Focus is important for leaders. It is the doorway to memory, perception, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Without good focus, all aspects of your ability to think and make decisions will suffer. If you can’t focus effectively, you can’t think effectively.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Donald Goleman, in his article “The Focused Leader” writes, “Leaders need strengths in three areas of focus: self (inner), people (other), and system (outer) awareness. Inner focus attunes us to our emotions and intuitions, guiding values and better decisions. Other focus strengthens our connections to the people in our lives. And outer focus lets us navigate the larger world… Every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”
Focus on Prayer
So, focus is important. As a Christ-centered leader, you keep your focus through prayer. Whether lay or clergy, prayer brings clarity, direction, affirmation, and power. So, whatever you are facing in your personal life, professional life, church life, or community life, prayer makes the difference in how you lead.
In the gospel of Luke, we are not sure what brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray. But as I think about it, the motivation is not as important as the participation. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with direction. He did not ask them their motivation; he provided them with a pattern.
His pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with Jesus.
Although it was developed for bible study, the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return is a proven pattern that can and will assist you in keeping your focus on prayer.
Read Luke 11:1
Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke has Jesus praying at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern is to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus on the ministry God called and commissioned him to do.
Through prayer, Jesus not only received his call and commission for ministry, but he also sought direction for his ministry. When he experienced success in his ministry, he prayed. He prayed to check the desires of his heart, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?”
It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community.
In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relationship to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do.
In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers.
Now, when he returns from his time of prayer, his disciples are asking him to teach them to pray. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity to ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
I think it is interesting that the disciples have been present with Jesus through each of these experiences of prayer and they have not prayed. Jesus has been praying to keep his focus on God and what God has called and commissioned him to do. Are the disciples now asking for the same focus?
Teach Us to Pray
As I reflect upon “teach us to pray,” I think of the tradition in which I grow up. The persons who prayed felt their prayers were more genuine and spirit-led when they prayed extemporaneously. They just let it flow because what just flowed was more genuine.
They didn’t think about what to pray. What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on their minds and in their hearts. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or of the people beyond their own families or community. Their prayers were genuine, but the brokenness of the world and the pain of others beyond themselves did not automatically flow.
I think the disciples had not given much thought to prayer until they experienced Jesus praying. Other than observing Jesus, their only experience of prayer was with John’s disciples. They had seen the power of prayer and they wanted their prayers to make a difference. They knew that John had taught his disciples to pray and now they wanted to pray. So, they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Persisting in Prayer
There is one more thing to consider as a Christ-centered leader focused on prayer. Luke has gathered Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know is as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story on persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers. The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry.
Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep your focus on God.
Ask, Seek, Knock
Next to perseverance in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
In Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way. Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven.
Luke concludes the teaching material with, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
So, as a Christ-centered leader, the power in prayer is to stay focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
To learn to pray and be focused when praying, ask yourself the following:
- What would happen if you listened to the news or read news stories in preparation for prayer?
- What would happen if you walked your neighborhood focusing upon your neighbors as you prayed? What would happen if you educated yourself to think naturally of children, poverty, gun violence, prejudice, hunger, or homeless in your neighborhood?
- What would happen if you became more aware of the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel in your community or neighborhood?
Asking Jesus to teach you to pray means that you prepare yourself to share more than your thoughts and feelings. As a Christ-centered leader, focus your prayers to become more than “just how I feel” prayers. Praying extemporaneously is important, focused prayer is what makes the difference.
Give God thanks for the people you met today. When and where did you pray? What was your motivation to pray? How were you exercising leadership when you prayed? In what ways were you assisting others to pray? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.
O God, as I open myself to you in prayer, I am asking you to teach me to pray. Keep me focused on you and your direction for my life. Keep me mindful of the world around me so that I may pray for the well-being of the people around me and the community in which I live. By your grace, continue to make me an instrument of your love and peace so others might know of your love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to be one of your leaders at the point and time. I do believe you created me and gifted me to lead for such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen