prayerideas3

How to Increase the Power of Your Prayers by Finding Ways of Praying that Fit Your Personality and Learning Style

Resting on campus

Finding ways of praying that fit with your personality and ways of learning and ways of relating is a key to having more powerful prayer that connects you closely with God.   In Christian prayer there are a variety of ways and means of praying that will work well for you.  The first step is to uncover your unique personal strengths.  Then we‘ll list prayer ideas and methods that you might want to try to see which ones work well for you.

Part One:  Try this experiment to find out how you might connect best with God.

Prayer is an experiential process, so here’s brief a self discovery idea that’s different than the written quizzes we often take to find out our personality types or learning styles.  This short experiment is meant to help you learn more about how you best interact with God through prayer.

This exercise is a form of Christian meditation I call contemplation in nature.  You will need to be able to prayerfully walk or sit outdoors in a natural setting for at least five minutes.  Here are the instructions:

Plan a destination:  Find a convenient place where you can spend at least five minutes outdoors in a natural setting where you won’t be distracted by having to talk to other people or to do other tasks.

Disconnect from business and connect with God:  Turn off cell phones etc.  Then prayerfully turn your thoughts toward God.  Put yourself in a frame of mind that is open to the Holy Spirit.  Remind yourself that you are not going to pray about your problems or concerns or try to find answers to a particular life problem.  Instead you are going to put yourselves in God’s presence and allow the Holy Spirit to gently guide you.   You might want to pray, “God, open my eyes to you.”

Notice something: Allow the Holy Spirit to bring some small visible natural object to your attention such as a leaf, nut, rock, feather, shell, plant, bug, nest, flower etc.

Wonder and ponder: Spend at least five minutes observing and studying the chosen natural object in detail, allowing God to help you focus on the object and to see new truths, ponder why it is made as it is or receive new thoughts from the Holy Spirit through the things you observe.  Don’t try to force or over-think the process.  Let it flow naturally.

Record your thoughts: After you have finished your experiment it would be helpful to record your observations and the kinds of things God may have brought to your mind during the experience.  This step is not necessary during normal contemplation and meditation, however for the sake of this self discovery experiment, this log of your train of thoughts, actions, questions and insights will help you identify the processes through which you most naturally interact with God.

Ask God to help you compare your experience with the following strengths and multiple intelligences examples.

Various researchers have categorized our intelligence strengths and learning styles in a variety of ways.   For the sake of this article we’ve broken them down into four main types.  Within our categories, we’ve included the multiple intelligences which were proposed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner as a way of expressing human capabilities and talents that go beyond the traditional intellectual abilities measured on standardized tests.  This more inclusive look at our God- given strengths helps us have a greater appreciation of the unique faculties we might have that enable us to connect with God more closely in a relationship of prayer.

Read over the following strengths to see which ones might fit what God has shown you about yourself through your contemplation experiment.  In each category, I’ve included a specific example of what each type of person actually experienced in a similar meditation exercise came during a Christian meditation workshop I was leading.  I had a variety of things from nature such as shells, rocks and nuts on a table and asked each person to pick one and to prayerfully contemplate it for 5 minutes and then share with the group what the Holy Spirit brought to their mind.

Thinker/Verbal

This type of person learns and communicates best with words and uses their mind and intellectual powers most frequently.  They write notes in class and read over them to study.  They enjoy reading, they approach problems through logical thinking, they keep journals.  Finding the right words or the right way of explaining things is very important to them.  They do research, look for patterns and draw conclusions.  To work out a problem, they might write it out step by step form or might write it as an experience with a beginning and an end in the order that events happened.  The types of multiple intelligences under this category are Linguistic and Logical/Mathematics.

As an example to compare yourself to, at my workshop one woman picked out a small piece of gray curvy driftwood and during the meditation time I noticed that she was actively taking notes on her phone.  When she shared her experiences after the meditation time, she had produced quite an interesting chain of thoughts about the wood of the cross and Christ’s redeeming power and the bumps on the wood representing the disciples and our role as Christians to carry the message to others.  In addition to the notes she had taken on her phone, she had googled a Bible verse to back up her thoughts.

The Holy Spirit had moved through the avenues of her ability to grasp concepts and ideas verbally and then to translate them into logical order and to link them to Bible passages and theological concepts.

If this sounds similar to your experience in your contemplation experiment, you may be stronger in verbal learning and intellectual thought and reasoning.

Experiential/active

This type of person learns best by doing.   They use movement, their bodies and their senses to learn and express themselves.  They’re doers and have great body sense.  The types of multiple intelligences under this category are Bodily/Kinesthetic and Naturalist.

In the same meditation workshop mentioned above, another woman picked up a sprig of rosemary I had clipped from my yard.  Instead of sitting quietly while thinking, she had a pen and paper and her hands kept busy writing things sideways all over the margins of the handout.  When she shared, she said she thought about how rosemary smells fragrant and all of the ways you can use it in cooking and how distinctive it smells when it burns.  Then her thoughts veered in the direction of a problem she was having a on a work project and how God seemed to be telling her that it might be time to let go of the project like you cut a limb off a tree so she could move forward to do other things.

The Holy Spirit had worked through her preference for actively experiencing things as she related to the rosemary sprig through the senses of smell, sight and the physical things that we could do with it.  She had kept her mind from wandering and had kept her focus by using the physical activity of scribbling down what she was thinking.  Interestingly, both the image (cutting off a tree limb) and the personal takeway she received (to let go of and hand off a current project) were both action oriented thoughts from God.

If this contemplation example sounds similar to what you experienced, you may be a hands-on learner who relates best through the use of all of your senses with an emphasis on movement and activity rather than quiet abstract, focused thinking.

Relational/social

This type of person learns and communicates best when connected with others.  They are family, group and community oriented.  They highly value friendships and are in touch with the feelings of others.   The type of multiple intelligence under this category is Interpersonal.  In addition to this intelligence, another proposed intelligence that might fit under this type is teaching, which is the ability to relay information to others.

Another woman at the same meditation workshop chose a magnolia seed pod as an object of meditation.  Such a seed pod is a cone shaped pod that contains numerous red berry-like seeds each tightly embedded within the pod in its own small chamber.   During the time of meditation, this woman sat still while contemplating, unlike the first two who wrote things down.  She took time to slowly examine the pod and when I glanced up I noticed her taking a quick look around at the other ladies in the group to see how everyone was doing.  When this woman shared, she said the pod reminded her that we’re all part of the church and God’s family, and how we each have our own gifts, but we’re all part of the bigger body, we’re all a part, and she was too.

The Holy Spirit had spoken to this woman’s intuitive nature of being part of a group and seeing life through the lens of relationship with others.  Interestingly enough, this woman wasn’t the type who needed to be in the spotlight in a group to thrive.  She social in a different sense.  She was a very family and group oriented person.  She was very “other-oriented” and had good insight into the needs and emotions of others and how she could help fill them.

If this contemplation example has similarities with yours, you may be someone for whom relationships and interactions with others is a strong means of connection, where group experiences and projects produce the greatest sense of satisfaction and give you an ability to experience connection to God.

Creative/innovative

This type of person thrives on imagination, is often musically or artistically talented, is visually oriented, and able to envision and create things.  The types of multiple intelligences under this category are Visual/Spatial, Intrapersonal (looking within oneself in reflective ways), and Musical.  Two other proposed intelligences that might relate to this type include moral (the ability to distinguish the goodness of actions) and existential (psychologists refrain from using the term spiritual or religious, but for our purposes we’ll define this as seeing  ourselves in relation to our Creator with its implications about the meaning of life.)

Another woman in the meditation workshop chose a striped bird feather for her object of contemplation.  She sat still in meditation, never glancing up to see what others were doing but instead focusing on the feather.  When she shared, she briefly commented on how the stripes could be disorganized when the feather was ruffled, then became distinctive and beautiful again when the feather was smoothed.  Then her thoughts jumped off into a more personal, introspective direction when she shared that God seemed to be speaking to her about her fears.  That she should see them as light as a feather and allow them to float on the air instead of weighing her down.

The Holy Spirit had spoken to this woman through her strong intrapersonal intelligence which enabled her to reflect on her own emotional inner state and identify something that was out of order and needed attention.

She had also used a strong visual faculty often associated with artistic ability to see the different effects of disarray on the stripes on the feather.  Although God didn’t lead her into a truth about this observation during her meditation time, I can see how the Holy Spirit might have easily converted this observation into an inner truth about how when our lives seem to be in chaos, as long as we’re attached to God the divine patterns of order and purpose are never erased and can be restored easily by a  smoothing movement of God’s gentle hand.

If your contemplation experiment has things in common with this one, you may be strong in the visual, musical, artistic, spatial (example: being able to envision things from a blueprint or design) innovative, creative or self-reflective senses.

Part 2:   Experiment with prayer methods and ideas that work for you

Ask God to free you from trying to fit into someone elses prayer style mold   

Remember that although you may have certain talents or abilities that are stronger than the others, you will have a unique mix of all of these intelligences and talents in differing proportions.   Be open to trying a large variety of prayer methods to see what works for you.

This is extremely important because I have seen cases where people felt they were lacking in their ability to pray simply because they didn’t feel they “fit into” what they believe prayer has to look like.  As an example of the freedom and joy that comes in finding your prayer pathway , one woman I met told me she has ADHD.  She confided that it’s always been difficult for her to sit still, be quiet and to focus for long.  Since this is the traditional way she’d been taught to pray, she told me that prayer just wasn’t her thing and she wasn’t very good at it.  When she learned that there are many ways to pray such as walking a prayer labyrinth where you are moving and your eyes are opened, she was extremely excited.  She was a experiential, active person, and she’d been trying to force herself to pray like other people who were more introspective or intrapersonal who had different strengths and weaknesses.

Another prime example of thinking you can’t pray well because you don’t measure up in someone elses wheelhouse is in the arena of praying out loud.  You might hear a minister or others pray with great eloquence, saying poetic and beautiful words.  If you’re a relational/social person, you don’t realize that you’re hearing a thinker/verbal person pray.  And being a relational/social person, you clam up and won’t pray in the presence of others because you feel that what you say in prayer has to measure up to the group standard, set high by the greatest verbal talent.  And on top of that, a relational/social person cares what others think about them!  The relational/social person might be excellent at praying, but just in a different way.   They might find a prayer mode that works much by better for them praying with just one other person, or with their family, or with children, or even being on an email prayer chain where they pray by themselves for other people

Remember that although you may have certain talents or abilities that are stronger than the others, you will have a unique mix of all of these intelligences and talents in differing proportions.   Be open to trying a large variety of prayer methods to see what works for you.

Below is a partial list of different prayer modes that might come more naturally to you according to your  personality type or intelligences.

Here are some prayer ideas to explore:

Thinker/Verbal

Verbal: using a journal, using written prayers by others and prayer books, writing down thoughts and experiences, reading prayers from the Bible, praying out loud, writing out prayers.

Mathematical/logical: using prayers that follow patterns and formulas, such as Acts – adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication,  experimenting with different prayer modes, keeping prayer lists and logs of answers to prayer, having structured, scheduled prayer times daily, praying the hours,

Experiential/active

prayer labyrinths, prayer walks, pathway praying, use of aids such as beads, lighting candles, use of prayer postures and movements, such as kneeling, standing with outstretched hands, liturgical dance, writing prayer lists, expressing thoughts, prayers and emotions out loud, reading prayers out loud, physically moving through a prayer place such as prayer stations, assembling a symbolic prayer project, such as making a cross, writing prayer requests on notecards and sorting and posting them, traveling to a prayer place, going on a pilgrimage, meditative coloring or doodling,

naturalistic : meditating in nature, praying the psalms, reverie, reflecting on nature, u sing nature as a sanctuary and teacher, outdoor prayer labyrinth, pilgrimages

Relational/social

: prayer groups, prayer partnerships, prayer chains, email prayer groups, texting prayers to others, posting prayers on social media sites, prayer services,  praying with family members, praying over others or with others by holding hands, touching or laying on hands, intercession, standing in the gap in prayer

Creative/innovative

composing or playing meditative music, singing, mentally using the words and melodies of Christian songs as prayers, using poetic prayers, meditating with music, using rhythmic sounds and cadence with prayer, singing the Lord’s prayer, praying the psalms, soaking prayer, chanting

intrapersonal My thoughts: personal prayer, meditation, reflection, self examination through the Daily Examen and other self reflection guides, Lectio divina,   existential mystical type meditation journeying inward with God, meditation, listening and hearing from God

Prayer modes that work well for every type

Praying scriptures, prayers of confession, altar prayer, meditation in nature, laying on of hands, two or more in agreement, personal prayer.

Copyright Karen Barber 2016.  All rights reserved.