How to Pause in Prayer

Last week I introduced a new sermon series on prayer called How to Pray. The series is based on The Lord’s Prayer with insights from a book by Pete Greig called How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People. 

According to Luke 11:1, the disciples came to Jesus with a request, “Teach us to pray…” And Jesus said, “This is how you should pray…” (Luke 11:2a NLT). Then He launched into a model prayer that has endured through the ages, “Our Father…”

For us, that’s a familiar prompt to continue, “…who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.” But I have a feeling the disciples interrupted Jesus right after, “Our Father…,” because they had never heard such a thing.

By using the term “Father,” Jesus introduced a new way of talking about and to God. The Old Testament people of God did not think of Him in this way. Instead, they referred to God in terms such as “Elohim” (Mighty Creator), “Yahweh” (The LORD), and “Adonai” (Master or Lord). 

For the LORD (Yahweh) your God is the God (Elohim) of gods and the Lord (Adonai) of lords. (Deuteronomy 10:17a NLT)

But Jesus didn’t use any of these names for God in His model prayer. In such a way, Christ gave us a new revelation about the God of Israel. He is not far off and removed from us. Instead, He can be approached and spoken to as we would our father. 

In a later prayer, Jesus even went so far as to call God “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36). Abba is an Aramaic word that is probably best translated as “daddy.” So the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer communicate that God is One who is near and dear to us (i.e. a loving Dad). 

I feel confident that the use of that term of endearment gave the disciples pause as they began to learn about prayer…and it should do the same for us. As a matter of fact, in his book on the Lord’s Prayer, Pete Greig claims it is the first step in learning how to pray: “To start we must stop. To move forward we must pause. This is the first step in a deeper prayer life: Put down your wish list and wait. Sit quietly.”

So you and I need to learn how to pause before we rejoice, ask, or yield in prayer. Let’s look at why learning to pause in prayer is so valuable. 

Learning to pause in prayer brings…

1) Realization 

Rather than referring to it as “The Lord’s Prayer,” our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters call it simply, “The Our Father.” I think they’re on to something. 

When we say “The Lord’s Prayer,” we think of it as something to repeat. But when we pray “The Our Father,” we are reminded that it is Someone to address. And that fact brings a realization that our prayers are not directed to some higher power, impersonal life force, or even an Almighty God. It is our Father who has created us, given us life, and sustained us every step of the way. We are then left with a sense of awe and a sense that we have someone who is on our side. 

Don’t you think that realization should shape the rest of our prayers?

Also, we realize this God isn’t just “my” Father, He is “our” Father. That means none of us is an only child. Instead, we are part of a family. We approach God not as isolated individuals seeking our own good, but as a collective group seeking the good of all. 

And, if God is our Father (yours and mine), it means we have to share Him. None of us get to put up a sign in front of God: “Private Property: Keep Out.” At the get-go, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us there is no place for a “God and me” brand of religion. It’s always “God and us”.

It’s important for us also to realize that “our” includes Jesus. We don’t approach God alone or even surrounded by people just like us. We come into God’s presence with Christ, the eternal Son of God, by our side. 

Have you ever noticed we don’t end the Lord’s Prayer with “in Jesus’ name”? We don’t have to because we start with “Our Father.” Both phrases mean our access to God is based on our relationship with His Son Jesus. It’s on the merits of His righteousness, not our own. 

Do you see why it’s so important to learn to pause in prayer?

It brings a realization of who God is and keeps us from rushing right in and starting to ask for things, which is our typical mode of operation in prayer. 

Prayer is a vital means of communication because this is a relationship we’re involved in, it’s not a transaction. We understand the value of pausing even when we do business with someone. 

In the South we call it “exchanging pleasantries.” We don’t walk into the bank and say, “So did I get the loan or not?” Instead, we begin, “So how’s your family? Did you son get that job?”

As parents, how do we feel when we walk in the house and the first thing we hear is, “What did you bring me? Are you going to play ball with me?” We long for at least a “Hey, Dad” or “I’m glad you’re home.” 

That’s the realization a brief pause brings – we’re with our Father. And that means our words aren’t nearly as important as just being there. 

When I saw my dad for the last time in the hospital, I’m sure I walked in and said, “Hey, old man!” (our mutually agreed upon term of endearment ☺). I don’t remember much about that visit, but what I do remember is being there as a family, together with my wife and our young kids laying right beside him. 

Maybe we’d learn how to pray when we take that image with us into our time with God. But for that to happen, we need to pause and come to a realization of who we’re with. 

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10a NLT) 

Do you understand what the Lord is trying to say to us? 

We need to stop talking at God long enough to focus on who He is. Simply pausing long enough to call Him “our Father” brings us to that realization. 

2) Relaxation 

Prayer can easily become another item on our “to do” list (another task to check off). If you’re like me, it’s kind of like shopping. You want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. 

And we tend to bring our frantic lives into the place of prayer. In other words, we’re distracted and driven. Isn’t that how we typically live? We need to slow down and pause in order to enjoy our time of prayer. 

In Mark 4, we’re told about a time when Jesus and the disciples were in a boat in the midst of a storm causing the disciples to be in an uproar. When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39 NLT)

I’ve always wondered whether Jesus was speaking to the storm or to the disciples. I have a feeling Jesus oftentimes wants to say to us, “Silence! Be still!”

Our word, “still,” comes from the Latin meaning “vacate.” So when the Bible says, “be still,” it is the Lord telling us to take a vacation. Just enjoy a moment of leisure or a little bit of freedom from the rat race. In other words, relax! 

That’s an interesting concept, isn’t it? Prayer provides a time of relaxation. 

Our word, relaxation comes from Latin, “loosen, decrease tension.” It’s like loosening your belt a notch or two or reducing tension in your neck. Entering prayer in silence or stillness is like hitting the pause button on our lives and taking a relaxing vacation. It may be a mini vacation, but a vacation nonetheless. 

Listen to the invitation Jesus once gave to His disciples: Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31a NLT)

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when we pause. 

So before we start talking to God we need to stop talking and just relax in His presence. But we don’t like silence, do we? 

We fill our lives with noises to the point that we’re addicted to it. Our culture conditions us to be comfortable with noise and crowds, not with silence and solitude. By turning off the noise, we are able to be fully present with our Father.  

I remember going to my mom’s house where the TV was on CNN 24/7 and thinking, “Can we turn that off so we can just talk?” At the same time, I’d find myself checking my phone while eating a meal with her. So I learned to hit the “pause button” by putting it away. 

When we learn to pause in prayer, it brings a sort of relaxation into our lives that is a little bit of heaven on earth because we are with our Father who art in heaven. 

3) Reorientation

Here’s what we’re going to discover as we learn how to pray. It’s not about getting what we want, it’s about realigning our lives with God’s will. 

Eugene Peterson (who wrote The Message translation of the Bible) makes this observation in one of his books: “Life’s basic decision is rarely, if ever, whether to believe in God or not, but whether to worship or compete with him.” 

In response, Pete Greig says, “One of the main differences between you and God is that God doesn’t think he’s you.” 

We need to pause to remind ourselves that the world does not depend on us. It’s a good starting point for prayer because it enables us to quit competing with God and trying to do what only He can do. 

That’s a radical reorientation, isn’t it? We somehow have been fooled into thinking that effective prayer depends on saying all the right things, but maybe the best way to start praying is actually to stop praying, to hit pause. 

We’d do well to heed the words of the psalmist who tells us: Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. (Psalm 37:7a NLT)

So here’s some really good news for some of you: if you don’t know what to say in prayer, you may be in a very good place. It’s not up to you to do or say anything. It’s about waiting for God to act. 

Consider this: what if God is in the one place we never or seldom go – the silent place. 

A fascinating story about the Lord and how he acts is found in the book of 1st Kings. With God’s help, the prophet Elijah defeated 450 prophets of Baal in a showdown on Mount Carmel. Fleeing for his life, he traveled 40 days and 40 nights to Sinai, the mountain of God. There, God promised to appear to Elijah. 

As Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper… And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

(1 Kings 19:11-13 NLT)

We want the “big sign” (windstorm, earthquake, fire), don’t we? But God normally speaks in a whisper. We need to eliminate the voices of the world in order to hear the voice of God. 

Pete Greig arrives at this conclusion: “You must seek solitude and silence as if your life depends on it, because in a way, it does.” 

It’s only when we learn to pause in prayer that we are able to reorient our lives so that we can hear from God and receive all that He has for us. 

So how do we pause in prayer? Pete Greig suggests these steps. 

1) Relax. Find a comfortable place to sit, lie, or kneel. The Bible teaches that posture matters so find a posture that is both comfortable and meaningful. For me, it’s actually walking around since I have a hard time sitting still.

2) Breathe. Take some slow, deep breaths. Inhale the Holy Spirit, exhale your burdens/concerns. Deep breathing is an antidote for worry and stress as it settles us down, helps us think more clearly (sends more oxygen to the brain), and even slows our heart rate. If this sounds a bit too mystical or New Age-ish, remember during one of His resurrection appearances, Jesus breathed on [his disciples] and said “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 NLT) and God breathed into Adam “the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). 

3) Speak. Start with a simple phrase, such as “Our Father,” “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” “Come, Holy Spirit,” or “My God and my all.” That last one was the centering prayer of Francis of Assisi. Use a term of address that is meaningful to you and helps you focus on God.

4) Repeat. You may need to repeatedly re-focus, especially when you first start the practice. 

We say, “Lord, teach us to pray…” And Jesus replies, “First, you need to learn how to pause. Just realize that you’re with your Father. Relax in His presence. Reorient yourself to His way of doing things.” 

As I’ve suggested, modern technology tends to get in the way of silence and stillness by filling our lives with noise and clutter. But it can also help. I recently came across the “One-Minute Pause App.” It is based on the concept of the “one minute pause” introduced by John Eldredge in his book, Get Your Life Back. It’s free and available on the App Store and Google Play. I highly recommend it.  

Let’s close by spending one minute in spoken prayer as we say the prayer Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Recommended Resources
How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People by Pete Greig
Free online study course on prayer: prayercourse.org/home
One-Minute Pause app (from the App Store or Google Play)

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