This discussion has come up in a few different places for me and when that happens, I really feel led to write about it.
Prayer in general is a subject that I like to discuss, encourage, preach on. I’ve preached a few times in my short time in ministry, I’ve written in other venues, we have a monthly prayer breakfast (last Tuesday of every month at the church starting at 8:30 am, no charge, no obligation, breakfast is always great, come and check it out), we have our prayer chapel, we have a prayer meeting Sunday afternoon at 1:30, so yea, we are serious about prayer and I’m always looking for new prayer opportunities. Please feel free to e-mail me with your prayer requests and I will include them in our prayers during worship, our prayer meeting and prayer breakfast, better yet, bring them with you.
Mark Myers in Christian Counseling Today (Vol 20 No 3 pp 62-65) writes about something that I’ve had people, frankly even myself raise as an issue relating to prayer. Quite often I will be praying and then it seems as if I am not focusing on what I “should” be praying on and I’m drifting off somewhere else. Dr Myers writes that his parishioners bring this to him also: “As I understood them, continual distractions and worry of their situations made them feel disconnected from God. It could be that this psychological entanglement, or lack of being present, in say, prayer, is a key factor in our growth as Christians.” (p 65)
Let’s face it, when we start in prayer, we have an agenda, “I need to sit down and pray…” For too many of us, prayer is a one-way communication where we take our concerns to God and the heavenly transcriptionist takes them down, reads them back to Father, and then we presume He acts according to our directions. We think that God should understand how good intentioned we are and He should just jump right on those prayer requests, when He doesn’t, well then He hasn’t “answered” our prayer. God always answers prayer, it may not be according to our plan, but hey, God knows everything, He has things planned out and he is going to proceed according to His plans. Can we intercede, can we plead with God? Certainly! The Bible has instances of that. But God always answers prayer, sometimes it is yes, sometimes it’s no and sometimes it’s wait. Part of faith is that we trust God’s plan and when we really think about it, God’s plan is always better then ours and afterwards we look back (as I often have) and praise God. I’ve felt it so many times, “wow, that was so cool, I’d have never thought of that”. Yea, that’s why He’s God and I’m not and that’s a very good thing.
In respect to being “distracted” during prayer and as I said, I’ve had the same thing a lot too, I submit that maybe this is the Holy Spirit moving you to focus on what He wants you to focus on. Is it possible that we think we should go into prayer with some kind of agenda? And that we have to stick to that agenda?
Dr Myers’ article is about research that’s been done, that he’s been involved with, regarding “mindfulness”, to the effect that it’s dealing with where/what/how you are at the moment. That you focus on what you are at that point, the thoughts that come in to our mind and do it in a “non-condemning” manner. Now I do have some reservations, I do understand where Dr Myers is coming from, that we should leave ourselves open to the Holy Spirit. Too often we get so caught up in our current situation and we let that consume us. We ignore what is going on around us, we lose any empathy with anyone else, we are sure that everything is tied up in this issue and we get very tunnel visioned. It’s happened to me, I’m sure you can see how this would happen. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit is trying to move you along or perhaps get you to shift your focus or broaden your field of vision.
Now my reservation is this, you really have to be discerning. When we are in prayer we are dealing with the spiritual, I would add to Dr Myers article that when you start to pray, that you ask for the leading of the Holy Spirit, that you are praying in the Name of Jesus Christ and you are looking for leading in prayer to God the Father. I’m not trying to weird anyone out, but as I said, you are dealing with the spiritual, when you are in Christ, when you are making it clear that you are looking for the leading of the Holy Spirit, you are making it clear that is what you expect. Too many people immature in the faith, if at all in the faith, rely on guidance of the spiritual that they may not even understand or identify. Guided prayer does keep us focused on God, but the point is to try and be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading and not always coming to God with your own agenda.
In Psalm 46, we are told “be still and know that I am God”. Elijah was told to wait on the still small voice. Too often we expect an answer to our concerns, that what we think is important should be dealt with and not only that the answer should be announced through a bull horn or written across the sky. Come on, you know you do.
As I said, pray in the Name of Jesus and then wait, be still, know when God is speaking or leading, wait on that still small voice. You may have a lot on your heart, we usually do, at some point maybe we need to lay it at God’s feet and let Him work things out for us. We think we know the way life should play out, we have our priorities, let’s submit them to God and let Him sort them out.
First pray, take the time to come before the Lord and lift up your heart to Him. But once in awhile let the Holy Spirit take the lead. Trust in Him to show you what He wants for you, we have a great God who loves us more profoundly that we could ever even begin to understand. He loves us so much, He gave His only Son in order for us to be saved from our sins and to give us the promise of eternal life. Maybe we could trust Him with our prayers? So offer confession, certainly glorify and give thanksgiving, even offer intercession, but then wait on that small, still voice, wait for the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts. I bet He will answer prayers you never even thought to raise up. God bless, please send your prayer requests to First St Johns, to me as the pastor, come to our prayer breakfasts, please feel free to come and use our prayer room, even worship with us 10:30 Sunday mornings, 140 W King St., downtown York.