The Problem of Scattered thoughts in Prayer
So you’re about to pray. You have your quiet time each day, the time you set aside to pray, but as you kneel, where do you start? And where do you go from there? Perhaps you can relate to the following scenario: You kneel down to pray, you were disciplined enough to set aside the time, and now you’re here. You start with the best of intentions, but within three minutes your mind has wondered, and you’re thinking about something that’s coming up in the day ahead. Or maybe you do manage to stay on track, but as your prayer unfolds, you simply find yourself praying through a long list of requests. You know that something is missing. Truth be told, your prayer life is often a burden, and yet you don’t know what to do next. Is this to be the height of our prayer lives? Is this as good as it gets? Is a deeper experience of God in prayer even possible? These are the sort of thoughts that have crossed your mind.
Well, I hope you can be encouraged to realise that no, this is far from the heights that God has in store for us in prayer. And yes, a deeper experience of God is certainly possible in prayer. But how to move forward? That’s the question. Well I can’t promise a revolution in your prayer life over night. I can’t promise that there will be a quick way to experience new heights of joy and fulfillment in praying to God. No, as a child grows physically, so it generally is spiritually. We are nourished day by day, and growth comes steadily over time. As a long journey is made of many small steps, so spiritual growth often comes one step at a time. So then if I can help you take one small step in this week’s meditation, I will consider my efforts well worth it.
If my opening scenario relates to your experience, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The secret is that there is a method to prayer. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound particularly glamorous or spiritual does it? Prayer has a method. And yet, as we consider the Lord’s Prayer, it’s definitely there – there is a method to prayer, a logic to the Lord’s prayer if you like. In fact, as the Westminster Larger Catechism says (Q&A 187), the Lord’s Prayer is a “pattern for making other prayers.”
Let me put it this way. If your prayers are invaded by scattered thoughts, having a pattern that you can follow will help you to stay focused. And if your prayers consist of a list of petitions, following a pattern will also enrich them by directing you into various kinds of prayer. Prayer certainly includes bringing our petitions to God, but they must be much broader as well. Imagine if a child’s communication with his parents consisted of only requests? Something is missing! So let me walk you through the logic, or pattern, of the Lord’s prayer. As we walk through, I’m going to give us a few suggestions for using this pattern to guide us into deeper places in our prayer lives.
First, there is the starting place: our relationship with God. “Our Father in heaven” presupposes that God is, indeed, our Father. Unless we come to God through Christ, we have no grounds upon which to pray at all. In Proverbs 15:29 we read that “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” Without Christ, we remain firmly in the camp of the wicked, and thus our prayers are not accepted. Start your prayers, then, with a recognition before God of your standing and relationship with Him. Start with thanksgiving! Use other passages of Scripture to give you words and voice for your thanksgiving.
The next step in prayer is a natural follow-on: praise. “Hallowed be your name.” As our relationship with God is restored, and we perceive more and more who He is, we should naturally worship and desire that others do the same. Begin your prayers with thanksgiving to God for being your Father, continue your prayers with praise – hallow His name! (again, use the psalms and other Scriptures to give you words of praise).
The next steps relate very closely to the one that came before. As our hearts are filled with praise, and as we desire to see His name praised by all, we move on to prioritise His Kingdom in our prayers. Asking that Christ’s redemptive reign may be extended in the hearts of men, that “His will be done.” Having thanked and praised the Lord, pray then for His interests to be fulfilled, with a special focus on spiritual growth for God’s people, and conversion among the lost. From there in our method for prayer, we move on to commit our daily needs more specifically to God (“Give us this day our daily bread”), and into lament and repentance as well (again, use the psalms to help). Finally, we seek protection in the battle of the day ahead, and end on a note of praise and glory to God. All these various points in the Lord’s Prayer might be opened up and expanded through your prayers.
In this series of meditations, we have already opened up the introductory petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. We will also open up the other petitions in more detail in time to come (if the Lord spares us). The main point today, however, is this: if you would grow in prayer, you must have structure in your prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful provision to us, for it guides us through a blue-print of how we might pray. If we used the Lord’s Prayer as a guide in our prayers, we would soon find that our childish petition-list kind of prayer disappears. We would find focus easier in light of our drifting thoughts, and we will be one step further along the path of a growing and richer intimacy with God in prayer…
Soli Deo Gloria.
Book Recommendation: Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer is a useful resource for directing us in our personal prayers. It is freely available on www.monergism.com, and I would commend it to you! And there is a hardcopy in the church library.
Some other books on the Lord’s Prayer in the Church Library: