From our home in Florida I find myself taking my morning prayer walk with three garbage trucks making their weekly rounds. The quiet of the neighborhood with the chirping of the birds is displaced with the grinding and growling of the garbage trucks. My view of the sun streaking through the trees is distracted by glimpses of the garbage going into the trucks, and the aroma of the morning air is covered by a whiff of the smell of garbage.
This hardly seems a holy and sacred way to pray, but I came to realize it is. The presence of the garbage trucks is a metaphor on how to pray well! The truth is, the garbage isn’t just in the garbage cans and trucks, it’s in me too! I am often amazed, maybe shocked would be a better word, how often while I try to pray that I’m distracted by thoughts which aren’t at all holy.
I find myself struggling with a bad and wrong attitude about something or someone, tempting thoughts demand I think about them, fear about a situation floods in, and distracting thoughts capture my attention and keep me from concentrating on what I think I should be praying about. I feel like pausing and confessing to God, “But I digress.”
John Newton, the famous composer of the hymn Amazing Grace, wrote in a letter, “But I am sure, that were my outward life and conduct perfectly free from blame, the disorders and defilement of my imagination are sufficient to constitute me a chief sinner, in the sight of Him to whom the thoughts and intents of the heart are continually open—and who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity!” What a relief; even the great and godly John Newton had thoughts far worse than many of his actions, and I suspect some even sneaked into his prayers!
Here’s a secret to great and powerful praying that I’ve identified in such experiences as I just described. A secret to great praying is to pray honestly! Whatever comes to mind while we’re trying to talk with God, not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well, make for good subjects for prayer. God has broad shoulders muscled with His grace and mercy and His love is unconditional; He can handle it. Go ahead and do some honest to God praying!
Whatever creeps into our minds while praying probably is something we need to talk about with God in prayer. Most certainly we’ll end up pleading for His help, asking for His forgiveness, and expressing gratitude that He does forgive. That’s all good!
Our practiced and often repeated routine prayers with the right sounding holy words and an insistence on getting through our list of prayer requests can be boring for us, and, I suspect, for God too! We need to get real in our praying.
Yes, it’s good to be intentional about what we bring to God in prayer, trying to have some balance between worship, requests, confession, and thanksgiving. But it’s also important to talk to God and deal with what happens to come to mind that seems to be distracting us from praying. Maybe, just maybe, those intrusive thoughts can help us to really pray!
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” Psalm 73:21-23