As I am reading through Carson’s book on prayer, he is starting out with some principles on prayer which have opened my eyes to some things which I need to work on in my prayer life. I hope these principles will be of use not just to me but to those who read them. Today I will post the first two principles.
1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.
We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray. That means we must self-consciously set aside time to do nothing but pray. What we actually do reflects our highest priorities. That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words. The reason we pray so little is that we do not plan to pray. Wise planning will ensure that we devote ourselves to prayer often, even if for brief periods: it is better to pray often with brevity than rarely but at length. But the worst option is simply not to pray–and that will be the controlling pattern unless we plan to pray. If we intend to change our habits, we must start here.
2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift.
Anyone who has been on the Christian way for a while knows there are times when our private prayers run something like this: “Dear Lord I thank you for the opportunity of coming into your presence by the merits of Jesus. It is a wonderful blessing to call you Father…. I wonder where I left my car keys? [No, no! Back to business.] Heavenly Father, I began by asking that you will watch over my family–not just in the physical sphere, but in the moral and spiritual dimensions of our lives…. Boy, last Sunday’s sermon was sure bad. I wonder if I’ll get that report writ tong on time? [No, no!] Father, give real fruitfulness to that missionary couple we support, whatever their name is…. Oh, my! I had almost forgotten I promised to fix my son’s bike today….” Or am I the only Christian who has ever had problems with mental drift?
One of the most useful things is to vocalize your prayers. This does not mean they have to be so loud that they become a distraction to others, or worse, a kind of pious showing off. It simply means you articulate your prayers, moving your lips perhaps; the energy devoted to expressing your thoughts in words and sentences will order and discipline your mind, and help deter meandering. Another thing you can do is pray over the Scriptures; it is entirely appropriate to tie your praying to your Bible reading.
Also, at many periods in the history of the church, spiritually mature and disciplined Christians have kept what might be called spiritual journals. The Puritans often used them to record their experiences with God, their thoughts and prayers, their triumphs and failures. Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, takes a page to record what he did and thought the day before, and then to write out some prayers for the day ahead of him. The real value of journaling, I think, is several-fold:
(a) It enforces a chance of pace, a slowing down. It ensures time for prayer. If you are writing your prayers, you are not daydreaming.
(b) It fosters self-examination. It is an old truism that only the examined life is worth living. If you do not take time to examine your own heart, mind, and conscience from time to time, in the light o fGod’s Word, and deal with what you find, you will become encrusted with the barnacles of destructive self-righteousness.
(c) It ensures quiet articulation both of your spiritual direction and of your prayers, and this in turn fosters self-examination and therefore growth. Thus, journaling impedes mental drift.
The danger in this one, as in all of them, is that the person who is formally conforming to such a regime may delude himself or herself into thinking that the discipline is an end in itself, or ensures one of an exalted place in the heavenlies: true spirituality can never be coerced. Such dangers aside, you can greatly improve your prayer life if you combine these first two principles: set apart time for praying, and then use practical ways to impede mental drift.
~From D.A. Carson’s book “A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers.”~