In Matthew 6, Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray. When we enter into this story, our eyes tend to move directly to the specific words Jesus used in His instruction. In this post, I want to draw your attention to the texts before the infamous "Lord's Prayer" to help unlock a deeper experience in prayer that God is inviting you to and give a few points on how you might engage in solitude and silence in the midst of your everyday life.
Jesus begins teaching his disciples about prayer in Matthew 6:5-9 with instruction on how to posture themselves in prayer. "Go hide in your room" and "do not come with a long list of requests" would be how I might paraphrase that. But what jumps out even more is how tightly Jesus draws their attention to their relationship with God as their Father. Jesus is emphasizing their intimate presence with a God who "already knows".
The reality that "God already knows" has many implications for my life and for the lives of those I walk through life with that do not already know God. Jesus does not suggest that we first "get our life ordered" before coming before the presence of God. The implications of the first part of this passage are that God is inviting us as we are into a quiet place alone with Him. In that space of solitude with God, there is reward.
What is the reward that God extends to us in the Lord's prayer? To oversimplify my experience of that, or to attempt an explanation of it will cheapen it for you. Instead, I want to invite you into how I have postured solitude and silence in my own life and how that has helped inform how I serve others where I live, work, and play. I am experiencing that "reward" is expanding every day.
Solitude is the first movement in the Lord's prayer. For me, this looks like going into my office, sitting in my "prayer chair" and settling in.
This may seem ridiculous to bring up, but when was the last time you paid attention to your breathing? I live in a world that rewards hustling. The more you do, the faster you do, the better you are rewarded. In prayer, I am invited to slow down and sit in the presence of God. (Did you just read that line? That's audacious, isn't it? To sit in the presence of the All-Mighty God?). So to counter my culture, I pay attention to my breathing to help me slow down and pay attention to "my Father in Heaven".
I am beginning to think more and more that prayer is a practice of paying attention to God (who identifies as my Father in heaven and whose name is holy). That feels overly simplistic, but it is quite difficult for me to pull off. I see all these challenges in the lives of people I am serving as well as my own and I am waiting for God to notice those things and DO SOMETHING ABOUT THEM! The Lord's Prayer teaches us to pay attention, first, to my Father in heaven and trust that He is working everything out according to His sovereign plan.
When I find that I'm really able to pay attention, I begin to notice that God is extending to me what I need (my daily bread) for the moments I find myself in and is teaching me how to better respond in life situations (forgiving my sins and bringing correction to my path).
God invites us to participate in the world where He is at work. The final line in the scripted prayer points our attention to God's steady hand of protection as we enter into those moments. It is in this moment that I become clear with what I am invited to do and what I am going to do in response to my time with God.
I find when I come out of silence with God that I am more aware of His presence, more attentive to my response patterns throughout the day, and more focused in who and how I am invited to partner with God in the lives of other people. The clarity of focus and the pace in which I engage are both sharpened for me. I am beginning to find that this type of prayer throughout my day is an essential practice that I have begun to crave.
I leave you with these three closing questions to consider