My family has a joke taken from the Pixar film Up. Dogs in Up have a device which lets them speak in human language; what they don’t have is a long attention span. The dogs often stop mid-sentence to yell “Squirrel!” when they smell or see anything that might be one. So when someone in the family, usually me, gets on a tangent or jumps subjects quickly, we’ll say, “Squirrel!” like the dogs from Up. When I sit down to pray or to have a time of silence with the Lord, I start with the best intentions. Still, I usually end up easily distracted and scatter-brained like the dogs in Up.
Admitting I struggle with prayer can make me feel ashamed and inadequate. Shouldn’t I constantly be lifting up holy hands? Shouldn’t it be easy for me to pray in sustained and substantive ways? At times, it isn’t.
Praying scripture helps me with my prayer problems, giving me focus in the midst of distraction.
My unfocused mind is often distracted by the thoughts of the day. Praying scripture can help focus and direct my prayers in ways that are effective and meaningful.
My perception of God can often be replaced by idolatrous distortions. I often form in my mind a view of God that’s very different from the God of the Bible. Like everyone, my gaze focuses solely on God’s judgement or solely on God’s mercy. I get bogged down in doctrinal disputes and frivolous theological questions. Praying scripture can recalibrate my mind to the true nature of God.
Praying through chapters like Psalm 145 can paint an accurate picture of the God who is righteous, compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. Psalm 145 reminds me that, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them” (v. 17-19)— even the distant and the distracted.
My heart is often unrepentant and dark. Praying scriptures like Psalm 51, where David prays “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v. 10), begins to let the Spirit change my heart and highlight things I need to turn from.
On a simple level, using the words of the Bible helps me focus and gives me good things to pray about. Starting a new day? Pray like Jesus. Missing your friends? Pray like Paul. Mad at God? Pray like David. Thankful to God? Again, pray like David.
Beyond that, scripture can be like a tuning fork which reminds me what it sounds like, looks like, and feels like to worship the one true God. I get distracted, distorted, and distant so easily. Scripture helps me in returning to my first love. Scripture gets me away from being distracted by my needs, my perceptions of God, and my limited understandings, and then moves me toward being focused on God’s provision and God’s work in the world.
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