Extemporaneous prayer is spontaneous and usually non-formulaic verbal praise, confession, thanksgiving, and/or petition that we offer to God in silence or out loud.
1. Begin where you are. Speaking to God as though he is sitting next to you, tell him what is on your mind.
2. Start now. Do not put it off until everything is in order. There is no need to prepare, to become a better person first, to speak in appropriate tones or formal language, to get your theology straight, to go to a holy place, or to change yourself or your circumstances.
3. Be honest with God. He is your Creator. He sees in you the “division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12 RSV). He knows your secrets, whether or not you reveal them to yourself, to others, or to him. Attempting to hide from him only wastes your time. God has eternity at his disposal. You have some urgency or you would not be considering prayer. Be sure that he sees and receives you just as you are. He longs for you to come.
4. Some people follow guides such as the ACTS acronym (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication/requests) to prompt them. For example, for adoration they ask themselves, “What quality or characteristic of God do I want to rejoice over?” Then they turn their third-person statement into a second-person address: “I’m glad God is a merciful god even though he’s also demanding,” becomes “I’m glad you love me even though you also seem pretty demanding sometimes.” (See also Practice Together.)
Others use prayers in Scripture as templates for their own prayers. For example, where the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13) reads “Our Father,” they ask themselves which of God’s many names fits their sense of him and use that instead of “Father.” Some of his names from Scripture include:
- I AM (Exod 3:14)
- Advocate (1 John 2:1)
- Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8)
- Commander (Josh 5:14)
- Counselor (Isa 9:6)
- Healer (Exod 15:26)
- Holy One (Acts 3:14)
- King (Zech 14:9)
- Life (John 14:6)
- Light (Isa 60:1)
- Pioneer (Heb 2:10; 12:2)
- Provider (Ps 68:10)
- Redeemer (Jer 50:34)
- Rock (Gen 49:24)
- Savior (1 Tim 2:3)
- Servant (Phil 2:7)
- Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4)
- Teacher (Job 36:22)
- The Way (John 14:6)
When it says, “Thy Kingdom come,” they think about the small bit of God’s kingdom they need in their own work, family, or school and ask for that. For example, “Help my mother make good choices about the men she brings home,” or “Transform my job into a place of integrity.”
5. Consider offering to God issues outside yourself. What is most important to you right now? Perhaps your friends or family have a need or there is an issue at your work, apartment, or school? What one request or praise would you like to pray for your small group, your church, its ministers, committees, or services? Could you lift your own country, state, or city to God in thanks or petition? Maybe a government leader or a political difficulty will come to mind. Is there a country that you would like God to help today? Perhaps it was in the news. Perhaps it is the home country of someone you know from church or work.
6. Consider issues of your inner person. What do you long for? Can you offer that hope to God? What saddens, angers, wearies, or cheers you? How would you like God to involve himself in those circumstances? For what do you feel guilt or shame? Can you tell this to God? Can you allow him to wash it away and give you strength and wisdom for making amends? Where in your life have you seen God’s blessings? Can you thank him for those?
7. When you are finished, wait for a moment. Prayer is conversation. Allow God to respond. He does not always speak in an audible voice like someone on the other end of the telephone, but he does respond. Listen for that. Look for it. What picture arises in your mind’s eye? What word or song repeats in your head? Could this be part of his answer?
8. Make a written note of how your conversation progressed. Share how your prayer developed. If there seemed to be a response immediately or as you listened throughout the day, write that down or share it with a friend. Some people keep short notes on a 3×5 card in their pocket. When they say something to God, they write a two-word summary. Similarly, when an answer or part of an answer presents, they note that, whether it is a phrase from Scripture, the moral of a TV show, or something a friend says. At the end of the day they look through the conversation, reminding themselves of the themes and being encouraged that God was present with them.
9. Many people designate a half hour or more, sometime during the day, to read the Bible and to pray, but find a never-ending series of interruptions thwarts their efforts. One way they limit outside interruptions and keep themselves on track is to write that half hour into a date book or PDA. Something about the date-book lends cultural legitimacy to the practice of prayer. If someone asks for a meeting during that time, they simply work around their “quiet time” as they would any other scheduling conflict.