Christians have created many patterns and systems to help us pray. John Piper comments on the Apostle Paul’s call to prayer in Colossians 4:2 where he describes how he organizes his prayers in “concentric circles.”
Consider praying in concentric circles from your own soul outward to the whole world. This is my regular practice: I pray for my own soul first. Not because I am more deserving than others, but because if God doesn’t awaken and strengthen and humble and fill my own soul, then I can’t pray for anybody else’s. So I plead with the Lord every morning for my own soul’s perseverance and purification and power.
Then I go to the next concentric circle, my family, and I pray for each of them by name: Noel, Karsten/Shelly/Millie, Benjamin, Abraham, Barnabas, Talitha and some of my extended family.
Then I go to the next concentric circle, the staff and elders of [my church]. I name them all by name.
Then I pray for you (Bethlehem Baptist Church). And then I go out from there to different concerns and groups at different times: our missionaries, our denomination and its schools, the Baptist General Conference, Evangelicalism in general and the church around the world, especially the suffering church. The wider circles include the city and the state and the nation and the cultural and social issues of the world.
You can’t pray for everything every time. So there need to be differences. And your heart will dictate much of your burden. Some days one family member or one staff member or one crisis in the church or the world will consume most of your time. But if you have a pattern—like the concentric circles—you won’t spin your wheels wondering where to start.
It is that simple and that practical: Begin close and pray in widening circles.
Praying in circles isn’t the same as “going around and around in circles” – even though you might feel that way sometimes. It means that we pray around and around in widening circles of influence and concern, some too heavy to bear, others too complex to articulate – but always – it is around a God who surrounds us with wisdom and truth, with grace and faith.
Now go encircle Him who surrounds you with songs of deliverance (Psalm 32:7):
You are my hiding place;
You will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.