter number of intercessions so I can give my attention to my family.

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Making Your Own Prayer Rule

My personal prayer rule above represents a number of years of trial and error, coming to terms with my limitations, and learning to pray from the heart rather than checking off names from a list. What do I pray for when I pray? I pray into situations of which I’m aware, but mostly I take a verse of Scripture and pray Scripture over the names on my list. I’d rather sincerely pray Scripture than scramble for some phrase in my own mind.

To make your own personal prayer rule, here’s a few suggestions about appropriating the example I’ve given above:

  • Family: my wife and children; every person in my immediate family, everyday
  • Extended Family: parents, grandparents, siblings and families, cousins, aunts, uncles (designating days for each, more deliberate prayer for some depending on life situations)
  • Soul Friends: my closest friends (the groomsmen in my wedding and a few others cover the days of the week)
  • Apostles Staff: God has entrusted me to care and provide leadership for these amazing people; devote a day of the week for anyone given into your care in work or vocational life
  • Parish Council: the local lay leadership of our church; use this space to pray for your local church’s leadership. Devote one or a few persons in the leadership group among the days of the week.
  • Apostles & ADOTS Clergy: I’m called to pray for my fellow ministers in the Gospel both locally and in my diocese. Use this space to pray for ordained pastors in your local church and the larger denominational body to which you belong.
  • Spiritual Direction: I pray for anyone who comes to me for regular, spiritual direction. This space could be used for anyone you lead in a mentoring relationship or perhaps your small group members
  • Mission: our church has a deliberate focus on ministries in Rwanda and also a local ministry for single-mother families. I spread out prayers for those mission groups over the course of the week to carry their needs in my heart.
  • Pastoral Care: this is the space where I pray for urgent, critical needs of a pastoral nature. I also make room for longer-term, chronic needs later in the week. ‘Extended family’ means people that don’t attend my church, but family members of our church members. Praying with these categories has enabled me to pray with intention into specific needs without feeling overcome by the vast number of prayer needs in our church community.
  • Daily Schedule: pray over your schedule for the day, that Christ would be in the words you speak, the silences you keep, and the way you love those you encounter.

Not the Only Way

In my own personal prayer rule, this list of intercessions belongs within the daily practice of reading Scripture and worshipping God before I pray for others. In other words, intercessions alone do not make up a personal prayer rule. My personal prayer rule involves the Book of Common Prayer and the list above is included in those prayer services. But it need not be the Book of Common Prayer which you use in your personal prayer rule. The Church has produced many good prayer resources in its 2,000 years. Choose a good resource based on Scripture and choose wisely.

And when you come to the time for daily intercessions, don’t worry about whether your personal prayer rule is the ‘correct’ way to pray or not. Just pray for those you love, pray for the world, and most of all, pray from the heart.