The praxis of prayer
This column is focused on prayer. But sometimes I think we need to be reminded of the praxis (the practicalities) of prayer. Though we all pray, from time to time I think we need to remind ourselves of some fundamental things in regard to prayer. I hope the following will be helpful.
Put away distractions and concentrate on God
When we pray we need to keep our focus on God. To make sure this happens, we need to choose carefully where and when we pray. Jesus tells us that when we pray, we should “go into your inner room” (Matt. 6:6 NASB). This means we should pray in an environment where we are not distracted by anything—by what’s in the room, by what’s happening elsewhere (seen or heard through a window), etc. The King James Version calls it your “closet.” And that would be a great place to pray—no windows, etc.—if it were not full of things, which it usually is. There are enough distractions within ourselves that we don’t need any more from without.
A good friend of mine in college once asked me for help with his devotional life. He said that his mind was always wandering when he had his devotions. So I went to his apartment and asked him where he sat for his devotions. Lo and behold, he was facing a huge picture window looking onto a busy street downtown! Something interesting was always happening there, so it was natural for him to get distracted. My only recommendation was for him to sit facing the wall; that way, there was nothing exciting to see that took him off-course from spending quality time with God.
In an enclosed environment, we need to make sure that everything involved leads us to concentrate on God. If a friend came over to talk, we would not spend time looking out of the window, watching TV, or playing with our cell phones, would we? So when we spend time with God, we should put our energies into focusing on Him.
Be quiet before God and listen to Him
God tells us to give Him all our burdens (Matt. 11:28) and anxieties (1 Peter 5:7) and just be still and quiet before Him (Ps. 46:10). He wants us to learn from Him (Matt. 11:29).
May we say, “I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Ps. 131:2 NIV). A child that is weaned no longer cries for its mother’s milk. It is just satisfied to be with its mother. Is that how we are before God? I hope so.
It’s easy to use our prayer time to tell God what we want rather than to ask Him what He wants. Or even if we ask God what He wants, we tend to interpret it based on our desires. And if it’s something we don’t want, we often won’t do it.
Enjoy God above all else
Instead, we can aim to spend our prayer time focusing on God and not ourselves. If we are full of our problems and worries, there is little room for God. But if we delight ourselves in Him, He promises to give us the desires of our hearts (see Ps. 37:4). It’s that simple; if we give up our failing, sputtering lives in exchange for His glorious joyful will, we will find all we need. May He fill our hearts with Himself.
This last key is perhaps the most practical. The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”2 Our time with God should be when we give Him our attention, when we surrender ourselves to Him, and when we worship Him. We center our lives on Him, not ourselves. As the psalmist says, “God [is] my exceeding joy” (Ps. 43:4 NASB). Can you say that? We were made to enjoy being in His presence. Only He is worthy!
May our prayer times not be just a memory of days long past. May our daily times with the Lord be an expression of our ever-present relationship with Him.
1. Paraphrase from http://bibletruthchatroom.com/2011/05/prayer-in-the-presence-of-god (accessed February 4, 2021).
2. Shorter Catechism of the Assembly of Divines, www.apuritansmind.com/westminster-standards/shorter-catechism (accessed November 30, 2020).