Honest Talk about Honest Prayer
- Thursday, February 05, 2009
How can we combat busyness and pray through distractions?
As I discuss later, the first thing is to establish a consistent prayer time and location. Early monks went to the deserts of North Africa to spare themselves the distractions of busy life. Most of us aren’t going to do that, but we can choose to pray in a place that is not full of messes to clean or work to be done, even in a one-room apartment, we can face the window. I practice what I call “intentional neglect.” I intentionally neglect all the things screaming for my attention. When I’m done with my prayer time, then I do them. When God is our priority, everything else falls into place—especially in the church. It amazes me how much we pastors forget that.
When we do pray, we still confront distractions of the mind—there’s really no escape. That’s why I always keep a notebook, day planner, or scratch paper handy. Thoughts will come regarding something I need to do. Rather than distract myself by trying not to forget it, I jot it down, forget about it while I pray, and do it afterward. Or the invading thought, especially if it’s from the Holy Spirit, might be something I turn into a prayer.
If, no matter what we do, we still can’t focus, then yell. Seriously. But yell someplace where people won’t hear and think you’re nuts. If need be, let your very prayer be to ask God to help you focus. Raising the voice can have an immediate and powerful effect in focusing the mind. Try it and see!
What do you mean by "praying boldly" and how can Christians learn to do that?
Praying boldly is the opposite of excessively polite prayer and of—I’ll just say it—wimpy prayer. Praying boldly is praying without intimidation, not caring what other people think, expressing ourselves to God without concern for being appropriate or religiously correct but rather with a passion from our guts that pours out, unashamedly. Bold prayer is not arrogant. It’s humble and faithful, because of its self-abandoned focus on God and expectation of what God will do.
People often assume they must be polite or solemn before God. Nowhere does the Bible teach this. Two thirds of the Psalms are complaints, and they are not polite. Most prayers in both Old and New Testaments are bold, expectant, and to the point. When Jesus teaches on prayer in Luke 11:5–10, he talks about an obnoxious guy who bangs on his friend’s door at midnight. Then he says we should bug him the same way by continually asking, seeking, and knocking. I often wonder if God gets tired of diplomatic prayers. Why else would he actually tell us to be bold and persistent—and use examples that, if we were on the receiving end, most of us would say are obnoxious.
There’s no real method to doing this. It’s a mindset that chooses to free itself from previous assumptions and uses the Bible as a model of how to pray.
How can we practice the presence of God and include him in everyday tasks?
Practicing the presence of God primarily has to do with developing an attitude, a continual awareness that God is always with us, and that in turn, we always incline our attention toward him.
The first thing most of us need to do is to slow down or cut unnecessary activities from our calendar. Busyness is an enemy to practicing the presence of God. Jesus repeatedly blew off other people’s agendas for him and continually focused on his purpose for being here. Pastors who do the same are always happier, closer to God, and more effective. And when we practice the presence of God, we increase our ability to be intimate with him when times do get busy.
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