Strengthen Your Prayer Life with an Assist from Past Pray-ers

Desire May Not Be Enough

Have you ever sat in front of a blank sheet of paper and wished you could paint?

US President Dwight Eisenhower desired to but could not paint, so he made use of templates designed for children called paint-by-number kits to learn how to paint. Many of his paintings—along with those of his administration such as Nelson Rockefeller, J. Edgar Hoover, and General Andrew Goodpaster—hang in Eisenhower’s Presidential Museum. None of these men were born artists; they simply followed the examples of artists to paint.

Ordinarily, desire is not enough. We usually have to be shown how to do something, with plenty of examples, before we can feel capable.

Cloud of Witnesses

Jonathan W. Arnold, Zachariah M. Carter

This comprehensive anthology combines prayers and petitions of the greatest figures throughout history to bolster the reader’s knowledge of prayer and develop their walk with Christ.

One thing I’ve learned over my years in ministry is that most Christians have a desire but struggle to have a consistent prayer life. I’ve found that a lack of prayerfulness usually comes from a lack of examples someone could follow to learn how to pray.

A century ago, most Christians would have heard someone else pray publicly at least once a day—a prayer thanking God for breakfast, a request for a productive school day, an invocation at a civic event, or dozens of other places. Then, of course, that Christian would hear dozens of prayers which would help them see the many different types of prayers which one might pray.

Draw from Examples

Christians can grow their prayer life through the use of examples or written prayers. For example, the great hymn-writer Issac Watts wrote a prayer book to help model prayer for Christians. Even though Jesus’s disciples saw him teach publicly in many different places, they still asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).

It might feel weird to read a written prayer. You might even feel like it lacks authenticity. Can I suggest that reading a written prayer as your own prayer is a bit like painting one of those paint-by-number kits? You are the one doing the work, and even though someone else has already drawn the lines for you, you are the one who gets the pleasure and joy from the painting. In other words, you can make a prayer as much your own (or, I suppose, as little your own) as you care to do. A written prayer allows you to sit down with an open Bible and prayer book and talk to God in substantive ways you might not have ever seen done before.

Christians can grow their prayer life through the use of examples or written prayers.

For example, you might feel stagnant in your Christian walk but cannot even begin to know how to pray to ask God for help. First, know that a simple “Help!” is quite sufficient for him. If, however, you’d like to expand upon that, you could read a prayer from Anslem of Canterbury who, in a moment of real humanity, confessed that his heart and desires fell far short of where they should. He resolved to give God what he could muster, and he asked God to supply what was lacking:

Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer, my mercy, my salvation:
I praise you and give you thanks, though even these gifts of
thanks fail to live up to your goodness, which deserves far
greater devotion. They are much too lean for the full beauty
of your affection. Yet I will give some sort of praise, some sort
of thanks. Though my thanks will not be what they should,
I will give as much as my soul is able.
Hope of my heart, strength of my soul, helper of my weakness:
Let your powerful kindness complete what I am trying
to accomplish despite my tepid weakness. Oh my life, the
end for which I aim even though I have not yet loved you
as I should, please let my longing for you match what my
love should be.1

Let’s talk about how you might approach a moment of similar weakness with Anselm’s prayer right in front of you.

First, you might read through the whole prayer once to get a sense of the entire course of thought. Pay special attention to any shifts in the author’s direction of thought. For example, Anselm admits he’s falling short but resolves to “give some sort of praise.” If those shifts resonate with you, don’t wait to say the same things to the Lord!

Once you have the general course of the prayer, make it your own by either copying or adapting concepts from the author as you see fit to express to God your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Continue the moment of prayerful study by using the concordance in your Bible to look up relevant Bible verses to address the matters on your heart.

One of the benefits of written prayers is the opportunity to expand your vision of what prayer can be. Some prayers are deeply theological and can help you ponder the depths of God’s self-revelation. Other prayers are immanent and bring the Lover of Your Soul into moments of trial or testing you are experiencing. Like a paint-by-number kit can model a scene for an unpracticed painter, written prayers can model a prayer life beyond mealtimes and bedtimes.

Again, I think most Christians genuinely desire a more vibrant prayer life. I think they suffer a poverty of examples from which they can see how they could pray. A book of written prayers helps you see the various ways other faithful saints have walked with the Lord.


  1. Jonathan W. Arnold & Zachariah M. Carter, eds. Cloud of Witnesses: A Treasury of Prayers and Petitions through the Ages (Crossway, 2024), 49.

Zachariah M. Carter is coauthor with Jonathan W. Arnold of Cloud of Witnesses: A Treasury of Prayers and Petitions through the Ages.

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