by Lois Tverberg
“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Psalm 24:3
The prayers that Jesus, Paul, and the Jewish people of their day prayed were
a combination of spontaneous petitions and traditional prayers that were
prayed at certain times of day. For thousands of years these petitions
have remained nearly the same. In contemporary Protestant culture,
we tend to disdain rote prayer, preferring the intimacy of spontaneous
prayer and feeling that a repeated prayer is empty and hollow. We
wonder how a person could avoid just “going through the motions.”
The answer is a concept that the rabbis developed known as kavanah. The word means direction, intention, or devotion, and the idea behind praying with kavanah is that you set the direction of your thinking toward God, and toward pray the memorized prayer “with all your heart.” A person who has kavanah focuses his entire being on prayer, and is not distracted by the chaos around him. He may have said the same prayer a thousand times, but his mind is immersed so deeply into the words that he is experiencing new insights and feelings from them each time that he has never experienced before.
In synagogues, above the ark that holds the Torah scrolls, there is often a plaque that says, “Know Before Whom You Stand.” That is exactly what it means to have kavanah in prayer – to have a sense of standing in the presence of God, to know that you are addressing the sovereign Lord of the universe. Prayer is so simple and it is easy to do it half-heartedly. But God deserves our best, not our least efforts in prayer.
Kavanah can go beyond prayer as well – our lives should also show it too. We should live each hour and every day with devotion and intention, fully aware of God’s presence all around us. When we do this, our lives will truly be the reflection of Christ, whose every desire was to please and honor God with his whole being.