The Wandering Mind in Prayer

Sometimes when the Christian prays, his or her mind wanders.  We’ve all had it, no doubt, when we’re praying and our mind ends up thinking about our son’s dentist appointment or our friend’s new mountain bike.  While a wandering mind during prayer isn’t a good thing, we shouldn’t despair because of it.  William Gurnall (d. 1679) gives some consoling thoughts for Christians who are downcast because of frequent wandering in prayer.  I appreciate Gurnall’s tone – it’s not “Try harder, you fool!” but “Don’t be downcast, dear brother or sister.  God is merciful.”   I’ve edited his list to keep in brief and readable.

1) The affliction of your spirit because of your wanderings in prayer should be more comforting to you than discomforting.  Why?  Because even the best saints have acknowledge wandering during prayer.  Take David or Paul for example.  No saint has complete mastery of all his thoughts.

2) Wandering in prayer is a necessary infirmity of your imperfect state.  As long as you are faithful to resist wanderings and mourn for them, they move God to pity you rather than be angry with you.  It is one thing for a child to purposely spoil the work his father has given him to do; it is another when the child fails to do it perfectly because of weakness.  Christ’s favorable answer to his disciples’ drowsiness in prayer was, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

3) Believers’ prayers pass a refining before they come into God’s hands.  Our prayers come to God under the corrector’s hand; Christ intercedes for us.  Our Lord Jesus inspects our prayers and sets right all our broken requests and misplaced petitions.  He washes out our blots with his blood.  What is of his own Spirit’s breathing he presents to the Father, and what our fleshly part added he hides.  This was the sweet gospel truth wrapped up in the priest’s bearing the sins of their holy offerings (Ex 28:38).

4) Though the presence of wanderings in prayer are an affliction to you, yet God will make them of singular use to you. a) To humble you and keep you from pride in prayer, b) to keep you wakeful and circumspect in your Christian course – to remind you that the “good fight of faith” is not yet over, and c) to give you patience and empathy for other Christians who struggle with the same problem(s).

5) In your faithful conflict with wanderings in prayer, you may remind yourself that one day you will no longer wander in prayer.  Slowly in this life you will be sanctified, even in your prayers, but the complete victory will come when Jesus returns.  Therefore maintain the fight…pray, and mourn than you can’t pray any better.  Just remember, victory is coming.

The unedited and unabridged section is found in the 11th part of Gurnall’s lengthy treatise on the Armor of God (Eph. 6) called, The Christian in Complete Armor (on Kindle for just $.99).

shane lems

2 comments on “The Wandering Mind in Prayer

  1. johntjeffery says:

    The Kindle ed. is $3.99 now on Amazon. Gurnall is #1 on these verses! Great pastoral wisdom!


  2. Matt says:

    Reflecting on this will give me comfort when I pray


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