World class athletes often have a physical edge, but what really sets them apart is the work of preparation and their ability to concentrate. I often watch NBA players at the free throw line with hundreds of fans in the background trying to distract them with balloons or banners. It’s hard enough to hit a free throw without all the distractions, adrenaline and pressure of the situation that concentration is required. Probably, it’s a safe bet to say that to make the NBA (or any pro-level sport) that you’ve outworked your opponents and your concentration has been finely tuned.
When it comes to my life in prayer, (or as Chambers encourages, my holy occupation) I’d like to pray well. Now it’s easy to push preparation to the sidelines and not apply the discipline and concentration needed to get better, but I do want to follow in the steps of Jesus and the apostles and know how to pray. I want to encounter Jesus, I want to know that my prayers are heard, I want to be confident that I’ve done all that I have been asked to do in prayer.
(Now if you’re not sure that you want to get better at prayer or not sure why you’d want to be better at prayer, I’ll tackle that another day – for now, I’ll assume that you’d like to improve the quality of your practice of prayer.)
In Oswald Chambers’ writing, he identifies a number of qualities we can develop to grow strong in prayer. Each answers a different question:
- Boldness: What has Christ done for me?
- Childlikeness: What is my relationship to God looking like?
- Communion: When, in my schedule, will I meet with God?
- Concentration: Where will I go to meet with God?
- Discipline: What is the One thing that God will do through me?
Concentration and discipline go hand in hand but they do serve different purposes.
- “Impulse in anyone but a child is dangerous; it is the sign of something unstable and unreliable…The majority of us waste our time in mere impulses in prayer.”
- It’s my job, “God will not bring every thought and imagination into captivity; we have to do it, and that is the test of spiritual concentration.”
- “It is easier to pray in a place used only for prayer than it is to pray in a theatre.”
- “Beware lest activity in proclaiming the Truth should mean a cunning avoidance of spiritual concentration in intercession.”
- “Think of the enormous leisure of God! He is never in a hurry.”
- “If the devil cannot get at us by enticing us to sin, he will get at us by sleeping-sickness spirituality.”
- “The very powers of darkness are paralyzed by prayer. No wonder the devil tries to keep our minds fussy in active work, ’till we cannot think to pray.'”
- “Prayer is not an emotion, not a sincere desire; prayer is the most stupendous effort of the will.”
- “Prayer is often a temptation to bank on a miracle of God instead of on a moral issue; that is, it is easier to ask God to do my work than to do it myself.”
I’m feeling particularly challenged to carve out a practice of intercession. I’d rather be busy with activity, track it and chart it and measure it; but the Lord has a task for me to do – and it will be done by prayer. If it can be done without prayer, it’s not the task God gave me.
Questions for action and reflection: (in other words, don’t just think about it, change what needs changing Massey!)
- When do I make time to pray?
- Where is my dedicated prayer place?
- Is my prayer marked by impulsivity or concentration?
- Is there something I’m asking God to do that I’m to do?