Summary: Learning how to pray and what to do with a mind that wanders during prayer

Taming the Wandering Mind: how to pray for more than 30 seconds…

Steve Simala Grant - February 13, 2000

Has this ever happened to you? You get set to pray – you think “ok, I agreed to spend 15 minutes a day in quiet prayer with my Lord, now I’m going to do it.” You get set, find the spot, and start to pray. And it goes something like this:

“Dear Lord, I come before you with thanks for this day, and for all the things that you have in store for me today. Thank you for my job, even though I don’t always love it and I don’t always feel appreciated like yesterday when my boss didn’t even notice that I really put a lot into that project and didn’t even seem to care that I really put a lot of effort into that I wonder if I should say something today when I talk to him about that new project and oh yeah I better remember to phone John to get that information before I figure out how to tackle that project I wonder if I started with the timeline that would be best, but really I should start by figuring out what all the things I need to do are… OH YEAH I’M SUPPOSED TO BE PRAYING!!! umm, sorry God… please bless my job. I also want to pray for my family OH NO I FORGOT TO SIGN MY KIDS REPORT CARD I WONDER IF I CAN STILL CATCH HIM BEFORE HE GETS ON THE BUS…

and so on…

If you have ever had an experience like that, then you need to know that you are not alone. It happens to many of us, myself included. And if you’re like me, you feel so guilty! The thoughts come to us “how could I do that to GOD? I am awful, I started out wanting to talk with Him and my mind just went everywhere! I couldn’t even concentrate on Him for 15 minutes.” And we can feel defeated. We all need help in learning how to Tame The Wandering Mind. This morning I want to with you a few thoughts about concentrating in prayer, especially how to listen to God, and hopefully equip you to focus on your Lord as you carve out time in your day to spend with Him in prayer.

We forget as Christians that prayer is a learned thing. Jesus disciples approached Him in Luke 11:1, and they said “Lord, teach us to pray”. Teach us. Show us how; tell us what to do. Jesus’ response was a model prayer – the Lord’s Prayer as we know it today. And while we don’t have time to go through the model section by section, I encourage you to do that on your own this week, and we will conclude our service today reciting it together. It includes all the essential elements!

So let’s take some time today to learn together how to pray. We will start with the idea that prayer must be conversation, then talk about learning how to listen, and finally talk about praying with our whole selves.

1. communication vs conversation:

Prayer is not communication, it is conversation. it is dialogue, not diatribe. I need to speak and listen. With communication, the focus is one way – me to you, for example. I talk, you listen. Too often for us, that is how we pray: I speak, God listens. But when that is true of our prayer lives, we miss out tremendously. You see, we believe that God wants to speak to us. We believe that He does speak to us. And yet when we pray, we often only speak to him, and never take the time to learn to listen. We’ll come back to learning to listen later, suffice it to say right now that prayer needs to be two-way conversation, not one-way communication.

Let’s remember in this conversation who we are: we don’t come to prayer as bartering equals – when Scripture says we should come “boldly” it doesn’t mean that we march up to God’s throne and state our demands. We come instead as God’s children, adopted by Him and welcomed by Him, at His initiative. This leads us to the most basic, and also most frequent, type of prayer: what Richard Foster calls simple prayer. Simple prayer is exactly that – the conversation between a child and her father. It is where we come exactly as we are, knowing we are welcome and accepted by God, and we just share our concerns and cares and joys and ideas. And as we spend time with our Father, we allow Him to instruct us, to chide us, to mold us into who we need to become. This type of prayer has in it all the beauty and spontaneity of childhood, and all its simplicity.

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