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The church I attended in college had a 24/7 prayer ministry. Hourly, four volunteers crammed into a small room with four cubicles and were available by phone to pray with anyone who called in.
I felt I should be a part of this. The only consistent time on a weekly basis for my one-hour slot was Thursday at 7:00 a.m. While this doesn’t sound terribly early now, it was to a college student.
Many times, I remember flying out of my chair when the phone in my cubicle would ring. While I was supposed to be praying though a list of needs, I would doze off and the sound of a phone four inches from your ear is quite startling. I could sleep during “prayer time” without causing much suspicion, but I could never effectively cover springing out of my chair to my “prayer partners” in the room.
At that life-stage, I was overwhelmed by a need for sleep. Now as a minister, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of matters to pray for on a consistent basis.
This feeling isn’t exclusive to ministers. No one can pray for everything that deserves attention. But a minister’s role has some unique pressures to pray comprehensively and well (my working definition of well: in the moment; not haphazardly; pleasing to God).
When I’ve become overwhelmed with prayer needs, I sometimes don’t pray at all. Or if I do, it lacks focus. In my frustration of feeling inadequate, a worse thing happens. Not only am I not interceding for others, but I miss my time in conversation with God altogether.
Recently I came up with a way to order my prayer life so I’d avoid being overwhelmed. My prayer life changes in seasons of my life, but this is serving my prayer life well now. I pray in buckets.
For each day of the week, I’ve drawn a bucket in my journal. In pencil, I write in each bucket some areas of intercession. I spread out the major areas of intercession into one of the seven buckets:
• My wife and each of my children have a day.
• Each of the ministry departments I help to oversee have a day. For each department, I pray for the staff in that department and unique items they may be dealing with.
• Each day has a different pastor that’s important to me.
• Ultimately, each day’s bucket has 4-6 topics (aforementioned groups, extended family members, those with illness, job loss, specific people I know who need Christ).
My bucket-praying assumes a few things:
1. I’m confessing and expressing gratefulness to God as a part of every day’s prayer time.
2. I’m not limited by buckets. I must remain obedient to whatever the Spirit brings to my mind or crisis that are time specific and not listed in a bucket.
3. I’m engaging “whisper” prayer moments throughout the day when prompted.
If you’re overwhelmed in prayer, whether bucket-praying or not, I encourage you to find some solution to effective and consistent prayer.