I’m delighted to announce this year’s range of Advent devotionals available through PrayerMate – get the lowdown on the PrayerMate blog.
The problem: protecting sensitive user data in Firebase Realtime Database
For a while now I’ve been working on implementing user accounts in the PrayerMate app so that users can sync their private data to the cloud and share it between their different devices. Think of PrayerMate as being like an Evernote equivalent but specifically focussed on recording different prayer needs – some of them ones of a highly personal nature either about yourself or about close friends that you’re praying for.
Ever since Google announced their revamped version of Firebase a year ago I’ve been in love with it as a platform – the Firebase Realtime Database in particular makes authenticating users and syncing their data to the cloud as easy as pie. But there’s one big drawback: anybody with admin credentials for the Firebase project can browse all of that private user data at will. Equally, Google’s infrastructure is pretty rock solid in terms of security (I went to a presentation about it at the recent Google Cloud Next conference in London – and it is seriously cool stuff) but the consequences of a hacker getting hold of all of that user data doesn’t even bear thinking about.
That’s why I’ve been looking for a solution that allows users to still sync all of their data between their devices via Firebase, but whilst preventing me as the developer (or anybody else who somehow got hold of a data dump) from reading that data. At the same time, I wanted to do it in a way that meant a user who lost their phone wasn’t completely locked out of all of their data for all time – even people with just a single device are frequently asking me to implement sync as a backup mechanism.
Thankfully Google’s own infrastructure provides some really cool tools that made solving this surprisingly easy – and since even people within Google / Firebase themselves didn’t seem overly aware of what was on offer, I thought it was worth blogging about my experiences.
Step 1: A cross-platform encryption/decryption solution – RNCryptor
My first day of this project was spent looking for an encryption/decryption library that met the following requirements:
- Data could be decrypted across both iOS and Android phones
- Production ready / stable
- Actively maintained
- Actually secure
- Performant (fast encryption / decryption)
Considering the year is 2017 this was a remarkably difficult exercise. Almost every library I came across had huge warnings either on the iOS version or the Android version saying “The library on the other platform uses really insecure defaults which I had to incorporate for compatibility purposes”, or it hadn’t been touched in four years, or it had a gazillion issues logged against it.
I eventually settled on RNCryptor-objc / RNCryptorNative. When I last looked at RNCryptor a few years back the only option on Android was JNCryptor which was ridiculously slow (multiple seconds per operation) and which I now notice is covered in warnings saying “Do not use on Android”.
Step 2: Securely synced encryption keys using Google Cloud KMS
With RNCryptor implemented on both platforms, that just left the little issue of how to actually sync the user’s encryption key between their devices. A naive solution would be to store that key within the Firebase database itself – that would at least prevent me from accidentally reading people’s private data (at least nothing would be stored in plain text) but would still make it trivial for anybody with access to the Firebase data to decrypt anything they wanted to.
At Google Cloud Next I came across the Google Cloud Key Management Service, and could immediately tell there was some potential here. The Google Cloud KMS lets you create encryption keys which can then be used to encrypt and decrypt data. My first assumption was that I’d generate a key for every user, but for PrayerMate’s 25,000 monthly active users that would quickly reach at least $1,500 every single month. After a chat with some of the very helpful Google Developer Advocates I quickly realised that wasn’t what I needed at all – just a single KMS key could be used to encrypt and decrypt a user’s data encryption key (DEK).
In the end what I came up with was to build a super-simple authentication service in the Google App Engine Flexible Environment. When a user first logs in to PrayerMate, the auth service generates them a new DEK which it gives to them, as well as encrypting it in KMS for storage in Firebase. When the user logs in to their second device, the auth service takes the encrypted key from Firebase and again uses KMS to decrypt it for the user to store in their device’s local keychain (where it is again stored in encrypted form).
Importantly, the KMS key belongs to a different Google account to the Firebase database, so no one user (e.g. me) has permission to both read the data AND decrypt it. A hacker would need to compromise both accounts to access the unencrypted data.
Step 3: Authentication of Firebase users via Google Cloud Endpoints
Where things get REALLY cool, however, is with the introduction of Google Cloud Endpoints in to the mix. This is basically a proxy layer that sits between your user and your backend, but which, crucially, understands the concept of Firebase authenticated users and can validate those logins and tell your backend who somebody is.
This means that each time we generate a new DEK for a user we can encrypt it along with their user ID, so that when somebody comes along later requesting to decrypt a particular DEK the backend can verify if it actually belongs to them.
On the whole, the documentation for Google Cloud Endpoints is pretty good, and if you persevere long enough you can probably figure out how to get it working. I got stuck on a couple of points: firstly, I got myself in a muddle about what to put in the
endpoints_api_service section of
app.yaml and how it related to the
host property of
openapi.yaml. There are so many different deployment combinations that the Endpoints documentation struggles to make it very clear – but if you are deploying to the flexible app engine you just use the same
[PROJECT_ID].appspot.com form in both places, and your
endpoints_api_service.config_id is just what you get given when you deploy your proxy configuration using
gcloud service-management deploy openapi.yaml (usually something like “2017-01-01r0″).
The second place where I got really stuck for a while is how to actually enable Firebase authentication on the backend. The Endpoints documentation talked about a
X-Endpoint-API-UserInfo header but for the life of me I could not get it to be injected at all. Eventually, I discovered the missing instruction from the documentation (and hopefully they’ll soon accept my request to fix that): after you have added your
firebase entry to the
securityDefinitions section of
openapi.yaml you then ALSO need to actually use that security definition by adding a section like this:
security: - firebase: 
Update: I have now open-sourced the code for my backend service as firebase-keysafe. Contributions would be welcome if you spot room for improvement.
Fancy working for PrayerMate?
Android Developer Wanted
If solving interesting problems like this sounds like your cup of tea, all in the aid of helping the world to pray more, then you should know that I’m currently on the look out for a full time Android developer – ideally based in London – either on a short-term contract or more permanent. I’m looking for somebody who is fully committed to the aims of a Christian prayer app like PrayerMate and who is able to be more than just a code-monkey following a tightly defined spec but instead is able to partner in helping build the best possible prayer platform to mobilise the Christian church to pray. If that sounds like you then please get in touch!
Between them, users of the PrayerMate app are now praying for over a million requests every month. Through the PrayerMate Publishing Platform you can publish prayer feeds to keep your supporters updated and engaged in praying for your ministry too – whether you’re a charity, a church or an individual. Many organisations already publish an existing prayer diary or bulletin, and the site provides tools to quickly and easily get those imported into the PrayerMate system. But what if you’re not already in a habit of writing regular prayer requests – what kinds of things make for a good prayer update?
Here are our top tips for writing prayer updates:
1. Write them prayerfully
It’s hard to expect people to be praying for your ministry if you’re not praying for it yourself. When I sit down to write my prayer updates for PrayerMate each month (yes, PrayerMate has its own feed to help you pray for PrayerMate!), I find it really helps me to begin by praying myself. It feels like the right thing to do anyway, to remind myself that this is first and foremost about inviting God to be at work – and in the process, it usually quickly becomes obvious which kinds of issues are in need of prayer, what is causing anxiety and difficulty, and what encouragements there have been to give thanks for.
2. Give thanks
That leads to our second tip: give thanks! Not all prayer updates have to be requests, it’s often helpful to have some updates which are about giving thanks for the ways in which God has been answering previous requests.
3. Think of some general ministry areas / topics
A good means of generating ideas for writing prayer updates can be to start by writing down some general ministry areas and topics for prayer. For example, if you’re a church, you might have a children’s / youth ministry, a work amongst your local community, students, mission partners who you support, and so on. Most charities will have some particular ministry areas, or perhaps regions where they operate. If you can think of five relatively broad topics then you only need to come up with six prayer points for each topic and you’ve got yourself a month’s worth of prayer points.
4. Be specific
Under each topic, you can then write some specific requests. The more vague your prayer points are, the harder you’ll find it to come up with more than one or two. So instead of saying “Pray that the kids will grow in their knowledge of Jesus”, you could single out what the teaching topic will be this week and have a few specific requests related to the various application points. This is also usually much more engaging for the people praying as well, since it helps keeps things fresh as they pray week by week.
5. Be brief
In your desire to be specific, it’s also good to keep things relatively brief. You don’t need to write a long essay for every day of the week. Just a brief line for each prayer request is fine – and will help both you and those praying.
Want to get people praying for your ministry?
Sign up to the PrayerMate Publishing Platform today to help engage your supporters in praying for your ministry.
Resources to help you grow in your relationship with God this Lent
This Lent, let PrayerMate help you grow in your relationship with God. We’ve been working hard to put together a great selection of resources, together with some new reminder functionality to help you focus on God day by day.
To get started, open the PrayerMate app, tap the “Add +” button, and find the “Devotionals for Lent 2017″ section.
Here’s just a taster of some of the fantastic resources available this Lent, beginning 1st March 2017, with even more to come soon.
From Stewardship Services, here’s 40 days of giving back, doing good and living generously.
Last year, over 100,000 people from 180 countries committed 40 days to exploring what it is like to be generous. Join us again from 1st March 2017.
31 Days of Purity
You are invited to 31 Days of Purity— thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Written by Tim Challies, Mike Leake and others. Subscribe here.
Ambassadors’ Lent Prayer Journey –
the Diocese of London
Starting Monday 6th March, the Diocese of London are launching their Lent Prayer Journey in order to help us pray as ambassadors for Christ. With six weekly themes, from ‘The Ambassador’s Context’ to ‘The Ambassador’s Call,’ they will be journeying through some daily ideas to encourage ambassadors representing Christ day-to-day to engage in prayer. Subscribe here
Between 1st March and Easter we will be running three reading plans from Ligonier Ministries written by R.C. Sproul. Each devotional calls you to live in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.
Starts 1st March with Getting to Know God’s Son.
London City Mission: Pray For London
Walk with us through London this Lent, and pray for its people and places. This will be a great guide from London City Mission to praying for the amazing gospel opportunities the city has to offer. Subscribe here.
Sign up today
If you haven’t tried it already, get the PrayerMate app today and see how it can help you to grow in your relationship with God this Lent.
We all find it easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to prayer. Here are ten resources which you may find helpful in freshening up your prayer life in the year ahead.
1. The Lord’s Prayer
It would be remiss to do a series of resources to help you in your prayer life without including the prayer that Jesus himself taught us. It’s the starting point for all Christian prayer, and as well as being great to use as-given it also works well as a structure for all of your prayers. I’ve written more about using it this way previously.
2. Operation World
If you’ve not come across it, Operation World is a terrific book which gets updated periodically, with incredibly detailed information about every country in the world and how to pray for their needs. The current edition is showing its age in certain areas of the world (e.g. Syria) but it’s still a great way to expand your horizons beyond the narrow concerns of your own personal needs.
An Operation World “Country of the Day” feed is available through the PrayerMate app.
3. Praying the Psalms
Don Whitney’s recent book “Praying the Bible” explores how you can use the words of Scripture, and especially the Psalms, to inject freshness into your daily prayers.
Don gives a reading plan of five Psalms every day which will get you through the entire Psalter every month – or there’s a reduced version available through PrayerMate which gives you one Psalm every day to get through them all every five months.
4. Take Words With You
Tim Kerr’s manual for intercession “Take Words With You” is an incredible treasure trove of Biblical promises and prayers organised into categories – as well as a method for using this to pray specifically into various situations. I highly recommend getting yourself a copy and giving it a try.
I’ve worked with Tim to incorporate Take Words With You into PrayerMate, and you can access various daily feeds such as verses to help you Praise God or Confess Sin, as well as the “TWWY Prayer Builder” that you can use to pull in Bible prayers and promises related to a specific theme.
5. John Piper’s “Concentric Circles”
John Piper has talked in various places about how he prays in “concentric circles” – starting with yourself and your own relationship with God, then moving outwards to close family and friends, then to the wider church and community, and then to the wider world. It’s of course not the only way to pray but you might find it helpful if you are struggling to give your prayer times any kind of structure, or get stuck on just one of the “circles”.
From the beginning the PrayerMate app was built with this kind of prayer structure in mind – you could maintain a “list” for each circle, and since it always gets you to pray through your lists in order it will naturally work from the inside out.
6. A Call to Spiritual Reformation
The book that first got me going in a serious habit of prayer was Don Carson’s classic “A Call to Spiritual Reformation“. It’s a great book that’s well worth a read – both for his practical tips on how he uses prayer lists, but mostly to see what the prayers of Paul in the Bible have to teach us about prayer.
For those who want it, you can download all of the passages mentioned in the book into PrayerMate by finding the “Praying with Paul” section of the “Biblical Prayers” gallery.
7. Pray for Seven
Pray for Seven is a great initiative as part of the Diocese of London’s “Capital Vision” project, encouraging everyone to commit to praying regularly for seven unbelieving friends for an opportunity to share your faith with them. It’s built on the simple premise that when we pray, God can do amazing things.
You can find a handy guide on how to use PrayerMate to help you Pray for Seven here.
8. 18 Prayers to Pray for Unbelievers
Do you ever find yourself wanting to pray for your friends who don’t yet know Jesus, and ending up praying exactly the same thing over and over and wondering where to go next? Tim Challies has written a great list of suggestions for how to pray for unbelievers here.
You can download these into PrayerMate by finding the “Evangelism and Youth Work” gallery.
9. “5 Things to Pray” books
This year The Good Book Company published two great little books to help you pray: “5 Things to Pray for Your Church” and “5 Things to Pray for the People You Love”. Each page gives you a different aspect of the subject matter to pray for and give simple suggestions. Fantastic!
You can purchase these books through PrayerMate through the following links: “http://praynow4.org/church5″>Your Church” or “The People You Love“.
10. The Valley of Vision
One of my favourite books on prayer is the Valley of Vision. Published by the Banner of Truth, it’s a collection of prayers inspired by the prayers of the Puritans and organised by various topics. They’re wonderful prayers for when you’re stuck in a rut – a favourite of mine has always been the prayer for the “Lord’s Day Morning”, a great one to pray as you head to church.
You can’t yet get the Valley of Vision through PrayerMate but you could always sign this petition to say you’d like to be able to!
As of last Wednesday I am now working full time on PrayerMate. This is a really exciting idea as far as I’m concerned, and something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. What held me back was two things:
- I really loved my job at Hubbub.co.uk. It was a truly extraordinary place to work and one that I was really not wanting to leave in a hurry. It’s a privilege to get to enjoy going to work each day and knowing that you’re going to be working on something that makes a difference to people. Now I get to do that on PrayerMate instead!
- PrayerMate was a long way from being able to financially support me and my family (which as the father of three children is a serious consideration). It still is, really, but helped by a few generous donations and another windfall my wife and I decided we were ready to step out in faith and give it a shot, trusting that our big God is well able to provide for our needs.
As I’ve started to tell people what I’m up to the response has often been a bit like this: people are generally pleased for me and can tell I am excited about it, but there’s also a bit of a look in their eye which shows they’re a little confused – after all, isn’t PrayerMate finished already? “So what will you actually do?” is often the question that follows. Whilst I know that I could probably employ a team of five for a year and still not accomplish all that I have in mind, that’s not readily apparent from the outside. Ultimately it boils down to my rather ambitious vision for PrayerMate:
Right now that app is barely scratching the surface of fulfilling that vision, especially when you consider the number of people who try the app once and then quickly give up on it because they’re too confused or because the effort of getting started is just too great at the moment. Obviously (and wonderfully!) not everybody needs a prayer app – and for many people the app is not for them, and that’s fine. But I know for a fact that there are many people out there who struggle to pray and for whom PrayerMate would be a really valuable tool – and I want to help them discover that! Imagine what an awesome thing it would be if more of the global church was mobilised in praying regularly and boldly for the good news about Jesus to be spreading around the world and taking root in people’s hearts – and by God’s grace I now get to be part of that as my day job. What a privilege!
How can I help?
If you’re as excited about that vision as I am, please please please consider whether you might be able to support me through regular monthly donations – or at least as a one off. You can do this in three ways depending on which country you live in:
UK Givers: Give Tax-Efficiently via Stewardship Services
If you’re a UK tax-payer then you can give via Stewardship Services, allowing you to Gift Aid your donation to make it go even further:
Anybody: Give regularly via Patreon
If you want to make monthly payments to support me (in exchange for various levels of rewards) then you can find me on Patreon.
Anybody: Donate via PayPal
You can give via PayPal either as a one off or (even better!) as a monthly recurring payment using a credit card – even if you don’t have an account with them:
I just sent the following message to the PrayerMate mailing list (which you should join, by the way):
“For a long time now I have been praying and thinking about whether it might be possible to go full-time on PrayerMate in order to be able to further develop it. I’ve got so many ideas for how it might become an even more effective tool in helping even more people to pray, and “time” has long been the biggest barrier to putting these ideas into practice. In the last few weeks God has providentially worked to create a very obvious window of opportunity, so I am writing to share the exciting news that from mid-September I shall be working on PrayerMate as my full time job – for as long as I am able to afford.”
But I need your help! Read the full message here for details of how you can help make this possible.
With the app installed, you can use the add page, switch to your “My church” list and then hit the “Download prayers” button. Alternatively you can use this magic URL to access the content directly.
Pray for Seven is a fantastic initiative from the Diocese of London as part of their Capital Vision 2020: encouraging Christians to pray regularly for seven specific individuals for an opportunity to share your faith with them.
This is something that the PrayerMate app is perfectly suited to assist in – if you make yourself a “Pray for Seven” list in the app, then every time you use the app you can get it to give you a different one of your seven to pray for. If it helps you to focus, you can even attach a little photo to each one.
Step 1: Select “Pray for Seven”
To get started, open the app and go to the “Add” page (the + button can be found at the top on Android and as a tab at the bottom on iOS) and choose the “Prayers for friends” option, followed by “Capital Vision / Pray for Seven“.
Step 2: Enter your seven names
You’ll then want to add your seven names. Type each name on a separate line, using the enter key after each one. Then you can press the “Done” button in the top right once you’ve entered all seven.
Step 3: Add photos / customise
On the “lists” page you should then be able to see the names you’ve just added, and you can tap any one of them to view. Each one will have a pencil icon to edit it, where you can add a photo to enter some notes.
Step 4: Pray for Seven!
Each time I launch the app I’ll be given a selection of things to pray for, and over time this will include each of my “Pray for Seven” people (if you prefer, you can configure the list’s settings to guarantee that it will always give you one “Pray for Seven” item every time you use the app)
“36When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”” (emphasis mine)
I’ve often read that and thought “well if the need is so great, perhaps I ought to ‘go’ myself” – it’s one of the things that has kept me considering full-time gospel ministry for more than a decade. But then last week, something interesting happened. Along with five others, I was “comissioned” by the Bishop of Edmonton for “leading public worship, preaching & administering Holy Communion” at Euston Church. John Valentine was preaching at the service, and his text was Matthew 9:38. He pointed out the surprise of this passage: when Jesus sees the need in v36 (“the crowds”) you might expect him to say “therefore ‘go'”; but the surprise is that he doesn’t, he instead says “therefore ‘pray‘”. No doubt some will discover that they themselves are to be the answer to their prayer, and seeing the vast need surely should make us consider our own calling if we remotely share in Jesus’ compassion. But the point remains: first and foremost, to Jesus, the logical implication of the need is to pray.
All of this reminded me of a quote that has been rumbling around my brain for a while:
“The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.” – Andrew Murray
There are some things that make me nervous about this quote (the over-emphasis on “the” man, for example) but yet there is something profoundly exciting about it as I consider PrayerMate. Last month, 25,000 people used the app to help them pray. 5,500 people have used the Operation World feed over the past year. The Open Doors USA feed was viewed over 100,000 times, helping people pray for the plight of the persecuted church. I quote these figures not because there’s anything impressive to God about large numbers, but rather because I think sometimes I am prone to underestimate the value of what I do with PrayerMate – after all, it’s still “just” something I do in my spare time! But, under God, what a contribution to world evangelisation all those prayers must have been!
PrayerMate: A Vision Statement
Somebody asked me recently what my vision is for PrayerMate, and now it seems obvious:
It seeks to do this by using technology to:
- Help people to actually pray
- Teach people how to pray in line with biblical principles and priorities
- Providing timely information about specific needs so that they can pray informed prayers
As you read that, it may be obvious that many of these are still very much aspirational, and that the app is only just beginning to scratch the surface of what it could become. I still have so many ideas for ways that PrayerMate could more effectively achieve these aims, ways that it could be made easier-to-use to reduce friction, ways that it could be made easier for organisations, missionaries & churches to get prayer information to their prayer supporters. My main bottleneck in all of this is time – time to turn these ideas into reality.
I’ve been praying a lot about what the future might hold for PrayerMate, and how to better realise the vision set out above. At the end of the day, time often really is money, in the sense that whatever the way ahead might be, it needs to include putting food on my family’s table. Outsourcing development work costs me at least £200 per day (and often requires plenty of my own time to manage, test and deploy projects) not to mention server hosting costs, marketing costs, and so on. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, it’s hard to make money from a prayer app!
If there is a way for PrayerMate to become financially self-sustaining, I suspect it would include some mix of the following:
- A larger financial contribution from a few headline ‘partner organisations’
- A small contribution from a wide base of churches & charities who publishing feeds through the app
- A voluntary contribution from some of the app’s users (FYI details of how to donate found here)
There’s a number of different definitions of “self-sustaining” here – a part time developer, a full time developer, even a whole team (with dedicated iOS and Android developers, charity liaison/support people, etc) depending upon how much comes in. But what’s clear to me is that the sky is the limit – until Jesus comes back the need is vast, and though a little app like PrayerMate is far from being the complete answer to the problem of world evangelisation, I believe it can make a really meaningful contribution.
If you feel inspired to be a part of this, then I would love to hear from you! You can use the “Send feedback” button inside the app or get in touch via Twitter.
The last few weeks have revealed what an incredibly engaged and passionate user base PrayerMate has – if I ever doubted it for a second! The response to the new PrayerMate v5 has generally been extremely positive, but inevitably with such a big change it has also revealed a few problem areas. Today there is an incremental update in the form of v5.1.0 (5.1.1 on Android) which includes three key changes:
- A critical bug fixed – unfortunately a particularly thorny and hard-to-detect bug slipped through the net in the initial release of PrayerMate 5 that meant all “never-prayed-before” subjects were fixed at a relatively low priority (equivalent to something you prayed for 12 hours ago). The result of this was that if you came back to the app after 24 hours had passed, you’d only ever see things that you had prayed for yesterday – which needless to say was not what you wanted. I take issues like this extremely seriously, since it damages the relationship of trust that you have with the app, and I am very thankful for those of you who brought this to my attention.
- Explicit priorities on each subject – something that I have been wanting to add for an extremely long time is the ability to set a “priority” level on specific subjects. Now through a subject’s “settings” page you can set the priority level: normal (the default), low (this subject is five times less likely to show up), high (this subject is five times more likely to show up), and importantly, every time. The “every time” setting means that this subject will always appear in your prayer session – although for those of you who use PrayerMate more than once per day it can also be combined with the existing “scheduling mode” setting e.g. to make it appear every time on Mondays only.
- Request “all” subjects from certain lists – with PrayerMate v5 came the option to manually request a specific number of subjects from each of your lists, but sometimes you don’t know in advance how many subjects you want. In this new update, you can go one step further and request “All” subjects from a given list every time.
In case you missed the news yesterday, there is now an all-new version of PrayerMate. Judging by the emails in my inbox, this update has caused a great deal of confusion and anxiety amongst many of you, and I hope that this post will help clear some of that up. I would also like to apologise if the changes have come as something of a surprise, and for not communicating better how to deal with the changes in advance.
Here are some brief notes about the new scheduling and how to deal with it:
1. Firstly, the new scheduler centres around a single total number of items that you wish to pray for, and then selects cards roughly in order of priority until it meets that quota. This is what the new +/- buttons on the first “Coming up” slide are about – it defaults to five but for many of you you will be used to seeing more, and should just press the + button until you are back to a number that suits you.
2. The caveat to point 1 is that it does also try to balance things between your various lists (formerly known as categories), so by default it should only ever pick one card from each list until it has run out of lists, at which point it will circle round once again.
3. For those who want more control, you can explicitly tell PrayerMate how many items you want from any given list, and it will then prioritise those lists before filling up the rest of its quota from elsewhere. Tap on to the new “Lists” page using the button (at the top on iOS and at the bottom on Android) go to the list you want to manage (either by selecting from the “List index” or by swiping sideways) and then press the “cog”/ settings button on that list and choose “List settings”. There you can tick “Manually set items per session” and drag the slider. For example, I have this set to “1” on my “Biblical prayers” list to make sure that I always start my prayer session by focussing on God, and I have one item from lists for my wife and for my children, but then I leave PrayerMate to decide how to fill up the rest of my daily quota from all of my remaining lists (of which I have many).
4. I’m hoping to add an explicit “pray for this every time” setting very soon (a somewhat obvious feature that PrayerMate has never had, because before this update it was too hard to figure out all the complicated interactions with per-category limits / the global limit / etc). In the mean time, as demonstrated in point 3, I suggest moving that subject to a list all by itself and manually setting the items per session on that list to “1”.
5. It should still be respecting any “day of the week” or other advanced scheduling that you have set up previously. You can access these by pressing the “cog”/settings button on any of your subjects. If things are appearing on days that you do not expect then that sounds like a bug and you should hit “Send feedback” inside the app. If things are *not* appearing on days when you *do* expect them to then try pressing the “+” button to ask for more subjects in your session – and if that doesn’t fix it then it also sounds like a bug and you should hit “Send feedback”.
6. Finally, can I share an email that really encouraged me, that gives you a feel for the motivations behind these changes? This lady said “I did not use the app before because it was so hard to use, but since this update it is much better!” I cannot deny that this recent update requires something of a transition, and *especially* from users who have invested time to setting it all up and who have discovered some of these “power-user” settings such as the per-category item limits. Sadly, for every one of them, there are probably dozens more who never even discovered that those settings existed, but the mere fact that they *did* exist created complexity and confusion for them. I definitely accept that I could and should have communicated better in advance about these changes, but I want you to know that the time and energy you are having to invest to adapt to these changes is an act of service to the wider body of believers.
If you’re not already signed up to the PrayerMate newsletter, do hit the button inside the app to do so. That’s the best way to be kept abreast of any important changes or PrayerMate news.
Many thanks for your support and for all of you who have been passionate enough to email me!
The first version of the PrayerMate app was built almost five years ago, when I set out to create something to help people pray more faithfully. Since the Code for the Kingdom Hackathon weekend back at the start of October, I’ve been working on totally overhauling it to try to make it easier to understand and use. It’s been a long journey, but I’m delighted to announce that it is finally ready!
The app has a new layout, with each of the main functions occupying its own tab. I’ve also changed how you edit cards, to make the process much more visual: now you can press the edit button on any card to change the name or description, add a photo or PDF attachment, or move it to a different list.
Many thanks to Nick Muncey for his fantastic new design.
Managing your lists
Categories have now been renamed to lists. The new lists page lets you see all of your subjects on one page (on a tablet this is even more useful). You can create new lists, or add subjects to your existing lists.
The way that PrayerMate decides what you should pray for each time has been completely rewritten. Instead of having lots of per-category settings, there is now just one global setting for how many items you want to pray for in total – press “+” to ask for more, or “-” to ask for fewer. For those of you who want a bit more control, you can still go in to the settings for a particular list and manually set the number of subjects you want to see from that list each time.
Update: I’ve written a detailed migration guide here about how the new scheduler works
Take Words With You prayer builder
Some of you may have previously tried the TWWY prayer builder with mixed results. This has been simplified, to focus on just the two core steps: praying scripture promises, and praying scripture prayers. Once you have chosen a Bible verse from each section, PrayerMate will then add the results to your existing card, rather than replacing (as it used to).
Please note that sadly there is a little bug in the iOS version, and no “Select” button appears after you first tap into a Bible verse. Swipe right then left again to make it appear.
Lots of people have expressed an interest in a “dark mode” for when praying at night, and I’m pleased to say that this is now available under the “Settings” page (along with a few other colour themes).
Become a PrayerMate Patron
Finally, let me mention one last new feature: the option to become a PrayerMate Patron (iOS and Google Play only). PrayerMate has always developed more slowly than I would have liked, and this is mostly because it’s just me working on PrayerMate in my spare time, with a bit of help from some outsourcers. I’d love for a developer to be able to work on the app full time, and by becoming a Patron, you can help make this happen.
Over to you!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the changes, and please feel free to hit the “Send feedback” button inside the app at any time. There’s bound to be a few bugs and teething trouble (big shout out to all my amazing beta testers for their help finding plenty so far!) so do let me know if you find any.
You can download the PrayerMate app for free on iOS, Android and Amazon Kindle Fire.
In Peter Adam’s own words:
“These are prayers which enlarge and enrich my praying, and which I need to pray every day…
You may not need to pray these particular prayers, but these prayers may encourage you to write the prayers you need to pray, if you find this practice helpful.
This is not a superior way to pray: it is currently a useful aid to my prayers.”
You can find them under the “Personal Godliness” prayer gallery, or you can try using this direct link if you have the app installed.
Considering it started as a simple Easter holiday project for somebody who had never made an app before, it blows my mind that by God’s grace PrayerMate is very soon to celebrate its 100,000th download! I’m always so thankful to hear of people’s testimonies of how God has used the app to help them in their prayer life, and so I thought it might be a fitting way to celebrate this milestone by trying to get as many people as possible to record a super-short video finishing the sentence “PrayerMate helps me…”
Are you in?
- The shorter the better – absolute maximum is 20 seconds I think
- Landscape is preferable to portrait
- Your video must begin “PrayerMate helps me…” – though you can try to be as creative as you like with the rest!
- Please keep it family friendly!
- You can have as many or as few people in the video as you like
- Submissions can be made however you like – upload it to YouTube and Tweet the link to @PrayerMateApp, email me a link to something in your Google Drive to email@example.com, or any other means you can think of!
- If you’re willing, I’ll be adding a subtitle “Firstname, City/Country”, so it would help if you could tell me that information when you submit your video
- The deadline for submissions is 1st September
Update: Here’s the finished product!
Automatic syncing via Dropbox
This release is the culmination of almost two years of work implementing automatic syncing between devices via the Dropbox Datastore. If you have, for example, an Android phone and an iPad, you can now keep all of your PrayerMate up-to-date between the two. Even if you’ve only got the one device, you might find this a convenient way to keep your data automatically backed up in the cloud so that you can access it again should you lose or update your device.
To enable syncing, tap the cog button in the app, go to the “Advanced settings” menu, and switch on the “Sync with Dropbox” setting. You’ll be given the choice of “merging devices” or “wiping local data” – this lets you say whether you want to keep the data on your current device or not (sometimes when you sync two devices, you want to treat the other device as the “master” copy, and throw away the data on the current device – other times you want to combine the data that’s on both of them).
Visual prayer galleries
The downloadable prayer gallery (accessible by pressing the cog button then “Download prayers”) has been upgraded so that when a choice of prayers is available you can now swipe left and right between the different options, before hitting the “Download” button in the top right. It makes it much easier to find and choose the prayers that suit you.
Praying scriptural prayers
The Psalms: new “Praying the Bible” feeds
The latest version of PrayerMate contains two exiting new features to help you pray scriptural prayers. The first is two new feeds based on Don Whitney’s new book “Praying the Bible“, published by Crossway, both of which help you pray some of the Psalms each day. The first feed gives you five Psalms every day, so that over the course of a month you will have prayed through the entire Psalter. Recognising that this is probably a bit much for most people, there’s a reduced version of the feed that gives you just one Psalm each day, so that you will pray through them all every five months.
“Take Words With You”
The second extremely exciting new feature is the integration of the brand new 5th edition of Tim Kerr’s excellent manual for intercession, “Take Words With You“. Take Words With You is an amazing body of work, collecting together 2,500 Bible verses into categories, to help use them in prayer to God. The fifth edition contains a five step method to help use the scriptures in all of our prayers – and this forms the basis of a new “prayer builder” tool in PrayerMate.
Now whenever you are editing a subject in the app, you can hit the “Take Words With You” button to help you decide how to pray. Select a verse for each of the five steps (confess sin, praise God, pray the promises, pray scripture prayers, pray faith affirmations) and PrayerMate will then combine the results together for you.
Here’s a little walkthrough video:
You can now assign a default photo to each category, which will apply to all subjects in that category unless you explicitly override them. This also has the nice benefit that the default categories that PrayerMate gives you when it is first installed can have some images, to give the app a bit more colour:
Premier Digital Awards
If you live in the UK, would you consider nominating PrayerMate for the Premier Digital Awards? The nomination form is here, the category you probably want is “Christian Mobile/Tablet App of the Year”
About PrayerMate: PrayerMate is a free app on iOS and Android designed to help you pray more faithfully and more widely. More details can be found here.
One of my favourite emails I have ever received about PrayerMate was from somebody who said “how have you managed to stop my PrayerMate data on my iPhone syncing with my iPad, and please can you turn this off so that they start syncing?” In the modern age it’s taken for granted that your data will sync via the cloud, but the truth is that for apps that aren’t web-based (where all your data is stored on a central server to start with), data syncing is one of the hardest features to implement – how I wish that it was as simple as “turning off” some extra code that I’d written to stop it happening!
I’ve been slowly working on adding sync to the iOS version of PrayerMate for almost two years now. It’s the kind of work that is only really possible given a decent chunk of time – ideally an entire day or more – and given that I work on PrayerMate in my spare time alongside a full-time job to support my family, these are quite rare and hard to come by. Even when you do make some good progress, it’s often then a few weeks before any issues in your code get discovered, and then you have to wait for another whole-day unit of time before you can investigate and fix said issues. So perhaps you can begin to understand why progress has been so slow!
After a long couple of years, I was all set to hit the big red button and release PrayerMate sync to the public (on both iOS and Android – thanks to last autumn’s crowdfunder that allowed Dave Bignell to work full-time on adding the equivalent feature to the Android app for a good couple of months). And then the email arrived from Dropbox: they’ve decided to discontinue the particular service I’m using due to lack of developer uptake (I partly blame myself, since I’ve been meaning to blog about it and help spread the word but was waiting until I publicly launched before doing so!)
Needless to say, this is a real blow. Not only does it affect the iOS and Android versions of PrayerMate, but it was also integral to the web-based desktop client that was about to go into private beta in the next few weeks.
Dropbox will continue operating their Datastore service for another year until April 2016, so the current plan is that I will still go live as planned, but then work must quickly commence rewriting everything – either built on top of Dropbox’s standard file-based service, or using another option such as Google Drive, or something more in-house (my least favourite option). Whatever the decision, this is extremely demoralising since I was really hoping to be rid of this burden and move on to more interesting features – and instead I face the prospect of yet another year working on the same problem.
I know that God is sovereign, however – and he was not taken by surprise by this issue (nor particularly was I, to be honest). But do pray for wisdom to know how to proceed! (and the determination to see this through to the end)
Perhaps now would be a good time to consider making a donation to the PrayerMate coffers? I’d love to outsource the solution to this problem if I could.
Edit: I’m collating alternatives to the Dropbox Datastore here
PrayerMate has long given churches and Christian organisations the option to publish prayer content that users of the app could then subscribe to. But until recently, the only choice available to those organisations was to make their feed publicly accessible through the “feed gallery”, meaning that anybody in the world could access your content and giving you no control over who could see the things that you published. This has typically worked well for Christian charities who already publicly publish a prayer calendar, but in general churches have been a bit more cautious about broadcasting the specific details of people and activities within their church to an unknown global audience.
Introducing PrayerMate Private Feeds
Since the end of December, PrayerMate now supports private feeds. Each prayer diary published through the PrayerMate Publishing Platform is given a unique (and hard-to-guess) URL and a corresponding QR code. Even if they’re not included in the public feed gallery, you can share that URL or QR code with whoever you want to, and they just open it up in their browser, or scan the QR code using the new button at the bottom of the feed gallery page in the app, and it will grant that person access to your feed.
As an example, here’s how you would subscribe to the Open Doors USA feed: http://prayermate.s3.amazonaws.com/1/f177274cde2d7063e38e03d24bed2f3769c0.html
What it is not: a “secure” feed
I refer to these as “private” feeds rather than “secure” feeds for good reason – that URL is all that’s required to access your prayer content, and ultimately as much as you can request that people don’t pass it on, you still don’t really know whose hands it has fallen in to. There’s no support at present for password-protected feeds or feeds that require specific approval from an administrator before people can access the content. For this reason, you are still advised not to publish content of an extremely sensitive nature, or which might put a missionary’s life or ministry at risk (or anonymise/generalise it where required).
Prayer feed short URLs
Although I originally developed this functionality to create hard-to-access prayer feeds, I quickly realised that it also made existing public feeds earier to access. Upon request, I can now create you a nice “praynow4″ short URL to let people access your feed quickly and easily – a great way to publicise your feed on social media or on your website.
As an example, you can find the Operation World “Country of the Day” feed at http://praynow4.org/OW.
If you want me to create a short URL for your organisation, just drop me an email using the button inside the app.
Thanks to last autumn’s crowdfunding campaign, I had the privilege of being able to hire a developer to work full time on PrayerMate for Android for a couple of months. Dave’s main focus was on implementing automatic syncing (more news on that in a couple of weeks) but along the way he was also able to add a whole load of features from the iOS app that were missing from Android. I’ve also done a bunch of work myself, and outsourced yet more to some developers in Eastern Europe. The result is PrayerMate for Android v3, which I’m delighted to announce is now live on Google Play. Here’s just a few of the new features it includes:
1. Address Book Integration
One of the hardest parts of getting going with PrayerMate has always been getting your initial list of friends set up. There’s now a handy way of adding friends directly from your address book. When you hit the “+” button, you’ll get a new option “Create from address book”:
This will then pull up a list of your contacts. Select the ones you want to create subjects from, and it will then create a new entry for each one.
Related to this is the ability to send messages to people as you pray for them. When praying for somebody, press and hold on the card for the context menu, and hit the “Send message” option. You then get to choose whether to email or to send a text message:
If you created somebody using the “Create from address book” option then their email / mobile number will be prefilled. I hope soon to be able to add the option to retrospectively link an existing subject to an address book entry, but I haven’t had the chance yet because of all the other features I’ve been working on!
2. New category options
If you’ve ever used PrayerMate to pray for your small group Bible study, you’ve probably wished there was an easy way to email people’s prayer requests out to your group. Now you can – when viewing a category, tap the “…” button in the top right and you’ll see two new options: “Pray through this category” and “Email these subjects”:
3. Selectively export categories
When exporting to Dropbox, you can now selectively export just certain categories. This gives you an easier way to share prayer points with others – as long as they’re in their own category, you can export them to Dropbox which can then be easily imported by others. Just hit the “Export to Dropbox” option under Advanced Settings and you can choose which categories you want to export (the default is still to export them all):
4. Region-specific feed galleries
When you open up the feed gallery, users in the UK, United States, Canada and Australia should now see a customised list of featured feeds that is more geographically relevant:
5. Recently prayed list
Tap the cog button and you’ll now see a “Recently prayed” option to be able to find subjects that you’ve prayed for recently:
6. New subject order options
When you tap into a category’s settings menu, hit “Change subject order” and as well as being able to manually reorder subjects, you’ll now also get options to sort them alphabetically, randomise the order, or turn on the new “auto-shuffle feature”. Sometimes people find that always praying for people in exactly the same order gets a bit repetitive. Turn on “auto-shuffle” on a particular category, and every time you’ve prayed through all the subjects in that category it will randomise the order for the next time you pray.
Other recent changes you may have missed is the concept of “private feeds” – churches or organisations who sign up at http://www.prayermate.net/publishers can now publish feeds that don’t have to be publicly advertised in the feed gallery. You’ll be given both a private URL and a QR code that you can share with your supporters, and they can use either one to subscribe.
You might also notice slightly more dynamic content appearing in prayer feeds, as they now support links and embedded images.
PrayerMate is a free app on iOS and Android to help you pray regularly and faithfully. As well as all of your personal prayer points for friends and family, you can also subscribe to regular updates from over 100 different Christian charities and churches, as well as downloading suggested prayers from the gallery.
It may be a very long time since you were a student, or you may well never have been a student at all. But regardless of what stage of life you’re at, I invite you to partner with the Christian students of London who next week are putting on a city-wide mission week, from 26th-30th January 2015. There will be central events happening every evening at All Soul’s Langham Place, as well as specific lunchtime talks at several campuses around the city.
Being a student is such a fantastic time to reach your mates with the gospel of Jesus Christ – people are often more receptive to considering new ideas as students than they are at any other time in their life. And if you can reach London students with the gospel, then you’ll reach the entire world – London universities are full of people from every corner of the globe, including many closed countries where it’s much harder to proclaim the gospel. So whether you’re 18 or 81 please be praying for these young Christians next week as they seek to proclaim Jesus.
I’ve put together a special PrayerMate feed just for this one week: sign up at http://praynow4.org/londonmission. It’s easiest if you subscribe to it in a category all of its own so that it’ll come up every time you pray during the week. When people pray, God answers – and we would love to see the name of God glorified as a result of all that happens next week!
When recording prayer needs in an app like PrayerMate, the things you want to pray for are often somewhat sensitive in nature. That’s why PrayerMate for iOS has long had a PIN protection feature, and many of you have been asking me to add this to the Android version as well. Today I’m pleased to announce that PrayerMate on both platforms now has the same password entry feature – you’ll find it under the Advanced Settings menu. Create a four digit numeric PIN, and nobody will be able to access your prayer points without first entering the code.
Many thanks to Dave Bignell who did most of the hard work for this feature shortly before last month’s Crowdfunding campaign. Since then he’s been working full time implementing automatic syncing to the Android app, and has been making fantastic progress. Look forward to further news on this in the new year.
The goal of the PrayerMate app has always been to help people pray more widely and more faithfully for the things that matter to them. Today I’m pleased to announce some new downloadable prayers in the PrayerMate prayer gallery for two important aspects of church life: 5 ways to pray for your pastor and 5 ways to pray for your church family.
To access this content within the free PrayerMate app, press the cog button and scroll down to the “Download prayers” option under the “Extra prayer content” section. You’ll find the new Ligonier content under the “Praying for your church” section. Hit the “Download all” button and choose which of your categories you wish to download into – perhaps “My church”. You’ll then be given one prayer each time you start a new session.
Today I’m pleased to announce a long-overdue feature on the PrayerMate Publishing Platform ideal for smaller publishers: prayer newsletters.
Until now, the PrayerMate Publishing Platform has only formally supported prayer calendars – a particular prayer point scheduled for each day, and subscribers only pray for that item if they open the app on that specific day. With prayer newsletters you can schedule new content as and when it’s available, and subscribers will see that same content until new content is scheduled. This is ideal for smaller organisations or individuals, if you don’t have enough content to schedule something unique for every single day.
Just like with all PrayerMate prayer diaries, you can then submit your prayer newsletter to the PrayerMate feed gallery and people can then easily subscribe to all of your updates on their mobile device through the free PrayerMate app.
Creating a prayer newsletter
After logging in to the PrayerMate Publishing Platform, you can create a new prayer newsletter by pressing “Create prayer diary”:
You will then be asked to select the style of your prayer diary – choose “newsletter”:
Note: if you have an existing prayer diary connected to a feed, open it up and click “Edit settings” in the right sidebar to change the style of your prayer diary
When viewing your prayer newsletter, you can schedule content at the top. If you leave the date blank then it will just schedule it to appear immediately:
Note that prayer points will replace anything published on an earlier date. You can have multiple items scheduled on the same date, but otherwise content will stay live only until the date of the next prayer point. This means that you can schedule content in advance that will become live only when that date comes around.
Creating a fixed pool of prayer points
If your prayer needs are fairly fixed and you don’t need to reguarly publish new prayer points, you can also use prayer newsletters to create a fixed “pool” of prayer points that just rotates every time people pray for you. For example, you could schedule ten prayer points all on the same day, then the first time somebody prays for you they’ll see the first prayer point, the next time they pray they’ll see the second and so on (though this does depend slightly upon the exact settings they have in their app and the number of “items per session” they enabled).
Once you publish a prayer point, it will stay live indefinitely until there is some new content to replace it. Occasionally this is not the behaviour you want, and you just want to “archive” a prayer point without replacing it with something new. When viewing your newsletter, you’ll see an “Archive selected” button to do exactly this:
I hope this new feature proves useful in getting more people praying for you. If you ever have any questions or feedback, do drop me an email – you should have got an email from me when you first signed up with my address.
Update: this bug should now be resolved in the latest app update
Some users are reporting an issue with the latest PrayerMate for iOS 3.7.1 where they are seeing the same cards every day, even after they reset. Whilst Apple reviews an update to resolve this, in the mean time the way to work around it is to swipe all the way to the very last screen and press the “praying hands” button for a new set of cards:
Problems like this are extremely frustrating all round, and I’m really sorry that this didn’t get picked up in my own testing. A change was made to resolve another problem that people were experiencing, and it introduced this new bug in its place.
Unfortunately, iOS8 broke a lot of things in PrayerMate when it was first released – and thankfully a new app update went live today that will hopefully resolve the last of these. However, it’s not all bad news – iOS8 also makes some really cool new things possible. I haven’t had a chance to capitalise on all of these yet, but I just wanted to highlight one new feature that went live with today’s release that should make your life easier – and that’s the ability to attach PDFs to a prayer subject using the new Document Picker.
When editing one of your subjects, press the “Attachment” button:
iOS will then give you the option of choosing a source to pull a document from. You should see your iCloud document store here, and if you have the Dropbox app installed, you can make that appear as a source too:
You can then navigate to the file you want to attach. Please note that PrayerMate only supports PDF attachments, whereas for now, iOS will show you all kinds of files (as soon as I figure out how to fix this, I will!)
It will then download and attach this PDF to your subject:
Next time you’re praying for this subject, you should then see an orange “PDF” link at the top right:
This will then open up the PDF that you have attached:
PrayerMate is an app designed to help you pray more faithfully and more widely. It is currently doing a crowdfunding campaign to build the next stage – please consider donating £30 at http://support.prayermate.net/
Several of you have reported that PDFs seem to open inconsistently on iPads under iOS8. I’ve now tracked down the root cause of this issue,
but it’ll be getting on for a couple of weeks before Apple approves my fix. In the mean time, there is a simple workaround for this issue: make sure your iPad is always in portrait orientation before opening the PDF file, and then switch back to landscape after it has opened if you so wish. Apologies for the inconvenience, but hopefully this will be enough to get you praying in the mean time whilst a proper update is released.
Update: A fix for this is now live in the App Store – update PrayerMate to resolve this issue
For details of how PrayerMate scheduling works since version 5, see this post here.
Update: JUST A FEW DAYS LEFT!!! Please give now – however much or how little
People don’t always realise that I work on PrayerMate in my spare time along side a full time job. For the most part this just about works, but when it comes to implementing big headline features, this just isn’t possible in the little free time I have. Right now I have a window of opportunity to build two very exciting new features that people are constantly asking me for:
- Universal sync: whether you have an iOS device or an Android device, you want all of your devices to talk to each other. Even if you’ve only got one device, you want the reassurance of knowing that your data is safely backed up in the cloud without you having to remember to do this manually each time.
- A web-based client: typing on a small screen can be fiddly, so people have often expressed an interest in some kind of desktop client that lets them manage their prayer points on a full-size screen and keyboard.
A friend of mine who is an experienced software developer has an opening in his schedule over the next couple of months. There’s a chance that some of you might even have used software that he has helped build in the past (especially if you’re musical) Best of all, he’s worked on some of the existing features for PrayerMate for Android, so he’s already familiar with the codebase. However, he needs to be able to put food on his table. I’ve also got links with some Ukrainian software developers who have come very highly recommended to me, and are all geared up to work on the web client. They’re extremely cost-effective compared to UK developers – but they too need to be able to put food on their tables.
Finally, a much more boring need: the five-year-old plastic MacBook that I use for all of my development (both iOS and Android) is really starting to creak at the seams, both literally (the bottom is falling off!) and figuratively (it really starts to crawl when compiling code, especially for the new iOS8).
To meet these needs, I’m looking to find 300 people willing to give £30 by 13th November (by God’s grace I’ve found
a dozen over 60% of them already – thank you!)
I go into a lot more detail answering all kinds of questions on the supporters website, which you can find here:
Please do prayerfully consider giving, and please please please spread the word – tell everybody you know who uses PrayerMate! I can’t do this on my own, but together we can make a real difference that will help people across the world to be praying.
Update: JUST A FEW DAYS LEFT!!! Please give now – however much or how little
IFES World Student Day 2014 is fast approaching on 17th October. IFES has handily put together PDF prayer profiles to help you know how to be praying for students around the world – and now I’m pleased to announced that you can download these directly into the latest version of the free PrayerMate app through the Prayer Gallery, on both iOS and Android.
To find them, select “Download prayers” form the main settings menu:
Then choose the IFES World Student Day option to pull up a list of countries to choose from:
Once you open up a particular country, you’ll see a “Download prayer” button at the bottom, and you’ll then need to choose one of your categories to save it into:
Then hit “Done” in the top right. When that subject then comes up in your prayers, you’ll see an orange “PDF” button on the right that you can press to open up the prayer profile:
Don’t forget to Tweet with the hashtag #worldstudentday or get involved in their Facebook page.
Do you ever get that feeling that you’ve been doing something for years, but are still only just beginning to figure out what you’re really supposed to be doing? I’ve been feeling a bit like that with PrayerMate for a while now. It’s grown considerably over the past year or so, both in terms of features and in terms of the number of people using it and the number of organisations publishing their prayer points through it (over 80 now!) One of the downsides of doing something as a side-project, and being massively overworked, is that you don’t always get to invest the amount of time as you would like just polishing the little details.
I think over the years I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by all the positive encouragement I’ve received from people about PrayerMate, when the truth is that there’s lots about it that could be better. The truth is that the positive encouragement all comes from people who have managed to figure it out and have started using it, whereas the negative feedback comes in the form of silence from the people who downloaded it, tried it once, couldn’t really figure out what it was for or how to get going with it, and then never came back to it ever again. It’s only very rarely that you get emails from those people, so it’s easy to miss just how many of them there are.
This last month or so I decided that enough was enough, and whilst my wonderful iOS beta testers have been trying out the new (as-yet-unreleased) syncing functionality, I’ve been taking a break from that brain-melting hardcore coding kind of work to tinker with the basic interface to try to improve the useability of the app, especially for brand new users. I’m still only really half-way through my list of ideas (with some of the more dramatic changes still to come!) and I haven’t yet had a chance to port these over to Android, but I thought I’d give you a little taste of what’s coming up when Apple approves the next release.
Improved onboarding process
I did a little experiment with a new onboarding process back at Easter, but for various reasons I don’t think it hasn’t proved too successful. Instead I’ve opted for more of a light touch approach. The user’s first session now starts and ends with these two pages:
The first page introduces some vocabulary (“My first prayer session”) and now gives a more explicit call to action (“Swipe left to start”). The last page urges people towards the key value-add action: adding your own subjects to pray for.
Revamped ‘Add subject’ process
That leads nicely onto the next big change, which is a totally revamped process for adding new subjects. Over time the subject settings page has become a slightly overwhelming and scary mess of options and features, and from the very earliest days I know people have struggled how to do even the most basic task of adding a new subject. Taking the approach that people basically want to focus on one thing at a time, PrayerMate will now hold your hand a little bit more through the process.
It starts off by asking you just to enter a name for your subject. I’ve observed that the majority of new users stick entirely to the default categories, so I thought I may as well make the most of that and tailor the description you see based on which of those default categories you’re adding to. So you’ll get given different instructions and example names if you’re adding family members to if you’re adding Biblical prayers, for example.
Historically there’s also been a bit of a discovery problem: people didn’t know that the feature existed to download prayers or subscribe to online feeds, so the new “Add subject” page is the perfect place to direct people towards these alternative ways of getting new content into the app.
Scheduling modes explained
When choosing the scheduling mode for a subject, you now get a very brief explanation of what each option means:
Downloadable biblical prayers
Although previously there was a gallery of Bible verses that would make for good prayers, for copyright reasons I was unable to make the text of those verses available for download directly into PrayerMate. Instead it took you to BibleGateway in your browser, from where you could copy and paste into PrayerMate. For various reasons, this really sucked. Mark Strivens has donated a huge amount of time to contact various Bible publishers and has managed to secure permission for me to include extracts directly from the NET Bible translation. He’s then set it all up, so now if you want to download a Bible prayer the text is right there and you just have to hit a button to turn it into a subject in PrayerMate.
“Download all” in prayer gallery
This one was sheer laziness on my part when I first added the prayer gallery: it’s been obvious all along that there needed to be a quick way to download a whole bunch of prayers all in one go. So now if you’re a wife wanting to pray for your husband, you can open up Jen Thorn’s “Seven hard things to pray for your husband” and download all seven with the touch of a button.
Changes to how feeds work
When I first added online feeds to the app last year, I had an inkling that people would love it, but I didn’t really know what it was that I was making. As people have started using it, and as more and more organisations have come on board, it was inevitable that there would be some changes required. The Android app benefitted from this hindsight and got built properly the first time around, but now iOS is catching up. The biggest change I’ve made is that feed subjects are now scheduled just like any other kind of subject – so I could say “I want to pray for Tearfund on Wednesdays and UCCF on Mondays”, and feed subjects no longer receive priority in the way that they used to, making it a bit easier to have several subjects all in the same category.
I’ve also tweaked the lingo when you first subscribe to a feed, so that instead of confusingly saying “View prayers” it now makes it more obvious that a new subject has been created for you. There’s also a little indicator of how often a particular feed is likely to be updated (daily, weekly or monthly)
When viewing your feed subject, I’ve also broken out the upcoming prayers into a separate “feed items” page, making the subject page a bit more manageable:
Action button on prayer cards
I’ve been resisting this one for years, but it seems that no matter how many ways I try to teach people, most people still don’t realise that you can press and hold on a card whilst you’re praying to open a menu of actions. If you don’t know this menu is there, the app is so much harder to use. So I’ve finally succumbed, and added an explicit button to each prayer card to open the action menu:
More tiny tweaks
There’s plenty more tiny little tweaks here and there. One user commented that it’s a little strange that the “Archive” button should be green when it’s really kind of a negative action. So that’s now orange:
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