I hesitate to write this post. One because I don’t want to seem to be boasting in my own spiritual acumen–I’m certainly not a model of devotional fortitude. But I have found this discipline to be very helpful. It’s not a failsafe, of course. Nothing is, because I am jacked up, lazy, selfish sinner. Overall, though, you might find it helpful.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “An Approach to Prayer,” where I briefly described (of all things) the way I had started approaching prayer. Let me briefly recap: After spending some time in the Word, I sit down with a journal I use only for the purpose of prayer-journaling. Overflowing out of my Scripture reading comes the basic thrust of what I want to pray. I try to focus on God’s character, and to praise him, and confess my shortcomings, thank him for grace and ask him to change me. The impetus for this came from Paul Little’s book How to Give Away Your Faith. Toward the end, he says:
If we enter our quiet times with the purpose of getting something to remember, it will help to have a notebook and pen to write down new thoughts. I always keep a column of specific ways I can apply a truth. Sometimes I write down a prayer so that I can ask the Lord how to apply it. I’ve found that written prayers have few requests and far more worship in them (183).
I have sporadically journaled prayers in quiet times before, but never as a regular discipline — mostly because of laziness. Often in the past journaling a prayer would help me to clarify my own thoughts about what the passage says about God; it also would help to focus me onto the majesty of God himself. So, when I read Little’s advice above, I decided to try to make it a regular discipline in my quiet times.
It has helped me, and helped me a lot. Reading the Scriptures has never been the problem for me, but tying it into prayer usually would seem forced. I have tried many methods: letting my Scripture reading flow over into spontaneous prayer or praying through passages of Scripture such as the Psalms. Nothing would get me into focus, however; my mind wanders too much. I would find myself repeating phrases I didn’t really mean and wasn’t really thinking about.
This is not a cure all, of course. But it has helped me. Ideas are clarified in ink, and my mind finds focus better when I write. It’s usually not a long prayer — only one side of a journal page or so. When, however, I write it out and pray over it again, I find that I am consistently more in a frame and state of worship and prayer. I don’t typically write down requests. Those come after I’m done writing down praise, confession, and prayer for personal spiritual help. And the request for others come more genuinely and are generally less forced.
If you have had difficulty focusing on prayer in the past, you might want to consider this approach. It’s not a cure-all, quick fix. But I have found it helpful.