"The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results."
James 5:16 (NLT)
Types of Prayer
So what are the different types of prayer we can use? Like many things, it depends on who you ask. Some say there are only two types of prayer: “please” and “thank you.” Richard Foster lists 21 types of prayer in his classic Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home. Though most of us probably fall somewhere in between those two extremes, we’re sure there’s at least one person out there who is convinced there is only one type of prayer: the Lord’s Prayer. And just as surely there is at least one person who thinks Foster missed a few.
We don’t believe God is overly concerned with categories. But they do help us when it comes to focus and intention. And of course our text book—the Bible—gives examples of every type of prayer.
The primary categories that seem to make the most sense for us are these:
- Praise and worship
- Supplication or requests
Every prayer we’ve ever seen or heard falls into one of these five categories. Keep in mind, however, this list is not Biblically ordained or especially anointed. It’s not meant to be the final word in rigid classifications. It’s just a guideline to help you with your prayer life. If you find that more—or fewer—categories work best for you, then that’s what you should use. The focus should be on the prayer, not what to call it.
Let’s take a closer look at the categories for better understanding.
Praise and worship is a natural response of the created to the Creator. Not to curry favor or to stroke an ego He doesn’t have, it should be natural and spontaneous, overflowing. Like saying “Thank you.” It’s not a coincidence that Jesus began the Lord’s Prayer with praise.
Thanksgiving: a grateful spirit is the soil in which faith, hope, and love grow and flourish. It’s all too easy to take for granted the many blessings we have received and continue to receive each day. Brennan Manning said the mark of those who truly trust God is a spirit of gratitude.
Confession of our sins acknowledges that we missed the mark and are repentant. Unconfessed sin, like a shell around the heart, is a major impediment to an authentic relationship with God. Confession is indeed good for the soul. Confessing in prayer is the first step; confessing to others completes the process and is just as necessary.
Supplication is what the average person, Christian or otherwise, thinks of when the topic is prayer. It’s asking God for something, either for ourselves or for others. Guidance, healing, safety, blessing—we ask for all kinds of things, great and small. As we were told to do in the Bible.
Meditative prayer has several styles: Quaker silence—waiting upon the Lord, meditative, contemplative, and centering prayer. When we wait, we are neither speaking nor being spoken to; we are just resting in the glorious presence of God, completely enveloped in His love.
So there you have it:
“Hallelujah,” “Thank You,” “Sorry,” “Please,” and “_____.”
As we mentioned earlier, other people have other categories or classifications. You may see intercessory prayer as a separate category. Or spiritual warfare. We believe they are both prayers of supplication because you are really asking God for something. Some people have prayers of agreement, of faith, of consecration, of binding and loosing; look a little closer and they easily fall into praise or supplication.
In addition to the various types of prayer, there are also several styles.
Formal is pretty self-explanatory: reciting or reading an already composed prayer, like a church congregation repeating the Lord’s Prayer as part of their worship service.
Conversational is the style many people are most familiar with—you are speaking to God almost as if He were just another person, talking things over like you would with any good friend, whether it’s praising, thanking, confessing, or asking.
The devotional or scriptural style plays a role in many types of prayer. Many people choose to begin a prayer session by reading a Bible verse or passage. Others will use a verse or passage as a point to launch their waiting upon the Lord, as in meditative prayer, for example. And sometimes that Bible verse or passage becomes the prayer itself as you focus entirely on the words and their meaning for you.
Prayer walking is a style that particularly suits those who are more kinesthetic by nature, who like to be doing something rather than just sitting down. This style is often used by intercessors, who may be praying for a particular neighborhood as they actually walk through it. Meditative or contemplative prayers can also lend themselves to prayer walking in an appropriate setting, like a forest or a meadow.
Spontaneous prayer is one of our favorite styles. It rises unannounced from our hearts, often without words, usually in response to something God has done, whether it’s a beautiful sunset or a random act of kindness by a complete stranger. No surprise, then, that it’s usually associated with prayers of praise and thanksgiving.
It’s our belief that God gave us all these different types and styles of prayer to use them. A robust, effective prayer life doesn’t rely on a narrow approach of one or two, but uses all types of prayer, as moved and led by the Holy Spirit. Each type of prayer, including all the potential subcategories, is like a note on the musical scale. Combine them and you can form a melody. Combine them again and again and you form a song—a love song to God.
Go to How to Pray