As a child I had the privilege of spending a month on the farm with my grandparents each summer. I learned to drive a tractor, feed chickens, and herd cattle, but the most important lesson I learned came before dinner each evening. As we assembled around the table, I dreaded the pre-meal prayer. My grandpa sat at the head of the table, and once everyone was seated he bowed his head and began to pray. When my grandpa prayed you knew you were going to be there for a while. He launched into what seemed like a one-hour prayer before every meal, and I would sit at the other end of the big kitchen table thinking, "I want mashed potatoes."
All that changed one day shortly before my grandpa's death. He began to pray as he had so many times before, but this time I wasn't thinking about the potatoes; I was focusing on his prayer. He prayed for his family as though our well being depended on his prayer. He prayed for the kingdom of God like it was the most important thing in the world. And as he prayed he began to weep. It wasn't the first time he had cried while he was praying, and in the past I always thought it was a little strange. I don't know if it was the maturity that comes with being 12 or the Holy Spirit making me pay attention, but this time it grabbed my attention and I was moved—I wanted to start crying too. I understood that he was weeping because he cared about his petitions with a depth I couldn't fully fathom. His prayer was passionate and meaningful. His mind and his heart were fully engaged as he cried out to his Father.
Prayer should be a moving experience. It is entering the presence of the Creator. The image bearers uniting with the One whose image they bear. The broken feeling—the touch of the Healer. Entering the presence of the God who defies our explanation and cannot be contained should never be a boring experience. Yet it often leaves us uninspired. Why?
The answer to that question starts with a study recently conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of British Colombia. They joined forces to study reading comprehension—with incredible results. According to the researchers, "The readers who zoned out most tended to do the worst on tests of reading comprehension — a significant, if not surprising, result." Really?
As trite as the findings of this study are, they are profound for our prayer lives. We are left uninspired and wanting because we are not completely present with God when we pray. We thank God for the food we're about to consume, but our thoughts regress to the meeting we had that afternoon. We ask God to protect our kids while we ponder how to survive until the next paycheck. We sit down to listen to God and our mind wanders uncontrollably. We lack the ability or discipline to be truly present with God in prayer. Our culture has trained our minds to wander.
One way it has done that is by demanding that we multitask. Not multitasking is seen as wasting time. Our lives are so busy that to do one thing at a time just isn't efficient. I recently noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that said, "Put the phone down and drive!" But we don't have time to put down our phones, the food we grabbed at the drive-thru, the makeup, or even the paper. We have to maximize every moment by multi-tasking as many things as possible. The problem with multitasking is that it trains the mind to jump from task to task. As we work on one thing, our mind runs to other things that need to be accomplished. So we quit our original task to give attention to the task that just popped into our head, and this process repeats itself.