How To Keep A Prayer List

"Keeping a system for your prayer requests is not just a way to feel organized, it's a way to encourage your own heart as you see God answering prayers and changing lives."    

Have you ever told someone you'll pray for him or her, only to see them later and realize you had completely forgotten? One of the highest privileges we have as Christians is the ability to go to God on behalf of other people. We can ask the Lord of heaven and earth to comfort, encourage, grow, heal, and impart wisdom to people next door and across the world. But often when we begin to pray, we are either overwhelmed with all the possibilities or forget all the requests we promised to remember.

When Paul Miller teaches on the practice of praying for others, he asks everyone in the room if they have some kind of system to keep track of their schedule (electronic or otherwise). He says 95% of the hands go up. Then he asks how many people have some kind of system to keep track of their prayer requests. Almost all the hands go down. Ultimately, he says, this is because we think keeping our appointments is far more important than praying for people: “The bottom line is that we don’t write down our prayer requests because we don’t take prayer seriously. We don’t think it works…. All of us create systems with things that are important to us.”

Prayer lists don’t just show that we value prayer, they help us keep our prayer life vibrant and exciting. Praying for people on memory alone can be overwhelming and de-motivating. But a system that lets you pray for everyone you value brings confidence and momentum to your daily supplication. Far from making things dry and routine, I've found keeping a prayer list breathes life into my times of prayer. What's more, keeping a working list lets me see all the prayers that God answers! There is nothing quite like going through your prayer list and crossing one off because you've seen God answer the prayer.

For all these reasons, I think Christians should keep some kind of prayer list. Now, there is no one "right" system for everyone, and we should avoid working harder on our prayer system than we do on praying! Still, finding a system that facilitates your prayers for others is important. Below are some ideas:

D.A. Carson: the Manila folder
Don Carson keeps a manila folder as his prayer list. Inside are several sheets of paper with the names of people he is close to, and ways he prays for them (family, close friends, students). After those sheets are letters, printed emails, and newsletters from various friends, missionaries, and organizations across the globe. He keeps them in alphabetical order, highlights any specific prayer requests they contain, and prays through them in chunks throughout the week. Anytime he gets an update, he replaces the old one in his folder. This keeps his system up to date and flexible. “Above all,” he says, “it helps me pray.”

Paul Miller: 3x5 cards
Paul Miller uses a stack of 3x5 cards as his prayer list. Each card is essentially a “prayer snapshot” of a person’s life. He puts their name on top, writes down a verse or two that can guide his prayers for that person, and then lists specific requests in phrases on the card. This makes requests easy to update, and allows him to pray for an individual from several angles (from big, general prayers to more specific, practical prayers). Over time, he says, “a story unfolds” that allows you to see God’s answers to your prayers in each individual’s life.

Brian Colmery: Evernote
I put myself in the list because I use a piece of software, called Evernote, to keep my prayer list. (You could just as easily use a word document with a few minor adjustments). Evernote is a program that allows you to compose documents but also import website content, emails, and more. In Evernote, I have a note for “member care” (all the members of the church) that I fill in with prayer requests as we elders go through our membership rolls. I get an email every week that lists the prayer requests from my community group, as well as several emails from our missionaries, other churches we support, and personal friends. I can send all of these into Evernote so that I have everything in one centralized location. I also can access Evernote on my phone, so I don’t need my full computer to pray (which always felt weird to me).

Whatever you choose, keeping a system for your prayer requests is not just a way to feel organized, it's a way to encourage your own heart as you see God answering prayers and changing lives. You don’t need to have a full system in place; you do need to start praying for people. I recommend picking one of the methods above, and as you pray each day, add whatever you prayed for to your system. Over time you’ll have something full, and, most importantly, you’ll have a list of prayers that God is answering.

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