Pray Right On the Spot

My old pastor Sinclair Ferguson used to say that the goal of discipleship was to do the spiritual things naturally, and the natural things spiritually. I love that.


If you’re going to plant a church, everyone and their Aunt Susie is going to ask you to keep them in your prayers.


Now, I’ve never considered myself particularly gifted or burdened with intercessory prayer. Transparently, cultivating a robust personal prayer life is something that I’ve always struggled with, and remains an area of weakness for me. It’s far easier for me to pray passionately in a small group or in a worship service than in private.

But whether you like it or not, the people in your church and your community are going to sincerely ask you to pray.

I’m never going to be Brother Lawrence or St Francis of Assisi or Teresa of Avila. And I don’t think I’m being called to be those people. But I am called to help people learn how to do the spiritual things naturally and the natural things spiritually. And therefore I’m called to pray, and model prayer, as a natural part of my life.

So what do I do?

I pray right on the spot.


I get 2-5 text messages each day asking for prayer. Instead of saying “I’ll pray” (and failing to follow through half the time), I reply and say “I’m praying right now.” And then I stop what I’m doing and pray. Not for long. Just for focused 60-90 seconds. I bump into people around town, and they ask me to pray for them. Instead of committing to do it later, I do it right on the spot if at all possible. When believing guests are in our home, I’ve begun praying for them before they depart—meeting the wise challenge of my wife.

Sometimes people begin a conversation with me by saying “I really need prayer.” But that’s really just their way of saying that they want to tell me every nuance of their conundrum for minutes that could easily turn into hours. You probably don’t have hours. I don’t. So I’ve learned to take seriously and honor their initial request. I hear the gist of their problem, ask for relevant details to guide their description toward concrete and clear prayer needs, and then I sometimes even interrupt people and say “Let’s go to the Lord Jesus with this, why don’t we?” And so we pray.


On-the-spot prayer reinforces to people and to me that interruptions for prayer are not interruptions, but simply a natural aspect of life in Christ. It keeps one from making empty, pious promises about intentions to pray later. And it emphasizes to people that the power is not in the nuanced description of the need, but in the simple taking of the need to Jesus. Best of all, the discipline of spontaneous prayer forms a habit of spontaneous prayer.

The unspiritual, natural thing to do is merely complain—to yourself and to other people.

The “spiritual”, unnatural thing to do is to lock yourself in a closet for hours on end fulfilling the obligations you’ve made to pray for people.

But the natural thing done spiritually is to sense a need and bring it before Jesus.

And the spiritual thing done naturally is to stop what you’re doing and without any fuss, simply tell Jesus what’s on your heart.

Pray right on the spot.

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5 thoughts on “Pray Right On the Spot

  1. This hit home for me bro. I’ve always heard that guys like Martin Luthor prayed two or three hours before the day started. That could never happen with me. I’m married, w/ two kids, often working long hours, in the process of building a core team to plant the gospel in my neighborhood, in life with not yet believers & I never have many open hours in the day except at night when my kids are sleep to pray and after that I am exhausted.

    I’ve been trying to cultivate a pray on the spot mentality which is in a big way what I believe Paul meant by pray without ceasing. Doing that with a once or twice a week approach where I try to sit in silence for maybe an hour is way more possible for me.

    Thanks for this post.

    • Stephen, thanks so much for the encouraging and honest words. Glad it hit you where you’re at. I look forward to hearing more insights and resonances from you along the way. Where are you planting?

  2. Good stuff! Since I’ve taken on the role of prayer director at my church, I’ve been challenged to change the way I pray…or should I learn to live a life saturated in prayer. I can’t teach people to pray if I’m not doing it. The cool thing about on-the-spot prayer is that most people, believer and non, are willing to except it. So far, in my limited experience, no one has refused prayer. I love how injecting prayer into an exchange totally changes the tone of the issue at hand.

    Another thing I’m doing personally is praying when I feel angry or like complaining. It’s easier said than done but I want to break unhealthy habits in my life and create a lifestyle of prayer.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Great thoughts. One great resource is Paul Miller’s book “A Praying Life”—-which, now that I think about, I need to dig back into.

      Good point about how nobody really refuses prayer. And you’re absolutely right about how prayer creates a holy moment out of what might otherwise degenerate into a pity party.

      Thanks for engaging, and I hope you’ll keep reading and sharing your insights.


      • I loved “A Praying Life” and actually was working on getting one of there seminars scheduled at my church but it didn’t work out. Another great book I enjoyed was Richard Foster’s “Prayer.” Right now I’m working on Philip Yancey’s book on prayer.

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