The Lost Art of Attention: Making Time and Space for Prayer

We live in a noisy world in which busyness is often treated as a badge. Even as we complain about our busyness, many of us would be lost without it. Conscious of it or not, it becomes a defining piece of our identity and worth — in our eyes and in others’.

In our world of constant movement, it can be frustratingly difficult to find consistency and intimacy in prayer. I’m definitely speaking from personal experience. In recent weeks, God has been teaching me about the lost art of attention and how to recover it in the midst of a world that competes for our focus with excessive volume and motion.

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To sit in the presence of God in prayer is an act of love and obedience to be sure. It also has a lot in common with the ancient practice of Sabbath. Both are acts of trust. When we choose to step out of our busyness for a moment, we trust that the world will spin without our maintenance. We trust that our work was never really in our hands to begin with.

Speaking for myself, even when I finally sit down to pray, it’s not long before my mind drifts off. I fear that I have destroyed my ability to focus. Faced with the choice between a long exertion and a quick reward, I will consistently chose the latter. But just as I’ve trained my brain to be distracted, I can re-train myself to foster attentiveness. I can’t cure my distraction, but I can give God space to do it.

In the section below, I’ve included a brief description of one practice that has been enormously restorative for me in recent weeks (I’m a novice at this), which I pray will be equally helpful for you as you seek to make prayer a more regular and rich part of your daily life.

There is no magic formula for intimacy with God, any more than there is a magic diet to make us instantly fit and fabulous. But I hope that this simple practice will help you to fold prayer into your daily rhythms so you can live in obedience and fullness in him.

If you’re interested in trying this, I encourage you to stick with it for two weeks. Have patience with your frustration; have patience with yourself. When you struggle with distraction, tell God about it and ask him to help focus you.

PRAYING THE HOURS

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The inspiration for this practice is drawn from the numerous places in the Bible where we’re exhorted to or shown an example of someone who prays always, remembering the Lord throughout the day and night (rf. Psalm 1:2; 119:164; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It also mimics the pattern of prayer in the Israelites’ temple worship. There are records of this form of prayer being outlined in the 6th century or earlier.

Put simply, it is a set of times during the day when we stop to pray, focusing on certain themes. The goal is to saturate our days with prayer, living in awareness of God’s presence. The prayers form a rhythm of sacred pauses in the day when we stop to refocus and to remember God in prayer. There are different forms available. I suggest this arrangement, adapted from Jen Hatmaker and Macrina Wiederkehr:

1. The Awakening Hour (at the start of the day):
As you wake, remember God’s goodness. We begin a new day where our lives can become a living praise. It is a time to celebrate. A time to celebrate reform, healing, transformation. Commit the day to Jesus and ask him to help you live in love, truth, and attentiveness today.

2. The Blessing Hour (mid-morning):
We invite the Spirit to stir our souls and redirect us before the day gets away from us. We recommit our work to him, asking for creativity, composure, inspiration, and love. We ask him to bless the work of our hands to reveal to us its sacredness, whatever our work may be. We stop to remember his presence.

3. The Hour of Illumination (mid-day):
Noon is the brightest moment of the day. We pause to recommit ourselves to being his lights in our daily worlds. We ask the Spirit to give us light to see ourselves — recognizing places where we are harboring bitterness, fear, pride, etc. We ask him to show us things as they really are, cutting through deception and despair. We pray that he would use us to bring light and love to the people in our day.

4. The Wisdom Hour (mid-afternoon):
We embrace the themes of surrender, forgiveness and wisdom. We recognize the impermanence of life and acknowledge that all things are passing. In this hour we pray for wisdom to help us live fully and courageously. We ask for perspective of the short, fleeting day, the short, passing life. We release our grudges, offer our gifts to God and embrace our time on earth.

5. The Twilight Hour (evening):
Also called vespers, the theme of this hour is gratitude and serenity. We ask ourselves, what was the greatest blessing of the day? What was a lovely accomplishment?  What can I lay to rest until tomorrow? With whom do I need to make peace? As we transition from day to evening, we ask for God to calm our minds and hearts with his peace and we remember his presence with us. We thank him for the day — the joys and the pains — thank him for his presence with us, and remember the blessings of whatever season of life we are in.

6. The Great Silence (the end of your day):
This prayer concludes our day with a gentle evaluation focusing on awareness, weaknesses, strengths, and accomplishments of the day. If you have children or a spouse, this a beautiful prayer to do together. We pray for protection as we sleep and welcome the night’s rest as a time for God to restore our brokenness and weariness. We let go of the day, releasing it into God’s hands. It was his from the start. It remains his.

7. The Night Watch (midnight — or right before you fall asleep):
This is a moment spent in waking silence — a deep prayer, interceding, keeping a vigil with Christ who never sleeps and guards us in our darkest hours. We advocate for others who are suffering, abandoned, oppressed, and lonely. It is a great time to remember our persecuted brothers and sisters in the world as well as those suffering physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually in our own families, church, and community.

For more teaching on prayer, listen to the sermons from our January 2016 prayer series, Hunger for God.

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