In the course of the day, you may hear of situations or people that move you, and you come up short on what to say or do. Responding to suffering or difficulties by turning to God is a natural instinct, and it’s comforting to hear someone say, “I’ll pray for you.” That’s a great instinct – to pray for people facing challenges — but it’s not always easy to follow through on.
Even when your intention is genuine, and your care and concern are real, it can be hard to actually sit down and pray for others. Here is a strategy to follow through on that desire to pray for those people and situations you said you would.
The whole strategy comes down to a simple coffee mug — write down the situations and people you want to pray for and place those slips of paper in a mug. This will make sure that you take a concrete action step to record your intention, which feels good in itself because you’re doing something to respond to a person or situation in need. From there, it’s just a matter of how to pray with what’s in the mug — how to bring those things before God.
Pick a mug (or jar or glass) from your cupboard, preferably one without a logo or other writing (but if that’s all you have, that’ll work). Find a pen or pencil and a small notepad — maybe one of those free ones you get in the mail or one you picked up at a hotel or those mini memo pads you bought but never used — and put these in the mug, or put the pen in the mug and keep the pad with it.
Technically, that’s it for preparation, but, if you want to set yourself up to start right away, then take a few minutes, sit down, and write down the name of any person you encountered today whom you’d like to pray for, and any situation going on in the world that you want to pray for — one name/situation per paper. If you picked a big piece of paper, no need to pull out the scissors — just fold and tear. Fold the papers and put them in your mug.
The next step is essential, and it will make the difference between sticking with this practice or having it become another thing you tried and didn’t follow through on: you need to decide where you will put your mug and pen and paper, and when you will use it. But we’ll come back to this point after going over what to do.
What to do to pray
In the morning, hold the mug and say a prayer for all the intentions you have placed in it. For example, you could say, “God our Father, I humbly pray that you show your compassion, love, and care to all those whose names and intentions are in this mug. In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.”
(If you want to take a little extra time, instead of praying for “all those whose names and intentions are in this mug,” you could take each paper and read the name or intention, or you could pause and call to mind some of the people and intentions you know are in your mug.)
Then cover and shake the mug and pull out one paper and read the name or intention. Ideally, you would take the paper with you and leave it out where you spend most of your day — this might be by your computer monitor, in your car, in your wallet or pocket. Somewhere that will draw your eye — and when it does, think about that person or situation and maybe at some point have a conversation with the Lord about them: What moved you about them? Why do you pray for them?
Each night, put the paper back in the mug and take a moment to think back on your day and add any new intentions to your mug.
Strategize it so you don’t skip it
You have the intention of praying for people, you want to do it, and that is great. But, as you already know, having that intention does not automatically translate into action. Thankfully, making it happen doesn’t have to rely on mustering enough willpower. All you need is to be strategic, and your most important strategy relates to where you leave your mug. It is really that simple.
So where to leave the mug? You want to add this prayer to your morning and evening routines, so first think about your morning routine: you get up, you go to the bathroom, maybe you brush your teeth, maybe you exercise, check your phone, breakfast, shower, etc. When in all this will you add your prayer? Maybe when you brush your teeth — you’re standing there for two minutes anyway, and if your mug is in the bathroom, you’re likely to notice it and remember.
But maybe you don’t have space in your bathroom for a mug. So maybe you leave it with your running shoes, or your breakfast stuff, or the bag you take to work, or on a counter and you place your keys inside (you’re not going to forget about those). Pick any of those things you use every day without fail and put the mug with them, then do your prayer before you use that item (or you might forget after).
How about the pen and paper? You could leave these with the mug or choose another spot for them that fits your evening routine. Again, you could put it where your keys go and write new intentions when you put your keys down. You could put it in your exercise bag if you do that in the evening and write intentions before you change. You could leave it in your car and do this before you get out of the car and into your house.
It may seem odd to have a mug by your keys or shoes, but once the prayer becomes an established habit and you are confident you can stick with it, you could put the mug, pen and paper somewhere else.
Go the extra mile
It is easy to pray for those we care about and the situations that move us with compassion. But, the Lord asks us to also pray for our enemies, for those who persecute us — basically, the people who annoy us, those who have hurt us and add misery or stress to our lives. If you are open to having your prayer stretch you, make sure to add some of those names to the mug as well, and definitely try to talk to the Lord about them on the days when you pull their names out.
To help you remember names or situations you want to add to your mug, send yourself a text or track these on your phone. Every now and then, you can go through all the papers and either remove the ones you think are okay to set aside or, if it’s tough to decide, just clear them all out and start over.
The first bonus to this method is that next time you’re talking with someone and moved to say those words, “I’ll pray for you,” you’ll know in your heart you not only have the good intention of praying for this person but that you’ll follow through on it. The deeper, more lasting bonus will come over time as you find yourself changed by this simple practice of praying for others and becoming a kinder, more compassionate person.