No matter how much emphasis your church places on the season of Lent (the time from Ash Wednesday until the days leading up to Easter), it is always helpful to have a period of time to focus on the areas of our faith with which we struggle. This helps make room in our hearts to meditate on the death and resurrection of Christ.
For me, consistent prayer has always been a struggle. I believe that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective (James 5:16), and I pray constantly throughout the day for needs of mine or loved ones who come to mind. But it is difficult for me to commit a focused period of time in the morning and evening to lay my praises and requests before the Lord.
At these times of the day, I rarely pray as passionately as I would like for people I promise to pray for and the pressing needs of the community and the world. And I don't think I’m the only one who struggles with this.
I need some structure. I need a discipline that will help bring focus, one that is not monotonous but that also will keep me obedient in prayer even when I don’t feel like it.
I came across one way to pray in Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Like many other authors I’ve read, he talks about the essential importance of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4). The words of Jesus are vital in perfectly showing us how to relate to Father, but we need to not just repeat them, but to engage with them.
This means putting each part of the prayer into our own words so we can lift up that which is most relevant to our daily relationship with God and the world today. One of the keys to prayer is being authentic, so don’t be daunted by the weighty long words like “hallowed” (which means “set apart”).
I find this approach so helpful because I have direction in what pleases God (which is the whole reason I want to pray more consistently) and have the freedom to express myself to the One who genuinely cares about what is happening. It helps to write my prayer out so that I stay on track. And each day that I write a new prayer, I feel in touch with the words Christians have been praying for two millennia and also in touch with my own heart. Both are important.
During the season of Lent, I am trying this out to help me focus on prayer in a way that I haven’t before. Since Lent is for a limited amount of time, it feels more feasible in our overwhelmed lives to devote ourselves to God in a special way. I hope you might be inspired to do the same in whichever area of your life He is moving. The following is an example of this approach to prayer, adapted from my own journal. In parentheses are the corresponding parts of the Lord's Prayer.
Lord, great is your name and your heart for me. Thank you for being as near as the air around me. Your name is worthy of worship and honor for all that you are and do. (Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name.)
To those who don’t know your name – Yahweh – or don’t take it seriously enough, I pray they may treasure it too. I long for your coming, Jesus, and for you to make perfect all that’s gone so wrong. I lift up problems like gun violence, racial tension, oppressed workers, the abused, the poor, and all the other hurts of people whom you love. I know your heart hurts with us. Enable believers to continue to carry out the work you first started. (Your kingdom come,your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.)
I ask for hope and strength for today, provision for my future, and patience and love for all I come across. I pray for healing. Please help my friends and family in their struggles, and may I be a light to them. (Give us this day our daily bread.)
Help me forgive those who wrong me because I know you have forgiven me of so much, Lord. Thank you for your sacrifice on the cross. Never let me forget it. Please wash away my self-focus and hurtful words and thoughts. I want to live a holy life that pleases you. (Forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.)
Center my heart on you, not on all the negativity in my mind. Help me remember the Scripture I read so that I can be protected in moments of fear and temptation. Protect me and my loved ones physically and spiritually. When we do suffer, let your love bring us closer to you as you redeem the hurt for good. Thank you, Lord, for being so near to me in my messy life. Your love amazes me! (And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.)
In Jesus’ name, Amen.