Every successful leader understands the importance of planning. Yet, in one of the most important areas of our lives, many of us just wing it and hope for the best. That area: Talking to God.

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Think about it. If you have a big meeting or a big pitch for client or you’re starting a new division or getting ready for a new fiscal year, where do you start? Research, analysis, and planning, right? And that’s not just true in business. You plan your Thanksgiving meal. You plan your once-in-a-lifetime vacation. You plan your wedding (or your child’s wedding).

If it’s important to you that something is done well, you think it through and plan for success.

No wonder there are so many great clichés on this topic: Hope is not a strategy. Plan the work and work the plan. If you fail to plan you’re planning to fail. … And some great verses, as well – Luke 14:28-33, Proverbs 21:5, Proverbs 14:8 …

Yet, we don’t always take a planned approach to our prayer. I’ve seen it in my life, and I see it when I look around. We typically don’t pray with planning and intentionality.

Should we?

Prayer is a heartfelt conversation with the God of the universe. It demands reverence because God is God and we, to grossly understate reality, are not God. But He also is a compassionate Abba Father who longs to hear us speak from the heart. So there are times, when prayer calls for a stream of consciousness discussion with God. You see that often in David’s psalms. Or there are times when we fall back on Anne Lamott’s model for two basic prayers: “Help me! Help me! Help me!” and “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

But Jesus also gave us a modeled intentional prayer and gave us model for prayer. So there is wisdom in the idea that we should go to God regularly with intention—in our praise of Him, in our thanks to Him, and in our requests of Him.

I’ve been thinking about prayer a lot lately. I guess it began working on me during a talk a few months ago by Pastor Steve Gaines. Or maybe it goes back to when Audrey and I saw the movie War Room. Or when we read the book The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. And in the last two weeks it seems like every other post I’ve seen on social media was about the importance of prayer. SBC Life provided a great story about a “data-driven strategy” for prayer (click here to read it).

So how can we be more intentional with our prayer?

  1. Schedule Some Prayers: We shouldn’t only pray according to a schedule, but having some regular times of prayer built into our day helps us stay regularly connected to God, which will help us feel the prompting of the Spirit when there’s a need for impromptu prayers. I recommend starting and ending every day with prayer. And if you are married, a highly recommend praying with your spouse.
  2. Write Out Your Prayers: There are many ways to do this. Some people put prayers on sticky notes or in notebooks or on cards. A friend of mine said he would pray for me, and he wrote a full page plea to God on my behalf in his prayer journal. My wife came up with a wonderful prayer list that we use each night. We have three categories and it covers 21 days, so that’s more than 90 people/issues that we regularly lift up to God.
  3. Pray with the end goal in mind: It’s easy to focus on the obvious issue that’s in front of us, but our prayers should help us stay focused on God’s glory. How would that impact the way you pray for your children, your job, your retirement, you spouse, your friends, your community …?
  4. Pray the Word: The Bible, of course, is full of passages that can be read as prayers. Click here for a 3:45 video on this from Steve Gaines.
  5. Read books on prayer. In addition to The Circle Maker, I recommend Stormie Omartian’s series of books on the power of prayer (The Power of a Praying Wife, The Power of a Praying Husband, etc.), and Pray Like It Matters by Steve Gaines.
  6. Join others in prayer. Many churches have prayer teams or prayer guides, or you can join in on something like the National Day of Prayer, which this year is May 5. Click here for events near you.