Prayer is the time to be still. It is a way to reflect. It is a time to be honest. It is the time for confession. It is the way by which we may seek God’s help, wisdom, and strength. It is the avenue for fresh inspiration and direction. Little wonder then when we consistently live without this discipline in the Christian life, we lose direction, power, and purpose.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Have you often wanted to spend time praying but ended up daydreaming or dozing off instead? Do you sometimes find yourself becoming distracted, interrupted, or otherwise dissuaded from spending more than five or ten minutes at a time in focused prayer? What is the secret to engaging wholeheartedly in hour-long—even daylong—prayer times?
No matter how persistent we are in our prayers, we all need help at times to minimize diversions and disruptions. Some of these are practical helps such as making a list of needs to refer to as reminders; praying out loud to keep our mind from wandering; kneeling so that we remain alert; and turning off the phone so that we avoid interruptions.
However, we need another and more powerful source of help also, and that is the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit into our lives to prepare our hearts and to know how and when to pray. Our part is to be attentive, watchful, ready, and obedient to turn our thoughts toward the thoughts of God.
“As the Spirit breathes out the ‘Father’ cry of a child, which is the prayer-cry, so He helps us in our praying. . . . He is the master-prayer,” writes S. D. Gordon. “He knows God’s will perfectly. He knows what’s best to be praying in all circumstances. And He is within you and me. . . . He prompts us to pray. He calls us to the quiet room to our knees. He inclines us to prayer wherever we are.”
Though we cannot comprehend the mystery of Jesus’ help and the Holy Spirit’s direction as we walk through life this side of heaven, we can choose: to patiently abide in Christ for the remainder of our lives; to sit at Jesus’ feet, quietly listening for His Word in the midst of a discordant chorus of competing voices; to wait on the Lord to renew our strength—before our own strength runs out; to call upon God for wisdom—especially when the way ahead is unclear; to pray “Thy will be done” as we lift our tear-stained hands in solitary gratitude to the only One who sees our hearts, bears our grief, feels our suffering, knows our needs, and understands our failures.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!
— Psalm 27:7-9, ESV
Dear Lord and Savior of Mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heat of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still small voice of calm!
— John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)