The All-Time
10 Best Tips on Prayer
 for Beginners That I Have Ever Heard
 by Rev. Jim Stephens

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Table of Contents

1. Schedule a Prayer Time 2. Just Get Started 3. Think of God's Point of View
4. Be Specific 5. Pray out loud 6. Pray with other people
7. Pray for others 8. Ask questions 9. Create a holy environment
10. Build step by step Conclusion Ordering information

1.   Schedule a Prayer Time.
                 Make an appointment with God.
                 Make it a priority.

     Setting aside TIME is the most important place to begin
developing your prayers. If you never take some time to pray, your
prayer life will never grow. It will never develop. Start with a
small amount that you are willing to commit to. If you are not
willing to commit some of your time to prayer, give up now.

MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH GOD                             Back to TOP

     Make an appointment to meet with God just like any other
appointment. If it's not on your schedule, it will tend to be put off
easily. You would certainly remember an appointment that you have
today with the President of the United States, wouldn't you? Well,
isn't God more important to your life than the President.

MAKE IT A PRIORITY                                                                     Back to TOP

     If you have available time, great. But for most of you, finding
time to pray will mean that you have to SACRIFICE something else that
you are now doing instead. Probably you are enjoying that other thing
(TV, sleep, business, friends, kids, reading, etc.) or you wouldn't
be doing it. Prayer has to be moved up the list of daily priorities
so it is high enough to bump off something else that has heretofore
been considered more urgent and important. It has to become a strong
enough priority so that you can't go to bed until it is accomplished,
like brushing your teeth.

     So start right now to find that activity that you can delete
from your life in order to be able to get more God in your life. Look
at a long range perspective. We know that good eating habits and
getting regular exercise are vital for long term good health.
Unfortunately, it's easy to bump them aside on a day to day basis in
favor of things that seem more urgent. But since they are essential,
we must learn to raise them to a priority level that takes precedent
over "urgent" matters. We need to learn to distinguish between
"urgent" and "important". In the same way, it's essential to raise
prayer to a high priority so that it becomes a daily habit inspite of
everything else that we have to do also.

     Next decide how much time you are going schedule it in your day
to begin your new prayer life. Be reasonable with yourself, ten or
twelve minutes might be a good start. If you can't squeeze out ten or
twelve minutes somewhere, then you're not being serious.

     When your best friend calls, you make time to talk to him or her
even if something else that is important too has to be sacrificed.
You may not know it yet, but God is your best friend and making some
time for Him every day is going to be the best long term investment
that you have ever made.

     You may need some help with resetting your priorities to include
a daily prayer time. I believe a deeper understanding of the value of
prayer can really help. It can give you the necessary motivation to
pray. I have found quite a number of explanations of the value of
prayer that have really helped me. These can make a good reference
for you. I list all those and explain each one for you in detail in
my book "The 21 Greatest Tips on Prayer I Have Ever Heard or Read".
Look to the last page of this booklet for more information about that

2.   Just Get Started.                                  Back to TOP
                 Night time prayer or morning prayer
                 Start small
                 Work up to longer prayers.
     "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
"Don't bite off more than you can chew."  "Take it one step at a
time." "Keep your goal within reach." "Just do it!"

     JUST GETTING STARTED is the way to begin. Don't spend to much
time thinking about it. Don't wait until you are "in the mood". Don't
look for the "right time" or "right place". Obstacles will always
come up that make for wonderful excuses why you should be distracted
from prayer or be delayed in starting your prayer. Ignore them and
focus on just getting a start, even if it's a very small one.

     If the present time doesn't seem quite right to you, then maybe
just talk to God "along the way". Pretend He is your invisible friend
next to you as you drive or walk somewhere during your day. Be open
and honest as you get started. "I don't know if you're there right
now or not, but I hope you can hear this. I'm on my way to the store
and I don't have time to stop and pray, but it would be nice if you
come along with me and help make it a smooth trip."

     Incidentally, I experience that there is a force that is very
real which actively attempts to prevent me from praying. I have to
overcome that force by making effort almost every time. I believe
that you will experience this force of opposition as well. So
therefore, if I were you, I'd expect it.


     Most of us decide to pray at the end of the day. This is good,
but usually by then I'm not only physically tired, but I'm
emotionally drained as well. Often it will seem that you haven't got
the spiritual energy and power to initiate a conversation with
anyone, let alone God. Who would want to invite the Almighty God to
visit them in such a state of mind?

     Please realize that this is a deception. A recent experience
proves it to me. I was going to go to bed early because I felt
unusually tired. Several of the kids had been ill and I was feeling
it too. Then the phone rang. It was my best friend from 800 miles
away. We hadn't talked in a month and he was going to be coming this
way. When I hung up 15 minutes later, all traces of tiredness were
gone. I was emotionally and spiritually recharged. Why? The energy
that is generated from positive emotional give and take can revive
us. It's even better than sleep.

     Prayer in the same way can revive and re-energize you if you are
tired. It can work like the energy from a loved one if you can
successfully make an emotional connection with God. Many times I have
had the experience of being energized from my prayers and then not
being able to go to sleep for a long time. Sometimes even I have
purposely avoided a "deep" prayer because I wanted to be able to go
right to sleep.

     So when you get to the end of today, try not to plop down in
front of the television and watch whatever is on for an hour. I can
pretty much guarantee that it will NOT revive you spiritually or
emotionally. You might even be feeling worse after watching TV. So
end today differently than usual. Take time for an honest talk with

     Morning prayer is vital for starting your day so don't neglect
it. If you have to, even get up just 10 or 15 minutes earlier.
Morning prayer really helps prepare you for the various events and
circumstances that lie ahead. Think over the upcoming day as you
pray. Even review your schedule with God and look for His insights on
how to handle situations and responsibilities that you will
encounter. If you are going to be meeting a person that is difficult
for you to love, ask God for His perspective. New insights from
prayer, especially in loving difficult people, have been very
exciting for me.

START SMALL                                                                              Back to TOP

     Any new relationship with another person starts out with small
talk. It's the same with prayer. Even a meeting of old friends who
haven't seen each other for a long time starts with small talk. Take
time to get acquainted with God. Sometimes getting started is the
hardest part, so start with honest small talk about how things are

     If you are learning to pray, then you realize, of course, that
you are on unfamiliar ground. But remember that everyone started in
that same place. Even the greatest men of prayer throughout history
started where you are. They had doubts in the beginning. They had
their "ups and downs" in prayer. Take your baby steps and let go of
your pride. It will be over soon.

WORK UP TO LONGER PRAYERS                                          Back to TOP

     Start with three or four minutes at a time. Then, when you are
ready, try seven. Eventually you can reach twelve comfortably. Then
challenge up to 21 and 40 minutes a day. Finally you can attempt 60
minutes a day. This is probably the most spiritually satisfying if
you desire to go that far. The reason that I suggest these numbers
rather than others is because they are used in significant events in
the Bible and in God's creation. For example, Jesus was in the tomb 3
days and he had 3 main disciples. Jesus had 12 disciples. There are
12 months to the year. Jesus fasted 40 days and Noah was on the ark
40 days. There were 7 days in the creation. Jesus asked his disciples
to pray with him for 1 hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. You get the

3.   Think of God's Point of View          Back to TOP
                 Ask for insight
                 Understanding confession and repentance

     One of the best pieces of advice that I ever read on prayer was
from a famous Chinese Christian, Watchman Nee. He taught that God
will not do His Will until we pray and ask Him to do it. Even though
God wants to do His Will very much, He will not violate our freedom
by interfering before we ask Him to. If God interfered, then that
would violate our freedom and thus destroy our ability to give and
receive true love which requires that we be free.

     If we don't ask, then God cannot interfere with the workings of
our hearts. If He did, then He would be controlling us against our
will. This would destroy our freedom and simultaneously destroy true
love. Without freedom there cannot be true love because we would be
like robots.

     God is a parent who truly loves His children but He also
respects their creativity and responsibility. He would never choose
to force them to love Him. That's a contradiction to the nature of
true love. God chooses to wait until His children are ready to
respond and then give them what was actually His Will all along.

ASK FOR INSIGHT                                                                               Back to TOP

     So then, just what is God's point of view? I find it very
helpful to meditate for a few minutes on this subject - what God must
be feeling. I send a silent thought to God, "Help me see from Your
point of view, Heavenly Father, and if there is anything that I can
pray for that will help You, then send that thought into my mind."

                                                                                                                                     Back to TOP

     Sometimes I have found myself in deep repentance after better
understanding God's perspective. Because of what we humans are doing
to each other and to our world, we are giving great pain to our
loving parent, God! Often I see more clearly where I have not devoted
enough time and thought to God and have allowed worldly concerns to
occupy too much of my time. Through this exercise, I find it much
more natural to repent and feel very cleansed.

     Once you offer to God your apology for not seeing His
perspective and understanding His heart better, then you'll receive a
deep His genuine forgiveness. Then a new closeness comes over you.
Whenever we are building a relationship with another person and we
can make a connection to the other person's feelings and perspective,
then we feel much closer to that person. It's even nicer when it's
with God.

     Confession and repentance are sometimes very misunderstood
concepts. Their purpose is NOT to paint yourself as a terrible sinner
and eternal reprobate. The purpose of repentance is to apologize to
God for your mistakes so that you can receive forgiveness and then
end up CLOSER to God. The net result of repentance should be a
feeling of joy and forgiveness. If you are repenting and then feeling
depressed at the end, you're doing something wrong. God wants you to
move forward and move closer to Him. The conclusion of that is a deep
inner joy.

     Be careful to note whether you feel joy after you have confessed
or repented. If not, then you must be farther away from God, not
closer. Obviously, that's not the desired result that you want and
especially not the result that God wanted. Therefore, check up on the
results of your prayers. Are they making you happier.

4.   Be specific.                                                                                      Back to TOP
                 Making a prayer list.
     The success of your prayer in connnecting to God depends a lot
on the actual content of what you are praying for. Praying for "peace
on earth" is good, but it's very hard to relate to it with your
emotions, especially for a beginner. Probably a person like Mother
Teresa had a close heartistic connection to praying for "peace on
earth" because she was emotionally connected to so many people in
need and felt deeply that each one was a child of God.

     But most of us cannot emotionally relate to the large, more
abstract concepts at first. For a better prayer, try to be able to
conceive clearly what you are praying for. This means to be specific.

     If a child goes to his/her parent and says, "I need help!" or a
student goes to the teacher and says, "Can you help me?", then the
immediate response is "What kind of help do you need?" If the child
or student never answers that question, then it's hard to give the
help needed. I believe this analogy is also true in prayer.

     Here's a hint if you can't think of anything specific to ask
for. The first thing you might want to pray for is "Help me know what
to specifically pray for."

     Many people believe that "God already knows what I need." so why
should I have to tell him? That is true, God does knows. But God in
His wisdom won't give it to us until we are ready and willing to
receive it. As The Bible says, we have to "ask before we can
receive". By demonstrating our maturity to God, we actually free Him
to answer our prayers more easily. A parent does not want to spoil a
child. The parent's primary concern is that the child is growing up

     The most wonderful ability that God created in us is the ability
to love and create, but that nature inherently requires our
independent response out of our free will. We are creating ourselves
as we grow and develop and we must develop our consciousness of
ourselves as reflections of God. The three major aspects of the human
spirit are the intellect, the emotion, and the will. All three of
these grow and develop over time according to our own effort. Without
our participation and willing effort, our spirit doesn't grow. God
has placed our spiritual growth under our own dominion. We are
responsible for how well or how poorly it grows. Since we have an
eternal spirit, then our intellect, emotion, and will continue
forever to grow and develop. This allows us to draw closer and closer
to God in a never ending relationship that is always getting deeper
and deeper.

     God has the parental wisdom for giving us not only what we want
but how much of it we are ready to receive. When a five year old
child asks, "What's sex?", you don't give them the whole complete
truth. You have more wisdom than that. So remember to be specific in
your prayers.

MAKING A PRAYER LIST                                                              Back to TOP

     Making a "Prayer List" is very helpful in being specific. Write
it down and have the list with you when you pray. Keep adding things
to the list and subtracting them all the time. This helps you clarify
exactly what you want to pray for and it serves as a reminder in case
you might run out of inspiration. The slight drawback of a list is
that it can tend to become rote and then boring. We naturally tend to
avoid things that are boring. So if you feel that your prayers are
starting to bore you, then stop using the list for a while.

     In the world today there are many books being written and
seminars being held on the value of setting goals in your life. One
universal point that is always stressed is that goals must be
SPECIFIC if you ever want to reach them. This lesson applies equally
and very importantly to our prayer life as well. We must be specific.

     The things that you are praying for should be clear and
detailed. They should be as specific as possible. No building was
ever built, no patent ever given, no masterpiece ever created without
specific and complete details. When you can clearly conceive in your
heart and mind the purpose in your prayer, then it can be realized on
earth by you and God together.

     Visualize in as much detail as possible the results you want
from your prayers. Even write it down to help clarify it. This can
help substantialize your benefit from prayer and help you to see your
progress. Also, very importantly, if what you are praying for comes
true, thenyou can recognize God working in your life. Experiencing
God is essential to developing your prayer life and your faith.

5.   Pray out loud.                                                                          Back to TOP
                 Three hints.
                 Be creative.
     This is a hard one.  Although God will still hear your prayer if
you pray silently, I have found that my prayers are less than 50% as
effective if I pray silently.

     Just as if I'm talking to my closest friend, when I speak the
words out loud, it forces me to clarify my thoughts. When the words
come out and I hear them expressed, then I can move along to the next
thought. If I keep the words in my mind, it's harder to keep going
and my prayers tend to taper off to nothing very quickly.

     A common problem that beginners face in praying out loud is
embarrassment. Obviously, God is invisible so you may feel that you
are just talking to the wall. That's pretty embarrassing for your
ego. Suppose you found out later that God wasn't really listening and
you'd been talking to nothing all that time. You'd feel really
foolish then, wouldn't you? If someone passes by and sees you talking
to nothing, they might think you are crazy.

THREE HINTS                                                                                     Back to TOP

     Here are three hints that I have found helpful to get you
started. First, find something or "someone" to talk to. If you have a
picture of Jesus, talk to his picture as if you were talking to him
in person. You might also want to try a picture of a person you know
who really loves you. Or you can choose a person that you really
respect and admire in history. Talk to that person as a
representative of God and have him or her relay your message to God.

     A second idea is to use the "Dear Diary" approach. In other
words, write it down. Write a letter to God and express clearly your
feelings and desires. As you see them taking shape on the paper you
will naturally be praying for these things at the same time. After
they are written down, then you might also want to say them out loud.

     A third hint is to tape record your prayer. This sounds pretty
radical but is very effective. It might seem that it would be very
embarrassing but it is an excellent way to train yourself for a life
of prayer and it especially prepares you to pray in public. When you
are praying and you come to a pause, then pause the tape recorder.
After you have recorded your prayer, then be sure to go back and
listen to it. Listening to your own prayers from an "outsider's"
point of view, you will be pleasantly surprised that you like them.
You will be able to improve them more quickly because of this new
perspective you will have. You can even imagine what God must be
thinking as He listens to your prayer.

BE CREATIVE                                                                                  Back to TOP

     One of my "mental hobbies" is observing the obstacles and
inhibitions that come up inside myself that prevent me from praying.
I enjoy creating unique and fun ways to overcome my fears and
embarrassments. In my book "The 21 Greatest Tips on Prayer I Have
Ever Heard or Read" you'll find a lot more ideas to make and keep
your prayers enjoyable and stimulating.

     Prayer should be varied just like any relationship. Sometimes it
should be light. Sometimes it should be fun. Sometimes it will be
deadly serious and tear-filled. However, it should always be
specific. Real prayer should not ever be thought of as "spacing out".
That is an unattractive relationship and leads people to give up

6.  Pray with other people.                                              Back to TOP
     This is hard. It takes a committment and it requires us to
become vulnerable.  It means that we are opening up our very personal
thoughts and desires in prayer to someone else. However, the rewards
are far, far greater than the price.

     As two people each draw closer to God in prayer, they are
simultaneously growing closer to each other. Think of it as a
triangle with God at the top and those praying on opposite ends of
the base. As they each move closer to God, then they have in fact
moved closer to each other also.

     One of the times that I feel the closest to my wife and children
is after we have been praying together. I'm not talking here about
the brief prayer that we have as a family every morning before school
or the bedtime prayer at night. For us, those are just short prayers
like saying grace before we eat. These we rotate every day. Everyone
takes his or her turn. The deep closeness I'm referring to are the
times when we pray together for a longer time or take the time to
share the more personal side of ourselves with each other.

     You may have heard the saying "the family that prays together,
stays together." This is not just sloganism, but truth because you
will be intimately sharing your lives with each other.

     When praying together, it is important that each person that is
present be a participant. No one should be left out. If only one
person prays, then there often isn't the "horizontal" give and take
that makes a base for everyone to experience God. In the Bible it
mentions that wherever two or more are gathered, then God can be
present. But in my experience this doesn't just mean two bodies in
the same location. It means that the spirits of two or more people
are participating together.

     There are a number of ways you can do this. My wife and I have
an ongoing 12 minute prayer each day. We alternate who prays first
each day and say just a prayer from our hearts. The person who goes
first prays for a while and then stops. Then the other person prays.
If the 12 minutes is not up, then the first person prays again. This
continues until the time is up.

     You don't have to set a time limit on it, but we feel personally
that we should give at least 12 minutes to our prayer and by the end
we feel good that we have accomplished something. If we prayed less
time, it might be one of those "hurry-up and get it over with
prayers" (if you know what I mean). Prayer brings us closer and often
we find ourselves sitting together afterwards and sharing our hearts
for quite a while. It's also a good time to talk about the children
or catch up on other important family business.

     I recommend setting a time limit because you can feel a
completion and a sense of accomplishment and be able to measure your
progress a little better. If you really get into the prayer, there is
no reason to stop of course when you get to the time limit. (I didn't
really have to say that, did I?)

     Another technique is that each person prays for one point or one
subject only. Then the next person prays for a different point. Then
back to the first person again. This works well if you are using a
prayer list or are in a larger group.

     You could also try having each person just pray one sentence and
the next person pray a sentence. Let your creativity work a little.
If you have more than two people, then you can make a circle and do
the same things as above.

     One more quick point on praying with others. This one is rather
obvious. Who should you choose to pray with? Naturally, pray with
your family members and loved ones. I also suggest that whenever
possible, find other people that are more experienced at prayer than
you are that you can pray with. Look for the opportunity to pray with
established groups. I have no doubt that they would welcome you,
especially if you make it known to them that you are a beginner and
want to learn. Not only will these people be a great support system
through rough times, but also you can learn about prayer more quickly
through "mentoring" than going it alone.

7.  Pray for others.                                                                     Back to TOP
                 Both of you will benefit.
     Praying for others is very helpful, not only to the person that
you are praying for, but it's also helpful to YOU. This developes the
most important spiritual muscle that you have, namely your heart. We
know that to grow our brainpower we must read and study, but we often
fail to realize that to become a good compassionate person we must
also make a lot of effort and learn to have concern for others.

     Babies are born as totally self-centered and self-absorbed
beings. In order to become a good parent they must make a huge
transition somehow into beings that will have an unconditional love
and concern for their children. This doesn't happen automatically
like the growth of our bodies. It's a process that requires education
and practice, practice and more practice.

     Try to be as specific as possible as you pray for others. My
children many times pray, "Heavenly Father, please bless everyone."
We can safely assume that God is doing His darndest to bless
everyone. The best way we can help God, however, is particular,
specific, and unique concern and empathy for other individual people
and their circumstances. We can be "instruments" for helping God to
work in the lives of other individuals, but it's nearly impossible
for us to help God to take care of "everyone".

BOTH OF YOU WILL BENEFIT                                                   Back to TOP

     We benefit at the same time because praying for others grows and
develops our own personality and heart to become more like God's. Our
prayer energy directed at a unique person and situation is much more
effective than the scattergun approach of "bless everyone".

     It has been proven to me beyond all doubt that people can
communicate thoughts to each other across a room or across the
country without ever verbalizing those thoughts. Many times I know my
mother is about to call me because the thought keeps coming into my
mind to call her.

     New research is showing that people in the hospital that are
being prayed for by total strangers have a higher cure rate than
those who are not prayed for.

     Just as thoughts can be communicated, so too prayers are
communicated as well. In fact, prayers have even more influence
because they carry not only thoughts but an emotional power. Prayers
carry healing power and this doesn't only mean a healing of the body
but also a healing power for the spirit. Prayers can help other
people deal with depression, anxiety, anger, fear, resentment, and
hatred to name just a few.

     Prayer for others also helps us to a new and deeper
understanding of the person we are praying for. It connects us to
God's feelings for that person. Later when you meet with that person
in the flesh, you will experience that you have new love and empathy
for him or her. Prayer helps us to learn patience. It helps us better
understand the things we can change and the things we can't. And
especially prayer helps teach us forgiveness.

     As already mentioned, be as specific as possible in what you are
praying. Rather than just praying, "God, please bless Elizabeth", be
more specific. "God, please surround her with a feeling of joy."
"God, please put ideas into Mary's mind how to serve others."
"Heavenly Father, please melt the pain and resentment that are in
Bill's heart with your love."

     As you pray for a person, try to reach out to them and
understand them with your own heart. This will help you to know what
to specifically pray for. It's a real joy when you can understand a
person better and love them more because of your prayers. You will
have a new and changed feeling toward them and that new empathy will
become manifest substantially in your relationship the next time you
meet the person.

8.  Ask Questions.                                                                         Back to TOP
                 Listen for Answers from God
                 Review the answers
     Jesus said in Matt. 7.7, "Ask and it will be given you; seek,
and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." Also in
Matt. 21.22, he said, "And, whatever you ask in prayer, you will
receive, if you have faith."

     This is a very important point to remember about the dynamic of
our relationship with God. A parent is always interested in giving to
his or her children, however, the parent wants input from the child.
When I buy clothes or a new toy for my children, I always want to
know first what size, what color, etc. do they want.

     God too wants to hear from us. Naturally, He prefers to hear us
express the needs of our hearts more than our needs for physical
possessions because that's where His primary concern for our
happiness lies. However, He does listen to our material needs as

     I have often found it helpful to write down a question and then
pray about it. Usually I write down the answer as I receive it and
this has been a wonderful experience. What I mean is that I write
down the thoughts that come into my mind in a "stream of
consciousness" manner. The answer can often be complicated and even
take several stages to develop so writing it down is really the only
way that I could practically receive the answer. Just as in a
conversation, one thought builds upon another. If I was just
listening, there wouldn't be enough substantial thought for me to
grasp the idea and hold it so I could follow step by step to the
whole understanding. If there are several ideas as part of the
answer, it's very hard to get it unless I write it down.

     The value of writing may not make sense until you try it, but I
sincerely urge you to try this technique. I don't imagine it works
for everyone, but for me it has lead to some wonderful experiences.
After my initial prayer question, many thoughts start flowing into my
mind and may eventually go off in a totally different direction that
I never would have thought of. By writing it down, God leads me to a
deep, definite, and personal message that He had for me that I never
would have thought of on my own.

LISTEN ANSWERS FROM GOD                                               Back to TOP

     Give and take is essential in communication. In order to have a
satisfying prayer, you must feel not only that God is listening to
you but also you must feel that He is responding. How long would you
keep talking to someone on the telephone if they totally stopped
responding? You would quickly realize that you had been "cut off".
So, please think of prayer as a two way relationship. Not only are
you talking to God, but you are listening for His answers coming

     So then, how can a beginner recognize that God is responding to
him or her? God often speaks in that "still small voice" that you can
only hear with your inner heart. It's very easy to doubt what you
hear because we aren't accustomed to listening to it. The message is
often fleeting like a dream or yesterday's conversation so you may
doubt that you ever heard it at all. It may also be confusing as to
what it means in reality and how you should interpret it.

     I once read a couple books on St. Francis of Assisi. He
misunderstood the message that he got from God. God told him to
"rebuild my church" so he went into the country and found a little
old broken down church in ruins and rebuilt it. Of course, now we
realize that God's message was for St. Francis to "rebuild" the
Catholic Church as a whole, not some building.

     Again I suggest you take notes on the thoughts that come to you
during prayer. Write down what you feel is coming from God as you try
to listen. Many times our understanding of things is progressive. In
school you have to go to second grade before you can go to third. In
sports, in music, it's the same. So also it's like that with prayer
and you need to make progress through time and practice. So it's
important to see yourself in a process and making steps along your

REVIEW THE ANSWERS                                                          Back to TOP

     Another value of writing it down is that you can REVIEW it
later. This gives you the opportunity to analyze with both your
rational mind and your emotional heart whether the message is really
from God. If you have a good friend whose spiritual wisdom you trust,
I can suggest that you show it to him or her if you have doubts. It's
often advisable to be cautious with spiritual messages because they
can be deceiving.

     The helpful messages that I attribute to God are the ones that
uplift me to a very high ideal for myself and hold me to a very high
standard of personal conduct. They are very forgiving and very
encouraging. They are very empowering, but they are also righteous.
The kind of messages that predict a certain event at a specific time,
in my experience, are not very reliable.

     In time, as you pay attention and are looking for messages from
God, you'll find them. Each of us is unique and God will speak to us
uniquely, but you'll know it's a message from Him. The dream or
thought or experience will be qualitatively different from the usual.
It will endure longer and remain vivid whereas others fade quickly
with time.

9.  Create a holy environment.                                        Back to TOP
                 Gather inspirational reading materials.
                 Prepare your surroundings with pictures, music,
                    flowers, candles, etc.
     Each one of us is definitely influenced by our environment.
Whole fields of college study are now investigating how color,
smells, sounds and even touch influence us in positive and negative

     I encourage you to be absolutely serious about the environment
for your prayer. We all know that eating a lot of junk food will
gradually over time lead to a decline in our physical health. The
exact analogy applies to the health of our mind and spirit. The
current state of television, movies, some music and art can have a
seriously negative effect on your spirtual health.

     I heard a wonderful example recently. A father was having the
usual argument with his children about some TV show or movie or music
or something. He didn't like it and they thought that it was OK. It
wasn't really "hurting" them although they knew there were immoral
and violent parts in it.

     The next day he made their favorite brownies but before serving
it, he let them know that he had put a tiny speck of dog poop in it.
Certainly it was only a tiny bit and it wouldn't really be a problem.
But as you would expect, they wouldn't even touch it, even though it
was just a tiny speck of dog poop.

      The analogy is obvious. We allow all kinds of "dog poop" in the
spiritual environment around us and totally disregard any effect it
might be having.

     When my wife and I want to pray and the children have the
television on in the other room, I have to totally get out of earshot
in order to be able to pray. Almost every television show I know will
destroy my prayer environment. You can't have give and take with a
TV. It is totally the master and you are totally the object if you
enter a relationship on its terms. It will not respond or react to
anything you do so be careful not to become a "tube slave".

     If you find a place in your house that is the most comfortable
for you to pray, then cultivate the atmosphere in that area. Each
time you pray there, you will be adding good energy to the place and
making it more suitable to better and better prayers. I believe that
inanimate objects absorb energy from the living things around them.
Then they reflect that energy back. As an example, my children say
they can feel closer to me when they are sitting in my favorite chair
or if they put on my favorite jacket. So cultivate your own "prayer
place" with your prayer energy.


     Not many of us are living our daily routine on an elevated
spiritual level like a saint, right? So it's to be expected that it
will be normally hard to get "into the mood" for prayer. This is
where a cultivated spiritual environment can really help support your
prayer life.

     One way to cultivate your prayer environment is with materials
that move your emotions such as inspiring books. The experience of
prayer is qualitatively better when it's an experience of the heart
and emotions. Prayer is not satisfying if it's just an intellectual
conversation. So you may want to try "jump starting" your prayer with
something that can move your emotions like reading. A good tip is to
read something brief that is inspirational or emotional.

     The main reason for reading something inspirational is to move
your heart so you can pray. The key point is that you want to get
into prayer, therefore keep whatever you read BRIEF. You don't want
to read a favorite book and get distracted and read on and on. You
don't want to fill up your mind with distracting thoughts. You just
want to move your heart of love and compassion.

     There are a lot of books on the market such as the Chicken Soup
for the Soul series. These are collections of short stories that are
designed to move your heart and emotions. I suggest keeping several
different types of inspirational materials in the place that you
usually pray. As you prepare to pray, look over the various materials
and try to "feel" which one contains a "heavenly" inspiration that
would be right for you at this time. Usually one of my assorted
materials just seems to be more spiritually attractive when I ask for

     Some things that I suggest are The Bible, inspiring quotes and
sayings you've collected, poems or letters from loved ones, etc. But
don't be limited by written materials.

MUSIC, FLOWERS, CANDLES, ETC.                                           Back to TOP

     Some people are very emotionally moved by pictures of loved
ones, photos or paintings of nature. Maybe you like having some fresh
flowers. Many people find that a lighted candle really helps create a
mood. Throughout history most religions the world over have used
candles. For other people, music moves their hearts. Some people pray
over the articles in the daily newspaper, especially if there has
been a tragedy. Experiment for yourself. Just the act of preparing
the environment will help stimulate and cultivate your environment
for better prayers.

     Just remember that your environment should ASSIST you to pray.
It should not be a distraction from your real purpose - connecting to

10.  Build your foundation step by step.                   Back to TOP
                 Have patience.
                 Prayers that God cannot answer.
                 Take irreversible steps.
                 It's all worth it. Never give up.
     Life is full of ups and downs. Everyone without exception has
times of struggles. Expect them. And when they come, learn to be
consistant through them for as long as they last.

HAVE PATIENCE                                                                                              Back to TOP

     If you pray for something once or twice and it doesn't come
true, what should you think? Should you conclude that God doesn't
exist? Should you decide that prayer doesn't work?

     Maybe the answer seems obvious, that you didn't pray long enough
or give it enough time. But I have met people that came to those
conclusions after trying prayer for a few times. These type of people
are really looking for miracles. Prayer should not be like buying a
lottery ticket and leaving it all up to God to make you the winner.

     Prayer is something that functions very much in the real world
and God is very much a God of natural laws. If you are going to build
a house or a business, or if you are going to raise your children to
maturity, then you have to put hours and hours of thought and
meditation into it.

     Believe it or not, God created these natural laws so that we
could have more joy and more love. It wasn't to inhibit us. Joy and
love are attributes of the PROCESS and the relationship. They are
experienced through the give and take in the relationship and the
growing and developing of some new creation. As you grow your
business or build your house, there is joy and happiness at each step
along the way in the process as you see your creation taking shape.
As your children grow through your nurturing, there is joy and
happiness in the process and the relationship. Joy and happiness are
not some trophy that comes on some specific day when the job is

     If you focus only on some certain end result, you will be
disappointed. Even if you obtain it, you won't experience long
lasting joy, but only a momentary feeling. Prayer should be thought
of more like breathing or eating. You have to do it every day for
good health. It's not like dialing 911 when you are in trouble and
expecting God to send an ambulance instantaneously.

     One time I was asked to give a talk on the subject of growing
up. I was frustrated myself at the time with the slowness of my own
spiritual growth and I had to pray strongly to understand the
subject. The result was a great (and practical) answer from God. I
believed that God created all things to grow over time and that this
was GOOD. But I couldn't understand why things couldn't go faster.

     Here's a paraphrase of the thoughts that answered my prayers.
"Suppose when I created everything, I made it so that a result would
instantaneously follow the cause without any time in between for
growing. Then what would the world be like? That would mean that if a
husband and wife made love at night and conceived a child, then poof,
the very next day the child would be born. How would that be? Would
that be the best for creating love? I don't think you'd like it. Love
is actually created only by effort through a give and take
relationship over time. All the parts are necessary. Parents who had
a child instantly would not be prepared to love that child. In fact,
the whole world would be chaos and confusion because everything in
your environment would be totally changed every new day."

     I was satisfied. If you think about it this way, then time is
actually an expression of love also. As you grow in love and wisdom,
you also learn patience.

PRAYERS THAT GOD CANNOT ANSWER                                 Back to TOP

     Another reason that prayers may not be answered is that God may
not, in fact, be able to answer your prayer. Why is that? We often
say God is all powerful, but we forget that He has imposed
limitations on Himself in the interests of the greater good. The
greatest good of all is true love. For love to be true, both people
must freely choose that love. Therefore, God will not interfere with
force over anyone's heart. By God's design, He will not force us to
love Him. By His design I cannot force my children to love me. All I
can do is try to create a positive energy that can greatly support
the development of a love relationship, but nobody, not even God, can
guarantee specific results.

     If God created us in such a way that some outside force, like
Himself, could make us change our love, then other outside forces
besides God could also make us change. Our hearts would be totally
vulnerable to outside forces that could change them. Then you'd have
the case where love would not be eternal. Then true love could not
exist. We'd be more like robots. Obviously, this is not what God
wanted, nor what we'd want.

     Therefore, in affairs of the heart, you may have to pray for a
long, long time for some particular result to happen if many people
and events are involved. It takes time for circumstances to be moved
into the right sequences for any outcomes to take place.

     Think about how hard it is to change yourself. You know it's
even harder than that to change another person. It's harder still to
change someone else when you are limited to thoughts and prayers and
can't use your physical voice or body. People have to change
themselves and most of us are only occasionaly open to change on any
given day at any given moment.

TAKE IRREVERSIBLE STEPS                                                       Back to TOP

     As you have probably experienced during times of struggle, it's
easy to doubt everything - all the way back to whether God exists or
not. All the things that you learned and believed when times were
better are now open to doubt. Some people, in these moments, take
their feelings as "reality" and they are no longer sure that God
exists. Consequently, they fall totally out of any level of faith at
all. Now they'll have to start all over again at the bottom of the
ladder of faith. They end up losing all the progress they had made in
the better times. The struggles eventually pass, but they are left
without faith.

     As you make progress in your life of prayer, mark definite and
irreversable steps for yourself so you don't have to start over when
you have a period of struggle and doubts.

     For example, "God exists" is a basic step. When you have truly
experienced through your heart and your mind that God exists, then
you should mark off this step. You can say to yourself, "I have now
absolutely concluded that God exists. No matter what may happen in
the future or how much I struggle and doubt and no matter who-so-ever
might oppose me, I will never again doubt or question that God
exists." Make an affirmirmation that "Even if unbelievable tragedies
occur in my life so it seems impossible that a good God exists, still
I know He is real." "Even if a majority of the smartest people on
earth who ever lived claim there is no God, then they are all wrong."
"Even if my parents and brothers and sisters and all my friends
ridicule me and laugh at me, still I know there is God."

     Once you come to this conclusion then you have taken a rock
solid step and don't need to waste time questioning this again. If
you don't take decisive steps like this in your life of faith, then
during times of struggle and doubt you may slip all the way down to
zero faith. Growing your faith is somewhat like going to school. Each
grade level builds on past levels and doesn't go back and question
them. That would be like "flunking" and having to repeat a grade
again and again. Spiritual truths also build on each other.

     Here are some other suggestions for "steps" or conclusions that
you might want to make in your life of faith. The main point is that
when you are feeling spiritually high and connected to God and your
whole intellect and heart believe this statement is certain, then in
that moment you decide that you will never question this statement
again. No matter how low you feel or confused or how much others may
challenge you or how much circumstances seem to contradict that
statement, when you bump up against it, you say to yourself, "I'm not
going there, I've already decided that issue for good and I don't
need to waste time questioning it again."

*  God knows me and loves me. God knows who I am. He knows me very
        well. He sees everything I do. AND He loves the real me despite any
        shortcomings I have.
*  God wants the best and only the best for me at all times. God
        wants to be actively involved in my life if I allow it.
*  Jesus is my personal Messiah. Jesus' death was for me personally.
*  Jesus loves me personally AND I can experience it.
*  I can become like Jesus.
*  My life has purpose, meaning and value which is given by God. AND
        I can realize that to its fullest potential.
*  I will live forever.
*  God's purpose was to build His Kingdom on earth and He will
        accomplish it.

IT'S ALL WORTH IT. NEVER GIVE UP.                                     Back to TOP

     Imagine you are at the end of your life reflecting back over all
the goals you ever had, all the things you did, all of your
accomplishments. Now rank those things with the following
accomplishment: "I developed a wonderful relationship with God."

     It seems to me that a wonderful relationship with God would rank
#1 above all the others. Suppose you climbed Mt. Everest or were an
Olympic Gold Medalist or you made more money than Bill Gates. Suppose
you developed a cure for cancer or found a way to feed all the
starving people of the world or you brought an end to war forever.
Still inside you there would be an unfilled emptiness. Each of us has
a deep shaft within us that goes to the bottom of our hearts. That
shaft was meant to be filled by God. If He's not there, we're an
empty shell.

     Stick to it. Don't expect instant gratification. This is a
lifelong effort. It's meant to be because you will be alive for
eternity. Develop a prayer habit that will last forever. Plan out how
much time a day or a week you want to use to develop your prayer
life. The experts on physical exercise are now recommending 30
minutes a day or at least an hour three times a week. A healthy
spiritual life needs that much time and effort - maybe more.

     Don't give up. You can rest at times, but don't give up.

CONCLUSION                                                                              Back to TOP
             Take action right now!
     You are now finished with this booklet and I hope it has been
helpful and inspirational. But now is the time to start the hard part
- putting it into practice.

     The best way to benefit fully from new ideas is to put them into
action immediately. Do something right this minute. Make a decision
right now what your next step will be. Do it right now. Then follow
up more today. Before you set this booklet down, decide what you are
going to do next. What one thing are you going to do differently
today? It can be a small change, but definitely it should be done
TODAY and preferably right now.

     For example, you could decide your "prayer place" at home and
that you are going to sit there tonight for at least 10 minutes and
think about prayer.

     I wish you fantastic success. Getting closer to God, our
Heavenly Father, is a lifelong process, in fact, it's an eternal
process. Therefore this is not a sprint, it's a marathon.  The
rewards, like in any worthwhile endeavor, far, far outweight any
effort that is required.

     Please write me if you have any comments or suggestions. Share
this booklet with others. God is like the loving parent that has
called us on the phone, but we have put Him on "hold". He is there
waiting eternally for us to just pick up the receiver.

ORDERING INFORMATION      Click to see picture.                    Back to TOP

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    Rev. Jim Stephens
    6106 Tamar Dr.
    Columbia, MD 21045

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