April 27, 2014

What to do when the mind wanders in prayer

Uncle Edward had a wandering mind. When he told a story, his own words reminded him of something other than the story, so he would wander down that trail for a bit, then another, and another, but eventually he would wander back to his original topic and finish the story. I’ve had sessions of prayer just like that!

Today’s devotional reading says if your mind wanders, pray for the thing to which it has wandered. Make it a prayerful direction rather than a distraction.

In many Bible passages, Paul seems to wander as well. In this one, he begins with thanksgiving, jumps to assurance, then to his feelings about a relationship, then to the love and spiritual growth of those he is praying for, then to praise for God, then to words about how God is using his situation for good . . .

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel . . . (Philippians 1:3–12)

At first, this rambling style was hard to follow, perhaps because I expected godly people to think in a more orderly fashion than the way I think. However Paul, who was a very godly man, did not pray or write in a systematic fashion. He rambled. Yet , as for the working of our minds in prayer, he did give some advice . . .  

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:5–8)

He says to be reasonable (mild and gentle) and let that be evident in that I am not worrying, but praying in such a way that God is guarding my thoughts. I will know that He is doing so when my mind is filled with the good things he describes.

In another place, Paul also writes that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) so it is possible to think godly thoughts, but as he demonstrates, that does not exclude wandering thoughts.

This is both a comfort and an encouragement. I can let my wandering thoughts be fuel for prayer. The only thing I need to watch out for is this warning Paul also wrote to the Christians at Corinth . . .

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)

Today’s advice still holds, for if my wandering mind is led in the wrong direction, I can pray about that too, asking God to forgive any sin in those distractions, and to set my mind off that trail and unto a trail of righteousness.

I’m so thankful for this helpful “tip” on prayer. I’m encouraged to do this instead of being fearful that my prayers are becoming too much like the story-telling style of our beloved, but rambling Uncle Edward.

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