Last week, I issued an invitation to join me in a lunch hour fast on Wednesdays with the intention of praying for our church's future. As with all Lenten disciplines, the goal is a change in our actions that produces a change in heart. Although we may not continue to fast after Lent concludes, I hope the practice of setting aside time specifically to seek the Lord for the sake of our church will continue in your times with Him.
One of the greatest challenges to such times of prayer are distractions. As we see in the passage above, and throughout the gospels, Jesus often slipped away to a lonely and quiet place to pray. He models for us what we need to do in creating such times with our Heavenly Father. We need to block out time in a quiet place. Quiet places are hard to find in the midst of our day, and may require creativity to discover. During a lunch hour, it may be going to your car without your phone.
Finding a place for prayer requires intentionality. Seek a place where you can be alone with the Lord. Upon finding such a place, the distractions may not immediately cease. Typically, once we have found a still quiet place, the distractions begin internally. Our minds race with thoughts. The events and activities of the day, the tasks yet to complete, the problems, ideas, reminders flood in. We are so unaccustomed to such still moments that we often cannot just shut them down and be still before the Lord.
One practice I have found helpful in making this transition is having something to focus upon. Sometimes it is a hymn or song I know by heart. In singing or humming it, I am able to transition from other things to set my sights upon the Lord. At other times it is a Psalm, a familiar one, like Psalm 23, that I read slowly to turn my mind to Him. And still at other times, it is just slowly saying the name of Jesus over and over to help me in this transition.
Yet, even after transitioning, it may be difficult to fully embrace the stillness. In such times, where our minds continue to race, it is helpful to keep a notepad and paper handy. As thoughts enter your mind, jot them down and move on. This allows freedom to not fixate upon them, in fear of forgetting them later. And as you do so, you slowly begin to find your mind clear and embrace the quiet. Dedicate yourself and the time to the Lord, asking for His will to be done.
Prayer takes practice. Not unlike physical muscles, our spiritual muscles need building up. As you continue to set aside such times to be with the Lord again this week, follow Jesus' example. Seek out a quiet and lonely place, free from distractions, so that you can pray and be in the presence of the Lord. Next week, and in the weeks to follow, we will look more fully at how we can spend such times in prayer.