“Hence S. Basil also says: ‘But if through the weakness of sinful nature you cannot pray with attention, restrain your imagination as far as you can, and God will pardon you, inasmuch as it is not from negligence but from weakness that you are unable to occupy yourself with Him as you should.'” -Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in ‘On Prayer and The Contemplative Life’
Here is the common setting:
You are praying and praising God for His blessings and then you are wondering what is for dinner.
You are confessing your sin to our Heavenly Father who forgives us by the precious blood of Christ and you decide to check Facebook.
You are thanking God for His constant watch-care over your life and you wonder if you or your spouse made the appointment to have the car looked at by the mechanic.
You are praying for your aunt who is ill and remember you have a doctor’s appointment next week and have not sent in the new patient paperwork yet.
No, it is not just you, but is a condition common to every human being who has dedicated themselves to prayer. It was common for Thomas Aquinas and his cohorts in the 1200s and it is common to us these days. The distractions and thoughts might be slightly different, but the result is the same… one moment we are focused and praying and the next moment we are not.
There is a key thought and a practical suggestion we can adopt to further our focus in praying to our Heavenly Father.
The key thought is that we need to understand that God is not mad with us when we wander in our wonderings as we pray. Aquinas rightly points out that we are weak. We have weaknesses and one of those areas of weakness are the thoughts we entertain. We have to acknowledge it and move on.
The Bible explains that our thought life can be a hindrance for us:
Leviticus 5:4 (NIV1984), “Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil– in any matter one might carelessly swear about– even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.”
Psalm 13:2a (NIV1984): “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”
Matthew 5:28 (NIV1984), “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
2 Corinthians 10:5b (NIV1984), “and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
There are of course many other verses, but these will suffice for now to highlight for us that our thought life is a weak area that temptation can sneak in and hinder us in sin. It does not even have to be full blown sin, but just a hindrance.
When you and I are praying and we find that our mind has wandered away from adoring our God in praise… pause and briefly confess… and refocus back into prayer.
When you and I are praying and we find our mind is being peppered with thoughts of the coming day or the happenings of the previous day… pause and briefly confess… and refocus back on confessing our sins or thanking God for His awesomeness.
When you and I are praying and we find our mind is still at recess on the monkey-bars… pause and briefly confess… and refocus on our intercession for those around us we care about.
That’s it: Acknowledge our digression and move on in prayer.
It may be helpful to have a piece of paper or notepad with you whilst you pray. You might think… oh yes… have a prayer journal and this will help keep your focus. You certainly can do that, but that is not my practical suggestion.
My practical suggestion is to have a notepad for the other thoughts that creep in. As you are praying and remember you need to call the doctor, jot down ‘call Dr. Green’ and then get back to prayer. As you pray, jot down ‘need laundry soap’ and then get back to prayer. As you pray, jot down ‘analyze the projections for the Anderson account’ and then get back to prayer. The fear of forgetting life issues or needs will diminish because after prayer; you have not lost any thoughts for they are right there on a notepad.
That’s it: Acknowledge our digressions and wanderings as we pray and move on in prayer keeping our focus on God.