“As my prayers became more attentive and inward, I had less and less to say. I finally became completely silent…. This is how it is. To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking. Prayer involves becoming silent, and being silent, and waiting until God is heard.” – Soren Kierkegaard
People often complain of distractions during prayer. Their mind goes wandering off on to other things. This is nearly always due to praying for something you do not really much want; you just think it would be proper and respectable and religious to want it. So you pray high-mindedly for big but distant things like peace in Northern Ireland or you pray that your aunt will get better from the flu — when in fact you do not much care about these things; perhaps you ought to, but you don’t. And so your prayer is rapidly invaded by distractions arising from what you really do want — promotion at work, let us say. Distractions are nearly always your real wants breaking in on your prayer for edifying but bogus wants. If you are distracted, trace your distraction back to the real desires it comes from and pray about these. When you are praying for what you really want you will not be distracted. People on sinking ships do not complain of distractions during their prayer. —Herbert McCabe, British theologian
When you don’t know what to pray, you can’t go too wrong with this approach:
- Read a scripture. Not just one verse, but a whole chunk of Bible, like a chapter.
- Acknowledge the things in your life that are consuming your thoughts.
- Let the scripture and your concerns stew together in your mind. Mull them over. Try to see similarities, and differences, between the scripture and your concerns (or whatever it is that occupies your thoughts).
- Be open to new ways of thinking about your beliefs and attitudes (think Acts 10:9-23). Do this without judging others who hold contrary beliefs. The task at hand is prayer – building relationship between yourself and God, which has not much to do with anyone else’s beliefs.
- Make portions of the scripture your prayer. Apply them to your concerns.
Are you unsure of where to start reading in the Bible? Or do you have trouble reading? Try the Daily Audio Bible (DAB). Each week features a different translation of the Bible. Each day has readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. At the end of the readings, Brian Hardin offers some thoughts, which can be helpful for jumpstarting your prayer life.
Monday night, the DAB Old Testament reading began in Nehemiah. My concern currently has been for the Christians in Iraq. I found my prayer changing to “Lord, raise up leaders among the refugees, leaders like Nehemiah, with a passion for their people, full of the Holy Spirit. Let the Holy Spirit give them the right words to say at the proper times, that they might build up the people so they might become spiritually mighty.”
I’m not super-spiritual, but that was a far cry from my prayers of earlier that day.