Does your mind ever wander while you are trying to pray, especially when you are attempting to listen in prayer? Does it seem you have the attention span of a gnat? I answer, “Yes,” to both questions.
And what makes this even more frustrating is that this experience is random. Sometimes I focus like a laser, and at other times my mind is cluttered with life’s paraphernalia.
I stepped out for my evening walk several nights ago, which is also one of my opportunities to spend time praying. By the first corner, I sensed God had something to say to me this evening that would make it special. Braxie-the-dog and I turned south on Warner Road waiting to hear what was on the Lord’s mind.
Within a block and a half my frustration was building. Desperately trying to stay focused and listen to God, a variety of thoughts were zinging off the walls of my mind like a racquetball.
Fans of Star Trek: Next Generation will remember a wonderful episode where the android, Data, is attempting to fall in love with a lovely woman named, Sue. As he is holding her, she asks him what he is thinking about. His reply spans topics from nuclear propulsion, to a new cat food formula, to an in depth analyses of the collected works of Dickens, to reconfiguring the warp coil of the ship, and then he adds, “I was also thinking about you, Sue.”
That describes the way I felt in prayer as I walked. I noticed our neighbors—newlyweds—had put copper gutters on the house they are remodeling and wondered how they afforded that; I thought about an upcoming conference; I thought of Dianne’s push to get her classroom reorganized; wondered about the new “for sale” sign on Stanley; noticed it was cooler than forecast; wondered if my new plantings would make it through to summer; and oh yes, I was listening for Father’s still, small voice as well.
As my mental discipline wanes, so does my patience with Pres. Shaming, berating, disparaging, condemning, and humiliating are the flesh patterns I have developed over the years to battle my lack of focus. As the variety of thoughts expanded, so did the depth of my self-condemnation.
But after a couple of blocks, I heard—in my mind’s thoughts—Father say, Pres, why are you going so hard on yourself? Do you not think I can keep up with your mind—the one I gave you—as it multi-tasks on these various subjects in your world?
I gave you the ability to think, and to process, and to question, and to be curious, and to be energized by a multiplicity of thoughts at once. Why do you assume I want you to be a different person when you talk with Me than the fine person I crafted in you?
I’m enjoying the far-ranging conversation we are having. Please continue.
The tension in my shoulders eased. My pace became less intense. The crease in my brow relaxed. I looked up at my neighborhood again and I let the mind Father gave me begin to work, trusting (in faith) that we were engaged in meaningful prayer. After all, that is the attitude and heart-desire I left the house with. Why should I not believe Father would show up for the discussion?
Over the years I have been troubled by the imperative of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing.” Lord, how do I do this? I have prayed numerous times.
And on this night, Father did say something profound to me. He follows my thoughts constantly whether they are focused, random, or fuzzy. And if He spun the world into place from chaos, His Spirit can bring truth to my heart in both the silent, meditative moments as well as the chaotic cacophony of life.
My job is to trust Him—to listen, to think, to verbalize, to ponder and meditate—and to believe by faith that He will not let me drift from the communication priority He has established for us.
So I encourage you: Relax. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). You have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and as a loving Father, God will guide you carefully (Ps. 23). Pray without ceasing whether with focus or not, silence or not, words or not, a list or not, but always pray with a heart of anticipation.
Now that the pressure is off, prayer is no longer a requisite of Christian discipline but an anticipated joy. He is not put off by my wandering, wondering thoughts or ill-formed concepts. Au contraire.
He is delighted to have time with me. He is plenty capable of following my mind’s journeys, understanding the desires of my heart when I don’t, and capturing my attention when the paraphernalia of life plugs my ears.