Modern life is full of distractions that pull us away from the concentrated prayer that heals. Such distractions have always been around, though. Jesus recognized and warned that “the cares and riches and pleasures of this world” might keep us from bringing prayerful fruit to perfection in our lives. The Bible gives lots of advice about how to keep to our tasks, “looking neither to the left nor to the right” when we are on the road toward something good and worthy.
How can we apply these principles to our prayers in the twenty first century?
One valuable point I have discovered is the treasure of awe. Standing before a majestic mountain, with a beautiful lake in the foreground, sunlit clouds hovering around the snowy summit, many of us pause to take in the grandeur and beauty before us. The human mind is impressed with awe and values it. We can remember and apply this wonderful feeling as we approach God in prayer. This brings a natural focus to communications from God that we may receive in that sacred mental sanctuary.
I have found it useful to remember only to lend my awe to such subjects as are truly worthy. Sometimes I have been tempted to feel awe for whatever problems and challenges and deadlines I am facing when I set out to pray. But getting clear from the start that only God is worthy of my reverence here, I find that I have started rightly. Prayer feels more natural, flowing, and satisfying. The Psalms recommend, “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” (Ps. 100:3, 4) Coming to prayer with this attitude prepares the mind to be receptive to the treasures God imparts to us in prayer.
I have no direct experience with royalty, but the Bible gives many examples of the deep reverence paid to kings and queens at that time. There was, and still is, a protocol to coming into their presence and it involves humility, respect, honor, reverence, attention. When invited to come into the audience chamber of a king, it isn’t done casually or haphazardly. To check a smartphone, or pull out a snack, or wonder about the score of the latest game while in the presence of the king would be unheard of. Deep and true awe for the Creator of the universe, tender appreciation and gratitude for His goodness, wonder at the marvels of infinitude prepares the mind to be still, and receptive to wisdom and power and goodness that God is pouring out on creation.
St Paul had a lot to say about praying. He suggested that you think of yourself as an athlete setting out to run a race. Have the intent to win, he says. Don’t go into the event with less than your best effort. Don’t start with a half-hearted feeling that allows meandering and faltering. You can even consider yourself to be the very audience chamber for prayer, Paul said. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” 1 Cor. 6:19 We are the very place where God is to be reverenced, worshiped, praised.
Jesus taught that all that our Father has is ours and all that we have is His. This we learn in respectful intercommunion with our Maker. Think how it feels when you essentially know in prayerful moments, “All my attention is yours, and all your attention is mine.” This is being truly present with each other, and is surely one of the main ways to express love.
When God created man He said, “Be fruitful and multiply”—that is, bring your fruit to perfection. Be the expression of God’s fruitful nature. Rather than settling for the unfinished distractions of mundane life, remember with awe that God made you complete in His/Her likeness. All that God has, has been given to you. He gave you His greatest gift—dominion over all the earth. Wouldn’t the specific qualities of focus, persistence, full attention and unselfish intention be included as part of that?
This Thanksgiving season, take a moment to begin your prayers with reverence and appreciation to the God who made a trillion of galaxies and our beautiful earth, a butterfly’s wing and a baby’s smile. See if it doesn’t help you stay more focused and fruitful in your prayer life.