The Way We Pray — Part One

Did you know that your learning style and personality type can impact they way you pray? As we discover more about ourselves, we’ll find ways to pray that really open us up to the person and power of God.

Remembering What Prayer Is

In the months since I’ve read and listened to J.D. Walt’s Daily Text series on prayer, I’ve been processing some of what stuck out to me and have been trying to work out how to make it part of me, my life, my faith journey. I want these deep truths to impact the way I pray.

One new idea that has really been penetrating my soul and thoughts is that prayer is the pathway into which God invites us to join Him (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in the work He is already doing.

When I pair that truth with the notion that prayer is to speak as God speaks (Let there be!), I sense a shift in the way I pray.

Maxie Dunnam, a Methodist preacher and leader with much wisdom to share, captured what I am feeling when in his book, The Intercessory Life, he quoted Jack Hayford then added his own insight:

“’Prayer is essentially a partnership of the redeemed child of God working hand in hand with God toward the realization of His redemptive purposes on earth.’ This partnership guarantees God’s presence, which is the source of all power in praying.”

Oh, to find and feel that source of power in praying!

The third new thought about prayer that J.D. has planted in me is this idea that prayer can be more of a “calling forth,” rather than just listing off our worries and fears.

If our motive in prayer is fear, then we aren’t aligned with God in His work. If our motive is love, then our heart is in the right place, and that moves God.

We can’t lose sight that by praying, we’re joining in the work that God is already doing.

Aligning Our Hearts with God’s Heart

But there remains a MYSTERY around what happens when we pray. Powerful things happen when we pray! While we may not always understand all the ways God works through prayer, we can learn to pray in ways that tap into the the work and power of God.

Aligning our hearts and wills with God’s is key before we launch into our petitions and intercessions. Maxie Dunnam encourages us, “The crux of heart-work is fully surrendering our wills to Christ so that all we are belongs to him, and we live his life in the world” (The Intercessory Life). 

How do we do align our hearts and wills with God?

  1. Recognize that we cannot depend on our own resources or count on our own works to achieve meaning or grow closer to God.
  2. Be unashamedly dependent on the Holy Spirit.

(Maxie Dunnam in The Intercessory Life)

Those are not easy to accomplish, and if you’re like me, will only happen a little over time. I’m discovering that I’m a bit independent in nature — I feel more secure if I only have to depend on myself. I think it gives me a false sense of control.

But over the last couple of decades, God has been showing me that my independent nature keeps me from a close relationship with Him…because for that closeness to happen, I have to surrender to Him. I have to be dependent on Him.

And when I have surrendered, have allowed myself to fully depend on Him for strength and peace and provision, I have discovered His presence and power in whole new ways.

Back to HOW to align ourselves with God…

Knowing Self — Learning Styles

Implicit in aligning ourselves with God is that we’d know ourselves well — how we’re wired and what makes us tick. The bottom line here, as Pete Grieg has said, “Learn to pray the way God made you.” In other words, there is not one “right” way to pray.

  • Don’t compare yourself with others
  • Don’t say you’re bad at prayer; instead, realize you may not have discovered the way God has created you to pray

Thirty years ago (oh my!) I was in an Educational Psychology class at Texas A&M. It was a super small class. I mean…small enough we sat around a conference room table. And our sweet professor taught us all kinds of interesting things about how we can tap into the world of psychology to better help our students succeed.

All these years later, the lessons that stick with me are those about learning styles. Most of us fall into one of three categories: auditory, visual, or tactile/kinesthetic. Interestingly enough, these can be applied to our prayer lives.

God is so good — He’s given me three sons, and each of them has a different learning style. I think I’ve been in the crucible of hands-on learning about how we’re each wired differently for the past 24 years!

My oldest is totally auditory. He hears it and learns it. That has worked to his benefit because a lot of the world wants us to learn this way — think lectures, radio shows, podcasts, and audible books. Auditory learners love for us to just tell them what they need to know. And some auditory learners have a real connection to music.

My second son is much more visual. Even from a young age, he could identify specific titles of VHS tapes  (not the covers, but the basic black tape itself), not because he could read, but because he was so visual that He recognized Batman’s logo or the Star Wars font. He learns best by seeing things — whether in written form or in “pictures.” A lot of visual learners are good note takers or artists, so give them a pen or a paint brush.

My third-born is the tactile/kinesthetic learner. A tactile learner does best when he can touch something. A kinesthetic learner does best when he can just DO it, physically, through movement. As you can imagine, it is more challenging to find ways to help these learners engage in their learning style. Kinda hard to teach a kid how to write a five paragraph essay kinesthetically. 🙂 BUT, I think this is why my son has excelled in gymnastics and in cooking. Those are activities you truly DO them to learn them.

Learning styles can be applied to our prayer lives. Auditory learners might do well to listen to or recite/read aloud prayers, or maybe find a way musically to connect with prayer. Visual learners would benefit from reading written prayers and maybe journaling or drawing their prayers. Tactile learners would do well to have something they can touch/feel either as they pray or as their prayer. Kinesthetic learners would benefit from movement — I think of prayer labyrinths.

Knowing Self — Personality

There are so many facets to the topic of personality types, but even if we keep it to the most basic — introvert and extrovert — we will discover much to help us in our prayer lives.

All of my young adult years, I thought the basic definition of an extrovert was someone who was outgoing. So, I assumed that described me. I do love people, and I have enjoyed those “performing” kind of interests, such as dance, choir, and cheer.

So it came as quite a surprise to learn in my THIRTIES that I’m introvert. That’s because the ways to distinguish between an introvert and extrovert are to look at 1) what energizes you (being with people or being alone), and 2) how you process your thoughts best (out loud with others or in your own head).

When it comes to prayer, you might consider whether you process better with others or on your own. If you’re more of an introvert, then time alone, in the quiet and solitude, feels like a gift! You relish that time alone, with God. The trick is to make that quiet time about conversing with and listening to God (and not reading, as I’m prone to do).

If you’re an extrovert, the thought of being alone in the quiet with your own thoughts…well, it might just make you panic. So, maybe sometimes for your prayer time, you gather with a group of like-minded folks and pray aloud! Together.

Both personality types benefit from both types of praying. We all need quiet time with God. And it’s good for all of us to get with someone we trust and do some group praying. But, what I’m talking about here is finding your sweet spot. What works best for you? Tap into that without guilt and develop your own prayer rhythms.

Knowing Self — Interests and Passions

One more way to think about all this is to look to your own interests, talents, and passions. What gets you excited?  Music? Nature? Art? Dance? Writing? Sports?

Whatever that might be, lean into it, research it, and you may find ways to bring that into your prayer life.

I know women who love dance, so they’ve found this lyrical style of dance that gives them space to praise God, to “dance their prayers.” This wouldn’t fit everyone, but for those it does fit…it offers a depth of connection with the Lord like no other.

Not that long ago, I was introduced to a style of art known as art journaling. The teacher I was learning under was showing us how to use water colors and pencils in a blank journal to draw and creatively write-out our prayers, even using Scripture to do so. While I was intrigued and thought it was really cool, it was not my style. It felt like work to me. But for several of my friends, a whole new world opened to them. It was an incredible release and a connection to God.

I’ve discovered for myself that it’s words. Give me a keyboard or a pen and paper, and I process best. I connect with God best. Numerous times it’s when I’ve given myself space with a pen and a journal that God has revealed amazing truths about Himself, my life, and the people around me.

Find your thing! If you have no clue, ask God to help you. He is faithful. He’ll reveal it to you!

Putting It All Together

Knowing self is a huge step in the right direction of changing the way we pray. We have such a tendency to see prayer one way — and that tends to be whatever way has been modeled for us. It’s a blessing at mealtime. It’s the “now I lay me down to sleep” prayer at bedtime. It’s the silent, desperate plea for help.

None of those are wrong. That’s the point! There’s not one way to pray. But if we truly want to align our hearts and wills with God’s so that we can better enter into the work He is already doing, we need to expand the way we pray.

And it starts with knowing ourselves.

I’ve mentioned Pete Grieg a few times in this series. His church has the 24/ site that is all about prayer. It was on there that I found these thoughts from an introvert and an extrovert:

From an introvert: I recall vividly my first night in a 24-7 Prayer Room. The flicker of the candles, quiet contemplative music, the chance to write and to draw. The solitude. I often used to book the night or early hours slots, knowing I’d be on my own.

The thing is, there isn’t a right way or a wrong way to pray. It’s the way I feel most alive. I love to pray loudly at times. I love loud music at times. It’s great to pray in groups. But for my personality, sometimes the sense of retreat serves me best.

Andy Freeman at

From an extrovert: When I ran out of quiet thoughts to think, there was space to paint my feelings, room to move, sing, shout, dance, pace, throw balls whilst interceding, write my sin and stick it in a bin, pray the words of others when I ran out of my own and so much more!  I learned two things in that messy, holy space…

  1. There is a person behind the prayer, and He was just waiting for me to find my voice (and open my ears)
  2. Once I found a way to connect my heart, mind and words to Jesus, quietness and solitude got easier

Carla Harding at

Spend some time in the coming days, asking God to help you discover more about yourself. What’s your learning style? Personality type? Passion? And as He reveals these to you, look for ways to incorporate them into your prayer life.

Then, stick with it. Sometimes new things take a while to get used to. I’ll be praying that each of us discovers a deeper connection with God as we open ourselves up in these new ways.

Next time, we’ll look at the concept of knowing God. Get ready — when we put the “knowing self” and “knowing God” parts together, powerful prayers start happening!

Looking at the way I pray,

Shelley Johnson

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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