When you sit down to pray, do you feel like you are in a battle with your own mind to stay focused? We frequently find ourselves struggling to keep our minds from wandering to the most random of thoughts and problems when we are trying to spend time communing with God. From thinking about work, to what needs to be fixed on the car, to what you are going to have for lunch that day; all of these things are battling to disrupt our time in prayer. One method that can be helpful to keeping our prayers focused, is using God’s Word to give our prayers direction. Having this direction not only keeps our minds from wandering, but it also will cultivate a deeper communion with God as we allow his Word to guide the very way we pray.
Praying with Scripture
When we think about the Ten Commandments, we tend to think of something very cold and impersonal—a mere list of rules God has given us to show how he desires us to live, while also revealing our own inability to obey and our desperate need for the gospel of Jesus Christ to save us from our sin. At most, the Ten Commandments tend to become a mere jumping off point for us to get to the gospel itself rather than an opportunity to commune with God and allow His Word to examine our hearts.
For the Reformer Martin Luther, The Ten Commandments were more than a cold and calculating list of rules, but a chance for him to meditate on God’s perfect moral law and allow it powerfully impact his day to day life. But, it is important to note that he did not see the Ten Commandments as a means to earn his own salvation and God’s favor; he was always quick to point to salvation being by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Luther believed that every Christian should regularly spend time mediating upon, and prayerfully considering the Commandments in order to allow God’s Word to actively speak into the life of the Believer. His use of the Commandments then was not about earning his own salvation, but instruction for the spiritual growth of every person who was in submission to Christ as Lord and Savior. Thankfully, he left us some basic instruction on the process he used during his life to guide and shape his own spiritual walk with Christ.
A Simple Way to Pray
“I divide each [biblical] command into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands”
“I am the Lord your God, …You shall have no other gods before me,”
Here I earnestly consider that…my heart must not build upon anything else or trust in any other thing, be it wealth, prestige, wisdom, might, piety, or anything else. Second, I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and, unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help, and strength in every time of need…Third, I confess…for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry. I repent of these and ask for his grace. Fourth, I pray…preserve my heart so that I shall never again become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to thee, my only God.”
– Martin Luther, “A Simple Way to Pray,” 200-01.
Allowing God’s Word to Speak
Luther did not approach the Commandments as a simple list of rules to be obeyed, but an opportunity to cultivate a spirit of worship for God to change his heart, mind, and ultimately his life. He was quick to point out though that a proper understanding of the Commandments, and any text for that matter, was required before time was spent using this method. Because while it is good to allow God’s Word to guide our prayers, we need to be sure of what God is intending to communicate in any given passage before we can apply it in our life. But once the correct instruction was received, this method allowed Luther to move through this process to create the full “garland of four strands” to allow God’s Word to direct his prayer and deepen his relationship with God.
I believe all of us have something to be learned from Luther, as he was somebody who was known for the fervency of his prayer life. Most of the time in prayer, we move quickly into our list of requests we have for God, instead of allowing His Word to direct our prayers and search our own hearts to grow our adoration for God Himself. Obviously, there is a time and a place for our requests to be made to God, but Luther would argue those prayers should be made after we have spent the proper time in worship and confession so our hearts are more aligned to God.
Sometime this week spend some time praying through one or two of the Commandments, and allow it to guide the direction of your prayer. I have found that when my mind is prone to wander, it is much easier to keep focus when the foundation of my prayer is directed by the Word of God.