Sometimes I find prayer quite difficult!
It's not that I don't want to pray, although sometimes I lack strong desire. It's not that I don't know the power of prayer, for I've certainly had plenty of times where God has deeply encouraged me both in prayer and through His answers to my prayers. It's that, quite simply, I sometimes find myself frustratingly distracted as I start in prayer. Why? Because my inner world is, in a word, cluttered.
I look at this picture of a cluttered room full of books and I get stressed. How can you find anything in there? Does our heart not sometimes end up like this room full of books...things stuffed into every nook and cranny, or just spilling out all over the place within.
We're preparing through prayer for fresh encounters with Jesus that overflow into helping others do likewise. Over the next few weeks we're going to de-clutter our hearts together to make sure we've made room for Jesus this Christmas. I imagine, without the practice of heart de-cluttering, Jesus is like the woman in this image, on one side of a wall of clutter trying to get through to us on the other side of the wall. In the cluttered heart, Jesus is obscured behind a wall of our own making.
What clutter do we collect in our hearts? Over the next few weeks, I'm going to look at these five:
Today, we'll look at the clutter of unfinished business.
Next week, we'll look at the clutter of guilt (the 'shoulds' in our lives).
Then we'll look at the clutter of painful experiences/memories.
Then we'll look at the clutter created by fears.
Then we'll look at the cluttering effect of doubts.
My goal, come the end of this de-cluttering work together, is that we'll have much more room in our hearts for Jesus - to hear Him and notice Him in our hearts and in our lives. This will not only set us up well for Christmas but for the new year ahead.
So what is 'unfinished business'? It is all the stuff we've got building up in our heads that we feel some emotional or mental attachment to because we've made a commitment to God, ourselves, or someone else to get it done. It's the unfinished emails, the yet to return calls, the gifts we need to remember to buy, etc. etc. I experienced a good bout of unfinished business intrusion yesterday evening - it was date night, but all manner of unfinished or extant tasks were coming, uninvited, to the forefront of my mind!
Unfinished business clutters our hearts and our praying because we've got incomplete tasks or commitments that we've not decided what to do with. We end up carrying these in our heads, where they can build up and rattle around - and the more important they are, the more noisy they becomes up there!
When we don't finish something and defer deciding on what to do with that something next...a swirling mess of this [below] develops within:
How do we de-clutter this mess? We make a decision about each item we've got rolling around in our heads. Two simple steps can help us de-clutter, whenever we need to:
Write down all that is rattling around in your head - every unfinished bit of business you can think of. This is the equivalent of getting all the clutter you've stuffed in your room out into one big pile in the middle of the room.
Decide what you will do with each bit of unfinished business - will you do it (now), defer it (to later - date and time is helpful), delegate it (to someone else) or dump it (it's not as important as you thought, or it's too late now, or you just don't have time anymore). These 4 D's are straight from David Allen's work.
An important note - when it comes to obedience to God, there's only one option (unless God gives us a time-frame otherwise) - do it.
How Unfinished Business Clutters our Praying
This seems like a whole lot of task-management talk. And in one sense, it is. But unfinished business clutters our praying in two very real ways: it either intrudes into our praying, and we end up getting frustrated because we're distracted from having very much needed space with the Lord; or, it hangs as a tension in the background of our praying, not quite intruding into our praying, but making it's presence felt - like a pile of junk in the corner of your study at home.
Getting to Uncluttered
I need to get to uncluttered. And I'm sure it's not just me. This week, as you take time to pray and be with Jesus, start with an 'unfinished business" de-clutter. It need only take 10 minutes. 5 minutes to list everything you can think of, and then 5 minutes to make a decision around when you'll do it or where you'll store it until you can next get to it. My hope is this practice will lead to much more clear, focussed and open-hearted praying that really helps you hear Jesus more clearly.
At the very least, try it - and if it helps you, share what you did, and how it helped you prayer in the comments section below!