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6 Creative Ways to Pray Unselfishly Today

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three…”

So begins the classic theme song from the 1971 fantasy film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a delightful melody—except that many of us have unintentionally adapted it as a model for self-serving use in our daily prayers. When it’s time to pray, we find ourselves unconsciously thinking:

“Close your eyes. Make a wish. Say amen…”

But your prayers don’t have to be singsong exercises in personal gratification. See for yourself—try one (or all!) of these 6 creative ways to pray unselfishly today.

1. Lectio Divina Prayer

Learning to pray unselfishly requires first building a habit of praying away from yourself—of turning your inward thoughts to outward interests. This is the power of Lectio Divina, the practice of “divine reading.” An ancient spiritual discipline, it empowers us to focus our prayers on Scripture instead of ourselves—a method that helps us internalize and pray God’s words back to him.

 In the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, theologian Adele Ahlberg Calhoun describes it this way: “Lectio divina invites us into God’s presence to listen for his particular, loving word … rooted in the assurance that every part of the biblical story—letters, parables, Gospels, Prophets, history—is inspired and can give voice to God’s particular word to us.”

Are you curious yet? If so, then you can try it now. Here’s how Lectio Divina works:

  1. Silencio (“silence”). First, take a moment to breathe in silence, preparing to hear from God.
  2. Lectio (“reading”). Read a Scripture passage out loud to yourself.
  3. Meditatio (“meditation”). Read the passage again, out loud or silently, pausing to reflect on any words or phrases that seem to catch your attention.
  4. Oratio (“prayer”). Speak to God in prayer about the Scripture passage. Pray it back to him as is appropriate, Ask questions, make promises. Speak the Scripture into his ear while he whispers them into your heart.
  5. Contemplatio (“contemplation”). Before saying “amen,” take time to contemplate what an answer to your Lectio Divina prayer might look like, and yield your will to God’s intentions in your prayer.

2. Paint-a-Prayer

No, you don’t have to be an artist to pray unselfishly in this kind of prayer (although if you are an artist, you’re going to like it a lot). You can use paints, or crayons, or colored gel pens, or even just pencils and ink. The medium doesn’t matter—only the heart does.

This creative prayer is a form of intercession that visualizes your desires for God’s blessing and kindness on others. You can use it to pray unselfishly for friends or loved ones, but in the spirit of 1 Timothy 2:1-3, I’d encourage you to use Paint-a-Prayer as a means to intercede for your world at large: For government leaders, for nations and states, for people who are poor or oppressed, for pastors and priests and corporate employers and so on.

First, choose a prayer subject (such as any of the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph). Though it may seem counter-intuitive, it’s important to limit your prayer to just one subject, for instance, your government leaders or the family down the street.

Next, make a list of the kinds of things you’d like to speak to God regarding that subject. You can speak gratitude, sorrow, hopes, repentance, requests—anything you want to be sure to mention.

Now take a sheet of blank paper (or a canvas if you’re so inclined), gather painting or drawing supplies, and create a visual representation of the prayer you want to make. Let each stroke and line and color become a new, visual expression of your hope in prayer. Spend as long as it takes to create the image you want to present to Jesus, because that image itself, and your labor in creating it, is your prayer.

When you’re done, you can either keep the image to pray it again in the future, or use it to prompt new verbal prayers, or even share it with the subject of your prayer as a means of encouragement. (How cool would it be if the governor of your state got your prayer in the mail? I’m just sayin’.)

3. Listening Prayer

I learned this one from Bible teacher, Jody Brolsma, in her book, Praying to Change Lives. It seems that she was at a conference when a speaker invited everyone to picture a friend sitting with Jesus, and to do that for one full minute. At the end of the minute, the speaker said, ask Jesus what he’d like you to share with that friend. Then …

Just listen.

Sit and wait until you hear what God might want you to say to someone you love.

Brolsma reports, “When I asked Him what He wanted to tell me about Kelsey, the image was as clear as day: … ‘Kelsey? I love her! I’m so pleased with her.’ What a joy to share this with my friend! We both had tears in our eyes as we soaked in Jesus’ love.”

This is what a Listening Prayer of intercession is like. It’s taking a moment to intentionally hear from God, to let Jesus guide your thoughts in regard to someone you love. You may be surprised at how quickly Christ speaks to you!

A warning though: Once you start to pray unselfishly like this, you may never want to stop.

4. Park-It Prayer

There are those who like to quote the mantra, “Children are our future.” While I certainly agree with that sentiment, I’d like to point out what those people sometimes forget: “Children are our today.”

That child in your neighborhood or church doesn’t have to wait 18 years before he or she has meaning to God, or until that person can make a difference in God’s world! Christ works today, right now, in and through the lives of children that surround you. His Holy Spirit has instituted no age limit on his grace or power. Maybe it’s time we began to partner with him in that understanding, to pray unselfishly for those kids he’s using to make a difference today?

So try this:

Go to a nearby park (or indoor location if weather is inclement) where children gather. Don’t stalk anybody or act weird or scare a parent or child—but sit at a distance where you can see children playing. Then begin a conversation with Jesus about each child you observe.

That little red-haired girl? Pray that God will guide her steps and use her words to encourage someone today. That copper-skinned boy laughing as he streaks down the slide? Ask Jesus to fill his heart with joy that lasts for eternity. The shy one who hangs back and doesn’t join in the fun? Pray for the Holy Spirit to meet that child in a meaningful, life-affirming way today, and tomorrow, and forever

You get the idea. Ready? Go!

5. Groaning Prayer

This prayer concept is drawn from Romans 8:26-27 (NIV):

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

We use the term “groaning” for this type of prayer, but that’s mostly symbolic (although you can certainly groan if you feel like it). What we really mean by this is praying without words. I once asked a friend what he did when he prayed without words, and he was mystified. “That’s impossible,” he said. “I have to use words when I pray, don’t I?”

Well, no Johnny, words and sentences are optional in prayer. Try one of these inarticulate approaches instead:

  • Think about emotions you’re feeling, such as worry, excitement, anxiety, joy. Then let yourself feel those emotions fully, directing each one toward God—knowing that he both can and will interpret your feelings in the most perfect way.
  • Think in pictures instead of words. Want to pray protection for a friend? Imagine what that would look like in a photo—and pray that photo to Jesus. A loved one has need of healing? What might that look like when you saw her next? Pray that image, without words, to God’s Holy Spirit who has power to heal.
  • Go ahead and groan. Clear your mind, and simply groan out this world’s sorrows to Jesus. (If people are nearby, it’s OK to groan silently.) Sometimes I like to add the name of Jesus to my groaning, making his name the content of the agony. If it seems appropriate, feel free to do that too.
  • If you, like Johnny, need words to pray, then choose a single word and use it as a repeated groan. For instance, I have a friend who likes to choose one word and pray it again and again, sometimes for hours, until she feels done: Comfort. Peace. Healing. Wholeness. Mercy. And so on.

The point is this: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness … the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans…”

6. Free Prayer

This one takes a little planning, but it can be worth it—and it’s a wonderful way to serve your local community. The idea is inspired by James 5:16 (NIV): “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

First, you’ll want to make a T-shirt that simply says: “Free Prayer.” If you’re feeling enthusiastic, you may also want to make a booth (a sign and a table) that likewise says, “Free Prayer.” And you’re ready.

Now, put on the T-shirt and go someplace where people gather in public (for instance, a mall, a sporting event, outside the county courthouse, etc.) … and wait. Set up the booth if you’re able, add a smile, and … keep waiting.

Let people come to you, and when they do, take a few moments to pray for each and every person who asks. Learn what you can about who they are and why they want prayer, and then access heaven on their behalf!

You may find that only a few come to you for prayer—or it could be that people start lining up around the block to enlist your help with God. Either way, remember that the person who counts is the one standing in front of you—the one God has brought for you at this moment, in this place. Serve that person fully in prayer before moving on to the next one who comes by.

Don’t ask for donations. Don’t “sell” your church. Don’t insist on email addresses to build your mailing list. Don’t ask for anything from anyone. Just tell people you felt like praying today, and decided to go public with that feeling—no strings attached.

If you want, invite a few of your Christian friends to make their own T-shirts and join you in the fun too.


Now that you know 6 creative ways to pray unselfishly, you’ve probably also figured out that there are more ways to do this than can be numbered! So tomorrow add a few of your own ideas—and keep adding new ones until it becomes second-nature for you to:

Close your eyes. Meet with God. And pray unselfishly every day.


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How is it that greatness is measured in service?

Scripture: Matthew 20:20–28

As it’s recorded in Matthew 20:26, Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.” So how is greatness measured in service?

Since the true nature of greatness in service is something of a mystery, I’m going to speculate a little bit here. After looking at both this passage and John 13:1–17, here’s what I’ve been thinking lately …

First, we must deal with the mistaken, common assumption that we earn greatness through service. To my mind, this is a backward view of the facts. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:1–17), that added nothing to the greatness already inherent within him. He didn’t earn greatness by that act; he was already great.

Second, we need to acknowledge that what Jesus taught in Matthew 20:24–27 was a radical break from all of human history. Two thousand years later, we use the term “servant leadership” with such ease that we forget it did not exist until Jesus taught it to his disciples. Christ literally invented that concept, and now it’s actually part of MBA leadership textbooks. For example, Dr. Peter Northouse of Western Michigan University describes Christ’s invention when he teaches: “Leaders who serve are altruistic, they place their followers’ welfare foremost in their plans … and make decisions pertaining to them that are beneficial and not harmful to their welfare.”

Third, when we look to Jesus as the firm and foremost example of this teaching, we see that service is not the same as subservience. As Dr. Northouse said, servant leaders like Jesus “place their followers’ welfare foremost in their plans.” Sometimes that requires refusing to cooperate when a follower wants a servant leader to act against that follower’s best interests. This is why, during the act of serving Peter, Christ actually denied Peter’s commands (John 13:6–12), and it’s why, today, a servant leader would, for example, refuse a request for tequila from someone known to be a recovering alcoholic.

Finally, John 13:3–5 tells us that just before washing his disciples’ feet, “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything…. So he got up from the table” (italics mine). Or as Dr. H. Wayne House commented on that passage, “Jesus did what he did because he knew what he knew.”

With all that taken into consideration, I’m going to suggest that greatness is not measured in service. Rather, like Jesus, our inherent greatness through Christ’s Holy Spirit expresses itself in service instead. I think that’s the point Jesus was making in Matthew 20:26.

My two cents.


LEA 351–352; NNI 1344

“How is it that greatness is measured in service?” is reprinted from Bible-Smart: Matthew © 2023 Nappaland Communications Inc. Published Tyndale House Publishers/Rose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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Praying Through Romans in 31 Days

Scripture: Romans 1-16

Let’s try an experiment, you and I.

We know that spiritual growth accelerates when we read the Bible and pray. And we know that the biblical book of Romans is the foundational explanation of the theology of our Christian faith. In fact, Martin Luther once said of Romans, “The more it is dealt with, the more precious it becomes.”

So let’s try this:

  1. First, bookmark this web page so you can come back to it frequently. Then …
  2.  Every day for the next 31 days, let’s take the main messages in the book of Romans—and pray them back to God.

What do you think might happen then?



Jesus, I’m your servant, set apart for your gospel. In humanity you’re descended from King David; through your Spirit of holiness you’re the Son of God! You proved this powerfully when you raised from the dead, giving grace to all who belong to you. May your grace and peace flow through me today. Amen!

From Romans 1:1-7


Jesus, faith in you is being reported all over the world, and I get to be part of that! Right now, in this prayer, I want to remember those who serve you in my community, nation, and world. Lord, please make us strong today. Help us to encourage and build each other up. Don’t let us be ashamed of your gospel—the power of God for salvation! We live by faith in you. Amen.

From Romans 1:8-17


Lord, from the first moment of creation your invisible qualities—your eternal power and divine being—have been clearly seen. Still, some of us have refused to see you. We’ve let our thinking become futile, and our foolish hearts be darkened. Forgive us, Jesus. Amen.

From Romans 1:18-21


Oh God, too many of us have exchanged your immortal glory to worship shallow images of you in creation. We’ve exchanged truth for a lie, indulged in shameful lusts, and allowed our lives to be filled with every kind of evil. Today, Lord, once again, please forgive us. Amen.

From Romans 1:22-32


Jesus, it’s hard sometimes to avoid passing judgment on others—even though I’m guilty of sin like they are! You’ve been kind and tolerant and patient to me; help me understand how your kindness leads to repentance—not my angry judgments. You don’t show favoritism; you alone are worthy to judge. Help me remember that today. Amen.

From Romans 2:1-29


Father God, thank you for entrusting your word to the world through the Jewish people—even though some haven’t believed in your Son. You’re always faithful (even when we’re faithless!), always true even if every human is a liar. Help me today to be faithful to you. Amen.

From Romans 3:1-8


Father, I know this is true: There is none righteous, not even me. All of us have sinned and fallen short of your glory. BUT … We’re justified freely by your grace and by the redemption you provided. You’ve given us faith—and we are saved! Thank you! Amen.

From Romans 3:9-31


Jesus, how grateful I am for the example of Abraham. Through him you showed that righteousness comes from you, by faith. As David said, “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them!” So today, Lord, I trust in you who were raised to life for my justification. Thank you! Amen!

From Romans 4:1-25


Lord God, I’m awed by the fact that I can have peace with you through Jesus Christ. At just the right time, when I was powerless, Christ died for me. While I was still a sinner, you died for me! I’m eternally grateful. Amen.

From Romans 5:1-11

DAY 10

Father, you saw it happen: Sin entered the world through Adam, and death through sin. Death reigned until … Your One and Only Son came along. Now, right now, grace reigns for me through the life of Jesus Christ, my Lord! Help me remember this today. Amen.

From Romans 5:12-21

DAY 11

Sometimes, Jesus, I’m tempted to keep on sinning so your grace keeps on growing—but I know that’s foolish! Instead, Lord, help me live in truth: My soul is dead to sin, raised to new life in you. Don’t let sin be my master today; help me live instead wrapped completely in your grace. Amen.

From Romans 6:1-14

DAY 12

Father, I’m humbled. I once was a slave to sin which was leading me to death. Yet now, thanks to you, I’m free from that! The wages of my sin should’ve been death, but instead I’ve received your gift—eternal LIFE in Christ Jesus my Lord. Thank you. Amen.

From Romans 6:15-23

DAY 13

I see today, Lord, an example from marriage. When a husband dies, the wife is no longer bound by the law of marriage. Likewise, I’ve “died” to the ancient Law so I might belong to you instead. I’m released from the law, and sin, and can now serve God in the strength of your Spirit. Help me to live this truth today. Amen!

From Romans 7:1-6

DAY 14

God, your law teaches me what sin is. I see the good I want to do—yet I don’t do it. I see evil I don’t want to do—yet I keep doing it anyway. I feel wretched! Who will save me from myself? You, of course. Only, always you, who delivers me again, today, through Christ Jesus, my Lord. Amen.

From Romans 7:7-25

DAY 15

What comfort today! There is now no condemnation for people who, like me, are in Christ. You’ve set us free from the law of sin and death! Your Spirit testifies still today that I’m your child. I’m a co-heir with Christ. I’ll share in his suffering—and in his glory. Amen!

From Romans 8:1-17

DAY 16

Jesus, this life is hard—you know that. But our present suffering doesn’t compare to the glory you’ll reveal in us. Your Spirit helps in my weakness, even interceding with groans that language can’t express. Help me today to remember your glory to come, to lean on you in my weakness. I trust in you. Amen.

From Romans 8:18-27

DAY 17

God, in all things you work for the good of those who love you—that’s what your Scripture says. If you’re for me, who can be against me? What possible thing could ever separate me from you? Hardship? Poverty? Death or life? No, nothing in all creation can ever separate me from your love in Christ Jesus! I need your help to remember that today. Thank you, amen.

From Romans 8:28-39

DAY 18

Lord, it confuses and saddens me sometimes to discover that many of your people of Israel could miss your mercy and compassion. Meanwhile non-Jews are allowed—by faith—to be called your people in Christ. This is a stumbling block for many; today may it strengthen my faith in your love. Amen.

From Romans 9:1-33

DAY 19

Jesus, my heart’s desire echoes the cry of your Apostle Paul: May the people of Israel be saved by you. I ask for your Spirit—today—to continue to make known that righteousness is available to anyone who believes, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord! Amen.

From Romans 10:1-24

DAY 20

God, this much is clear: You didn’t reject your people of Israel! At all times, even now, you’ve kept a remnant for yourself. And now your remnant is chosen by grace, no longer chosen by works or else grace wouldn’t be grace! So please help me to experience your grace afresh today. Amen.

From Romans 11:1-10

DAY 21

Jesus, you’re amazing! You’ve taken Israel’s struggles with righteousness and used them to create riches for the world. It’s like natural branches broke off a vine, and you grafted in wild olive shoots to receive your life in their place. Today may I understand better what this really means for me. Amen.

From Romans 11:11-24

DAY 22

Father, there’s mystery in the way you work. You’ve promised to save Jew and gentile alike—and your gifts and call are irrevocable. Our disobedience is no match for your mercy! Today, Lord, please have mercy… again. Amen.

From Romans 11:25-36

DAY 23

Jesus, considering your mercy, help me offer my body in service as a living sacrifice—something holy and pleasing to you. Renew and transform my mind so I can pursue your good, pleasing, perfect will! Help me today to humbly share my gifts, and cheerfully encourage others’ gifts too. Thank you! Amen.

From Romans 12:1-8

DAY 24

Lord, my love must be sincere. I need to hate evil and cling to good; to be devoted to my family in Christ; to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Today, minute by minute, please don’t let me be overcome by evil, but help me overcome evil with good. Amen!

From Romans 12:9-21

DAY 25

Holy God, politics are such a pain—help me remember no authority is put over me except what you’ve established. Please give me grace to submit appropriately to those who govern me, and to give to everyone what I owe, especially respect and honor. Amen.

From Romans 13:1-7

DAY 26

Dear Jesus, I want to owe nothing to anyone—except an ongoing debt of love for others. Your law is summed up in one rule: Love my neighbor as myself. Today I’m asking you to help me love well, live well, and be clothed in you all day long. Amen!

From Romans 13:8-14

DAY 27

Lord, today when I’m strong in faith, help me accept and encourage ones who are weak. When I’m weak, help me find grace from the strong. I need to remember that none of us lives to ourselves alone! Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Thank you, amen.

From Romans 14:1-11

DAY 28

Lord, why do I so easily pass judgment? Help me keep away from that, and avoid being a stumbling block to others. With your Spirit, I can make every effort to encourage peace and mutual support with others. Let’s do that today, Jesus! Amen!

From Romans 14:12-23

DAY 29

This is my prayer today: Give me the same attitude of mind toward others that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice we glorify you, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in you, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen!

From Romans 15:1-13

DAY 30

Dear Jesus, the Apostle Paul reminds me today that you’ve filled us with goodness, and made us complete in knowledge to be able to teach one another about you. Thank you for Paul’s encouragement—even when he faced great struggles! Help me to follow Paul’s example of faith today. Amen.

From Romans 15:14-33

DAY 31

Dear God, I want to be wise about what’s good—and innocent about evil. I’m waiting for the day when you’ll crush Satan under my feet. Lord, you’re able to establish me in accordance with the gospel. To you, the only wise God, be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

From Romans 16:1-27


Congratulations! You’ve done something unique and powerful—you’ve prayed through all of Romans in just 31 days. My hope is that the time you’ve spent in these prayers has been a catalyst for renewed spiritual growth, and given you a deeper understanding of—and appreciation for—the Christian faith we hold so dear.


BSB 197

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