By Hallie Cowan

Some Ways to Pray

Praying with others is not rocket science. But individuals who seek to pray together often face two challenges: keeping their prayers simple and keeping their prayers interesting. I have found the following four methods of praying useful for individuals, small groups, and families with children.

#1 "Thank You, I'm Sorry, Please"

At the start of the session, gather the group, sit in a circle, go over the directions, and answer any questions. This approach involves taking at least three laps around the circle. They include:

Thank You

Each person in order says “Thank you God, for _______” , filling in the blank. Go around the circle once, or try to go several times, until you can’t think of more things.

I'm Sorry

Take a moment of silence to reflect on things you are sorry for. Go around the circle and say “I’m sorry God, for _____”.  You may pray specific confession, or general, “I’m sorry God, that I have not done what I ought to have done”; or “I have done what I ought not to have done.” Alternatively, you could all recite a written prayer of confession. At the end the leader should remind the group that “if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:9


Go around the circle and say, “Please, God, ______”, naming specific requests.  Go around the circle as many times as needed, to name all the concerns on people’s hearts.


The Leader or other appointed person says a closing prayer of thanksgiving and blessing.

#2 Thanksgiving List

For individuals or groups

1. Each person take a sheet of paper and write a list of one- or two-word items for which you are thankful.  Take from 5 to 15 minutes to write your lists.

2. Go around the circle, reading one item from each list, until you have read all of them.  (Or each person read your own list through, then go to the next person.)

3. Talk to God, telling Him of your thankfulness.

Comments: The book 10,000 Things to Praise God For has some great suggestions. For example, your list could look like this:

Daffodils, Smiles, Chewing gum, Easter sunrise service, Spare tires, Faithfulness, Absolution and Remission of Sins, Squirrels chasing squirrels, Arts & Crafts, Letters from friends, Nativity sets, Quiet, Shooting stars, C S Lewis, Girls in Sunday dresses, Bongos, Etc.

#3 Praying with Clay

1. Take a lump of clay the size of your fist. (either the kind of clay that dries, or oil-based modeling clay – or even Play-Doh)

2. Reflecting on the Biblical image of clay from the book of Jeremiah, picture yourself as clay in the hands of the Lord, who is forming you into the shape He desires for you, in His own image.  (You may want quiet worship music for background.)

3. Take 30 minutes, and work with the clay, asking God, “What are you forming in me?”

4. As you pray, listen and look for God’s quiet word to you.  Some common experiences with this exercise are:

  • God will give you an image, and you will try to form it in the clay
  • God will “speak to you” in the very process of working with the clay, showing you truths about yourself and/or about God’s nature, and your relationship.  (In this case you may not have a “finished product” at the end of your time.)
  • As you work with the clay, you may “see” something emerging that you hadn’t expected, and continue to form it.
  • You may go through a series of forms and shapes, having a dialog with God about each one.

5. When you finish with the clay, take time to write in your journal about the experience, and any questions you have, or ideas God has spoken to you.

6. If you are doing this exercise in a group, gather to share your experiences, as close with a prayer of thanksgiving and dedication.

Comments: If you do this in a group, remembering the painful experiences of 3rd grade art class, agree with each other ahead of time not to make any comments, positive or negative, about each other’s artistic abilities or creations, and avoid making any comparisons.  You do not need to have artistic skill to experience God’s presence in the exercise. Each person’s experience is highly personal and potentially vulnerable.

#4 Prayer Tree

This is an activity for a family or a small or large group to participate in over an extended time period, either daily or weekly.

1. Assemble the following parts:

  • A representation of a tree to hang on the wall – 2’ x3’ or whatever size you choose
  • Leaves cut out of colored paper, about 1” x 2”
  • A container for the leaves
  • Scotch tape or other way to attach leaves to tree

2. Write a few prayer requests on leaves, following these guidelines:

  • Choose not more that 3 or 4 requests per member of the group.
  • Pray for concerns that the group holds in common, or agrees on together
  • Each request must be “measurable”; that is, you can tell if God has answered it, yes or no.  (“Please provide a 3rd grade teacher” is a measurable request: “God bless the Sunday School” is not.)

3. When you meet, distribute the leaves to the group members.

  • If God has answered any of the prayer requests, (yes or no) attach them to the tree.  (If you want, you can put the “yes” answers on the branches, and the “no’s” on the ground.)
  • Take turns around the circle, praying for the remaining requests with short sentences.

Comments: We started the “Prayer Tree” for our family devotions, but it has become popular with small groups and Sunday Schools, too, as a visual aid to encourage intercessory prayer.  With a prayer tree you can “see” that God really does answer prayer!

At our home, we hand out the leaves each morning, along with one photograph apiece.  (In our “leaf box”, we also keep photos of family, friends, and missionaries we keep in our prayers.)  We begin with each person offering a thanksgiving.  Then we pray for the concerns on our “leaves” and the people in our photos.  When a prayer has been answered, we attach the leaf to the Prayer Tree.  On Thanksgiving Day, we remove all the leaves from the tree, and read them, giving thanks for a year of blessings!  Then we start filling our tree again with new leaves.

It doesn’t take long each year before our tree has an array of  leaves in its branches.  Our first batch included: “a car for C.” [babysitter], “10/87--Mrs. N. [teacher]--healing after surgery”  “12/87--family to give old toys to”,”10/87--D. and W.’s baby--safe delivery”.  Beneath the tree are some requests God didn’t answer the way we hoped.  (I personally have been amazed at how few requests end up down there!)  One of our first leaves, dated 11/87, was for freedom for three hostages in Lebanon; Terry Waite, Tom Sutherland and Terry Anderson.  After four years, that leaf was dog-eared from the daily prayers.  I will never forget the day in November 1991, when we heard the news that Terry Waite had been freed!  Our children were so excited they even mailed that leaf to him!

A small group [of InterVarsity students] at the University of Massachusetts put their tree up on a dorm room wall.  The leader told me he is amazed at how it has encouraged his group to pray!  The members each take a couple leaves with them, and each week they come back eagerly with “answered leaves” to put up.  (He said his room is full of leaves he hasn’t had time to post!)  Now, he said, as they have watched God regularly answer their requests, the members are asking to have more leaves each week, and he finds they are praying for “bigger” requests, especially for outreach to the campus.  The leader told me that as he lies on his bed at night, he looks at all the answers to prayer they have experienced and he can’t help but give thanks to God!

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