One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 NIV)
I’m not very good at prayer.
That might seem strange coming from a pastor. I’ve done a fair amount of teaching on prayer. I lead others in prayer every week. I’ve read more than a few books about prayer. But somehow, I still have a nagging sense that I’m not very good at it. Maybe what I’m really saying is that I rarely feel like I’m good at it.
I’m not as consistent as I’d like to be. I miss days here and there.
I’m not always as focused as I’d like to be. My mind wanders.
I’m not always as persistent as I’d like to be. I’ll pray about something for a while and then let it go (as in “God knows what to do”).
I guess I’m sharing this with you simply to say that if you struggle with prayer, you’re not alone. And I’m writing this week to encourage you. Don’t allow your practice of prayer to be determined by how you feel about praying, or about yourself as a pray-er.
Hitting Pause on “The Lord’s Prayer”
When Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus responded by giving them words to say. At times those words can serve as a script for prayer. At other times those words may serve as a pattern for our praying.
For the past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the words Jesus gave us to pray, but this week we’ll take a short pause from the content of “The Lord’s Prayer” and give our attention to the practice of prayer itself.
Consider this week a week of coaching. A prayer “boot camp” if you will.
Ok, “boot camp” might be a stretch. But my aim is to provide you with some skills and drills and practices that will take you beyond knowing the words of “The Lord’s Prayer” to understanding what to do with those words.
Here’s the bottom line for the week: The practice of prayer flourishes best with structure.
I’ll be quick to add that the practice of prayer is not limited to the structures I’ll be urging you to practice. Whether consciously or not, we have a way of constantly expressing our yearnings and concerns to God. It has been said that everyone prays, all the time. I get that. But a life of prayer, a discipline of prayer, won’t happen without some intent and structure.
That’s what I’d like to give some attention to this week.
“A Clock and a Closet”
Eugene Peterson once wrote that a life of prayer is not complicated. Sometimes we make it harder than it has to be. All we need, said Peterson, is “a clock and a closet.”
By “clock” Peterson is saying we need to determine or best time for prayer. Closely related to the “clock” might be your calendar. In other words, be deliberate about when you will give yourself to a focused practice of prayer.
In the monastic tradition there are seven times of prayer every day, beginning at 3am and ending before going to bed. Those times never change and haven’t for hundreds of years. But of course, we’re not monks. What matters is intent and consistency with the time of prayer.
By “closet” Peterson is saying we need to identify our place for prayer. That might be your kitchen table, your back deck, a favorite chair by a favorite window. But find a place and treat it as the place where you go to meet with God. Jesus said that when we pray, we should enter our closet and close the door (Matt. 6:6). Your place doesn’t have to be a “closet,” but you need a place.
The clock: when will you set aside time for prayer? It won’t be 3am (but I am an advocate for placing prayer at the start of your day).
The closet: where will you pray? Find a setting that allows you to give your attention to God and to speaking with God.
Your assignment today: get specific about the clock and the closet.
I’ll meet you tomorrow at the appointed time and place.
We give you thanks, O God, for the words your son Jesus gave us to pray. Today we confess that we need help with the act of prayer itself – finding the time and place to speak back to you the words given to us. This week we ask you to strengthen our resolve to cultivate a practice of prayer, and we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.