Christian Prayer For Dummies®


by Richard Wagner




About the Author

Richard Wagner is founder and writer of (), a Web-based commentary with the purpose of challenging and encouraging Christians to earnestly live out their faith in a digital, postmodern world. Richard has served in church leadership and teaching roles for more than a dozen years. He lives in Princeton, Massachusetts, with his wife and three boys. You can e-mail Richard at

For a study guide and discussion questions for Christian Prayer For Dummies, visit .



To Lori and Aaron: The present mystery of lost prayers will someday be answered by your smiles.


Author’s Acknowledgments

When John Donne penned “No man is an island,” I am convinced that he had to be speaking of an author. There are so many people I’d like to acknowledge who helped shape and guide this book and make it possible.

First and foremost, I want to thank my wife, Kim, for her sacrifice, boundless enthusiasm, and unique insights that helped inspire the book, particularly the family prayer and journaling chapters. My sons, Jordan, Jared, and Justus, deserve special thanks for their support, especially during a particularly important crunch time when they fasted from the TV and movies as a way of showing support for the book.

Several people provided marvelous feedback and ideas to help form and shape the book. Joe Wagner, my father, reviewed each chapter and provided his opinions to help make sure the book stood up to the real world. Clint Frank, a go-to person in my life when I need wise counsel, also provided tremendous encouragement and perspective from the very start. I also appreciated the theological perspectives of Eric Hartlen and Randall Matthews to help clarify some tough issues. Bruce Marchiano deserves a warm and special thanks for sharing his unique insights into the prayer life of Jesus. Finally, I’d like to thank those people who were willing to share their personal stories of prayer to me, some of which I chronicle in the book.

The editorial team for this book was a blessing. Heartfelt thanks to Tonya Cupp for her flawless project management, encouragement, and flexibility; Tina Sims for her keen editing prowess and her knack for always spotting the parts of a chapter that needed further explanation; and Dr. Bill Young for his wise theological insights that helped refine the book and keep its overall message consistent. Special thanks also goes to Kathy Cox for her belief in the book’s vision from the outset.

Finally, so many people around me were prayer warriors throughout the book writing process. I have a deep sense of gratitude to the people in my home group, e-accountability group, and Heritage Bible Chapel for their prayers.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

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I’ ll pray for you.”

Have you ever said those words to a friend or loved one after hearing of a tragedy, sickness, or job loss? I often say that phrase as I talk with others about what’s going on their lives. Indeed, this expression is a common, second-nature response to a need that is shared. Yet, do you always follow up on your promise to pray? I confess that too many times I’ve said those words and failed to do so.

“I’ll pray for you” is a phrase packed solid with good intentions. However, sorry to say, prayer requests can often go in one ear and out the other, given the frantic, fast-paced lifestyles of today’s world. Following through on that pledge to pray has become too much like that to-do list of handyman jobs I keep promising my wife I’ll do.

However, I think a reason other than busyness keeps people from praying diligently. People tend to exchange lip service for genuine prayer when they forget the true power that prayer holds. Prayer becomes a nice thing to do rather than something you feel compelled to do for a friend.

In reading this book, you discover that “I’ll pray for you” is one of the most significant expressions you can utter. Contained inside this deceivingly simple phrase is a direct line to an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who invites Christians to participate in his work in the world through prayer. Therefore, by following through on that promise to your friend, God can use your earnest and diligent prayers to effect real and lasting change. However, you also discover while reading this book that prayer is more than a one-sided conversation of endless prayer requests. Instead, as a natural part of the relationship you have with a personal God, prayer involves actively listening to him and letting him move freely in your life.

Christian Prayer For Dummies equips you with the know-how you need to deepen and enrich your prayer life. It also helps you know why you’re praying, whom you’re praying to, what prayer can do, and how to pray effectively. I avoid the two extremes—“touchy-feely” spiritualism and heavy theological prose—that you can so often encounter when reading books on prayer. My aim is to touch a middle ground that is highly practical yet life changing.

How This Book Is Organized

Christian Prayer For Dummies is your practical guide to prayer that helps you wrap your arms around this often misunderstood topic. I divide the book into five parts, each of which builds upon the previous ones.

Part I: Signing Up for Basic Training

As you kick off your journey of prayer, Part I helps you discover the essential aspects of prayer, what prayer is not, and why prayer is central to how God works in the world. You then explore when and how to pray, whether you’re at home, on the road, at work, or at play. Before leaving, you study the Lord’s Prayer, the most famous prayer of all time, and find out how you can use it as a model for your own prayers.

Part II: Turbocharging Your Prayers

In Part II, it’s time to get practical. You begin by exploring how to pray on your own and how to best organize your prayers. From there, you start looking at how to use written prayers and Scripture to keep your prayers on track and prevent them from becoming stale. You also discover several proven prayer techniques and aids, including journaling, meditating, fasting, and singing. Furthermore, because wandering thoughts and emotional blocks can kill your prayer life before it ever gets off the ground, you explore how to overcome these and other common hindrances to prayer.

Part III: Praying Well with Others

In Part III, you find out to pray more effectively with others, starting with the most important place of all—your home. You see how prayer can transform your family relationships and how you can create a legacy of prayer for your children. You also discover how to pray in small, informal groups and get an insight into the hodgepodge of issues to think about when praying in formal occasions, such as church services and graduation ceremonies.

Part IV: Tackling Some Tough Issues

Part IV tackles the most difficult and thorny issues associated with prayer. You find out why God sometimes wants you to wait for answers despite your objections, how you can pray according to God’s will and not your own, how to listen to God speak, how God heals in today’s world, and what praying in tongues means. Chapters 16, 17, and 18 are the heart of the book.

Part V: The Part of Tens

In Part V, I provide a variety of resources designed to boost your prayer walk. I begin by listing prayers for ten occasions when you really need them. I continue by providing ten prayers well worth teaching your children or grandchildren. Next, I detail ten retreat and pilgrimage locations that you can visit on special occasions when you want to get away to pray. Finally, I close the part by chronicling what I consider the ten best prayer Web sites.

Assumptions Made in the Book

Christian Prayer For Dummies is a book on Christian prayer, not a general guide to prayer spanning all religious faiths. The primary assumption made in this book is that prayer is directed to the God of the Bible and is in synch with historical Christian beliefs.

The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis used the term “mere Christianity” to describe the core essentials of the Christian faith that any believer, regardless of his or her background, can agree to. In the same way, I focus my discussion on “mere Christian prayer,” or teachings of prayer and practices that Protestants (including both the evangelical and mainline communities), Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians all affirm.

Although all Christians can agree on the essentials of prayer, let me be very frank and say that Christians among the different branches of Christianity disagree and sometimes disagree very loudly. When I encounter these debatable issues, I point them out and distinguish among the various traditions.

Christianity is a faith based on real space and time history. The central event is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, some 2,000 years ago. All Christian teaching depends on this historical, literal event. The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, concurred when he said that if this fact weren’t true, then everything he and other Christians were doing was a huge waste of time. So, although this book doesn’t address issues concerning the historical reliability of the Christian faith, it does assume that what you read in the Bible is trustworthy and reliable.

Finally, although I certainly don’t expect anyone to be a Bible scholar, I am assuming some very basic knowledge of the Bible, such as knowing what the Old Testament is, who the Israelites and Moses were, and the like. If you’d like a primer on the Bible, I recommend checking out The Bible For Dummies by Jeffrey Geoghegan and Michael Homan (published by Wiley, Inc.).

Conventions Used in This Book

As you read through the book, keep in mind the following conventions:

bullet Each Bible passage cited in the book is from the World English Bible translation (which you can see at ). On occasion, I paraphrase the text to make it more readable.

bullet Although the Bible uses many terms to describe God, I generally use God and Lord. Also, in accordance with traditional Christian beliefs, I make use of the traditional masculine pronoun he to refer to God.

bullet You find quotes from the some of the top Christian thinkers on prayer scattered throughout the pages of the book. Each quote is relevant to the text of the chapter and helps round out your understanding of the information being discussed.

Icons Used in This Book


Tip draws attention to a key point that can enrich your prayer life.


Pay close attention to the Remember text; it highlights something that is important if you want to deepen your understanding of prayer.


Heed the cautionary tales whenever you see the Warning icon. It saves you from falling into the pitfalls of prayer mistakes and errors.


The Technical Stuff icon identifies cool, hip, and interesting material to read, but it’s more theological or advanced than the rest of the stuff in the book. Technical Stuff information is helpful but not essential.

Where to Go from Here

If you decide to read Christian Prayer For Dummies from start to finish, you will find the topics logically ordered, with each successive chapter rounding out what you discovered in previous chapters. However, because it is a reference book, you don’t have to read the book cover to cover.

What’s more, if you have a specific issue that you’d like to jump to, consider the following jumping-off points:

bullet For the basics of what prayer is and isn’t, see Chapters 1, 2, and 3.

bullet For how, when, and what to pray, see Chapters 4, 5, and 6.

bullet For the two key concepts of Christian prayer—“Thy will be done” and “Ask and you shall receive”—see Chapters 16, 17, and 18.

bullet For knowing how to hear God, see Chapter 19.

bullet For what to do when God doesn’t seem to answer your prayer, see Chapter 18.

bullet For discovering how prayer is related to your relationship with God, see Chapter 3.

bullet For prayer techniques, see Chapters 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.

bullet For very practical information about praying with others, see Chapters 13, 14, and 15.

bullet For ready-made prayers that kick-start your and your child’s prayer life, see Chapters 22 and 23.

Part I

Signing Up for Basic Training

In this part . . .

Prayer is like a greased pig at a county fair—often pursued but rarely grasped. In this part, you discover the basics of prayer and how to get that lasso going in full motion. You find out what prayer is, how it works, and why it is such a pivotal part of how God works in the world.