Statistically, Hail Mary’s don’t work.
I’m referring, of course, to a specific play in football where, as a last-ditch effort, receivers run as far as they can, and the quarterback heaves the ball toward them, praying someone catches it. We remember the handful of passes that actually connected, but a Hail Mary is a play of desperation. According to the stats-nerds at ESPN, they only work 9% of the time. And that’s for the freaks of nature we call professional athletes. In college football, the success rate is more like 2.5%.
A last-minute act of desperation when I’m out of other options? Sounds like my prayer habit for much of my life. I’m betting I’m not the only one. One study I ran across recently claimed only 2% of believers felt very satisfied with their prayer lives. Yikes.
Maybe in the same way that calling for a Hail Mary on every play isn’t a wise football strategy for long-term success, my incredibly-rare-long-ball-prayers aren’t the best way to build a powerful, life-changing prayer habit.
I get it, though. Prayer is easily the most ethereal of all the spiritual disciplines—the intentional choices we make to grow our faith. Is this thing on? Is it even working? If I’ve learned anything from nearly 15 years as a husband and father, it’s that communication is hard. And it’s a choice—to be known, vulnerable, honest, and to keep coming back, even when we don’t feel like it’s going anywhere.
Like any other skill that grows through repetition and discipline, each minute spent in prayer inches us closer to God. In this, it’s a habit that can change the trajectory of lives, degree by degree. Jesus modeled its importance by making it a priority. He taught the disciples how to do it. He called out the Pharisees’ brokenness in it. And He leaned on it during the most difficult hours of His life.
If it was a lifeline for Jesus, it’s probably supposed to be that for me. These five hacks are helping turn my prayers from a last-ditch Hail Mary into a habit that is forming me spiritually. Try one (or all of them) on for size; they might do the same for you.
Before you dig in, look up.
Pausing to thank God before chowing down is a habit Christians worldwide have adopted. We often see Jesus doing the same thing—when hungry crowds were hoping for enough fish and bread to go around and at the table with his closest friends before his death—but the practice likely dates back to the Old Testament.
The danger in repeated patterns is that they can become mechanical. Mealtime prayer had become that for me. In fact, I noticed it in my kids. When they prayed for our meals for the last few months, they’d each recite the same prayer as quickly as possible. Oof—I wonder where they saw that modeled for them?
Last month, I gave them a challenge and told them I’d do the same. At mealtime prayers, we’re taking a moment to thank God for the food, for something else that went great during the day, and to ask Him to bless someone else.
We’ve replaced the prayer “Thank you, God, for this food and this beautiful day, Amen.” with something more like “God, thanks for this food and for the extra time we got to play outside. Help Aunt Bec feel better because she’s been sick. Amen.”
I don’t know much about you—except that, at some point today, you’ll have to eat. Use it as a reminder to connect with God. Replace the repetition with something real, and your prayers will level up.
2. SAY THANKS
Yes, that’s a prayer—the one that takes the top spot for the most prayed prayer in history.
There’s nothing wrong with that prayer. I believe it’s pretty honoring to God that you’d ask. Few of us need a push to ask for help; we tend to do that naturally. What we need is a reminder to say “thank you” when God comes through.
This is highlighted in full color in an encounter Jesus had with ten lepers. In the first century, there wasn’t much worse than leprosy. It was a highly contagious disease that required you to live in isolation away from the comforts of your home, family, and friends. That was in addition to the pretty gross skin lesions. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
One day, while traveling, Jesus ran into a group of ten lepers living together on the outskirts of a town. He healed them all, and they ran off to celebrate with their loved ones and make up for lost time. Only one, in the midst of his elation, had the clarity to return to Christ and offer gratitude—and I bet he walked more joyfully than the rest due to doing so.
I want to be like that guy, so I’ve made it a practice to offer a quick “thank you” prayer whenever something goes right.
My coupon at Valvoline worked? Thank you, God, for providing that in my email this morning. Team meeting went well? Thank you, God, for teammates who value my opinion. They restocked my favorite flavor of Jeni’s Ice Cream at the supermarket? Thank you, Lord, for Savannah Buttermint.
It is a simple practice that points me back to God multiple times each day and improves my attitude by building a muscle of gratitude. Who said giving thanks was only for Turkey Day?
3. SPIRITUAL SCREEN TIME
Your screen can be a gateway to the spiritual. Never thought you’d read that, did you?
There are a number of prayer and spiritual fitness apps on the market: Hallow, Echo, and Abide, just to name a few. My app of choice is Crossroads Anywhere (and not just because my friends made and keep innovating it).
Each morning, I get up and read a chapter of scripture alongside thousands of other people. I can journal on it and read other people’s thoughts as well (something which teaches me a ton). There are gratitude exercises, an entire content library, and ways to connect. But my absolute favorite feature is the prayer tab.
When I click it, I see names, faces, and real requests from real people looking for prayer. Each time I pray for someone, I can click the “prayed” button, and they receive a push notification on their phone that someone has prayed for their request.
The best push notifications I get all day are the ones that say, “Carolyn has prayed for your request” or “Adam has prayed for you.” It’s a constant reminder of the power of community and that prayer is both an individual and communal act.
I’ve been using the app for about six months, and I can honestly say I look forward to my prayer time each morning. Although I know the guys and gals who built it, it’s not only for people in our church community. No matter where you call home or what church you do (or don’t) attend, it’s a valuable resource that definitely shouldn’t be free (but it is).
Spiritual screen time? I call that a win.
4. TEXT IT
Speaking of phones, have you ever had a friend who texts asking for prayer? You should respond by pecking out a prayer with your thumbs and hitting send.
Seriously, it’s one of my favorite habits that’s developed over the past year or so. When a friend asks for prayer, I don’t wait until I have a quiet room, a hot cup of coffee, and the electric fireplace going. I do it right then and type out the words of my prayer in the text thread. When I hit send, I not only assume it’s going to God but also know that my friends are getting encouragement in real-time.
And when I text them, asking for prayer for my own things, I know they’ve actually done it because I can read their words to God on my own screen.
Did it feel weird the first time I wrote out a prayer? Absolutely. But the more I’ve done it, the more it’s become a habit I lean on. And that’s to say nothing about how I see it blessing my friends and family.
Try it out and see what happens. It’s much better than saying you’ll pray for someone… and then inevitably forgetting.
5. ROUTINE AND REPETITION
You get better at what you practice. That works for prayer just as much as anything else. What are you already doing every day that you can add prayer to?
For me, it’s my morning commute. On my way to work, I like to have quiet music going, and I use that 20 minutes as an opportunity to pop in and out of prayer. It’s a time that I look forward to and have come to need.
For lots of my friends, it’s brushing their teeth. They have a paste list of people they are praying for taped to their bathroom mirror, and while they stand there cleaning their chompers, they say a prayer for each one.
For you, it might be washing dishes, walking laps at the office on your lunch break, or tidying up the house before bed. For Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century French monk, it was the daily act of peeling potatoes. (His book, The Practice of the Presence of God, is incredible and super accessible. If you want more God in your life, go get it.).
Turns out, lather, rinse, repeat is great advice for more than just hair.
BONUS: SHUT YER YAPPER
I promised five hacks, but how about one more for the road? It’s been one of the biggest places of learning for me the past few years: just stop talking.
When you pray, don’t feel any pressure to fill every moment of silence. That’s a pretty crappy way to have a conversation with a friend, and it’s an equally ineffective way of communicating with the God of the Universe.
I believe God is just as honored by a prayer of silence, from a kid just wanting to sit in his presence, listening for anything he has to say to them, than from a flowery speech of thees and thous. In fact, He might like the silence better.
Be sure your times of prayer include space to listen. How do you know when God is speaking back? My friend, Scott, has some great ideas.
That’s it. Five (plus one) simple prayer hacks that have helped me build a better prayer habit. Through it all, I’ve been reminded that God is a good Father who wants to hear from me. He is equally a good King, working behind the scenes to form me more into the image of Jesus. I believe the same thing for you.
So take the pressure off. Enjoy His presence. Pray with confidence, expecting Him to listen and even act. You can stop throwing Hail Mary’s. Get on the line of scrimmage daily and run the plays God is putting in front of you.
Before long, I believe you’ll find yourself in the end zone—benefiting from, and even enjoying, a consistent rhythm of prayer you once never thought possible.
Disclaimer: This article is 100% human-generated.