Heart, Mind and Prayer

skyDo you ever find it hard to stay focused in prayer or in worship? Why is that? This paraphrase from Thomas Boston, a Scottish theologian, provides some insightful analysis of the pervasive sinfulness of the human heart and mind:

“When God is speaking to men by His Word, or they are speaking to Him in prayer, doesn’t the mind often leave them before the Lord, like so many ‘idols that have eyes, but see not, and ears, but hear not’? The body is bowed down before God, but the world gets the heart. Though his eyes are closed in prayer, a man sees a thousand things; the mind in the mean time, is like a bird escaped out of a cage, skipping from bush to bush, so that, in effect, the man never comes to himself till he is gone from the presence of the Lord. As you reflect on this, don’t say, it is impossible to keep the mind focused in prayer–it is hard, but not impossible. Grace from the Lord can do it (Psalm 108:1), and there are objects of our attention that easily do it. A pleasant idea easily captivates our minds; the worldly man’s mind is in little hazard of wandering, when he is assessing his business, or considering his finances, or devising a strategy for greater wealth; if he fails to answer you when you try to talk to him, he tells you “sorry, I did not hear you, I was thinking”–his mind’s attention was fixed. If we were standing in front of a judge petitioning for our lives, we would have no difficulty staying focused in our thoughts and communication. This reveals the spiritual reality; the mind apart from grace, when attempting any spiritual good, is out of its element, and therefore cannot focus… But it sticks like glue to what is evil and corrupt like itself (2 Peter 2.14)…

What pain and difficulty… men often have in bringing their hearts to religious activity… it is a pain to [the carnal heart] to leave the world even for a little while to come before God…. Men often go to God, but at heart their faces remain towards the world… when their bodies are “on the mount” their hearts will be found at the foot of the hill “going after their covetousness”, like the Israelites at Sinai. People are quickly wearied of worship because holy duties are not agreeable to their corrupt nature. Consider them at their worldly business, set them down with their ungodly company, or let them be enjoying a lust, time seems to them to fly, and race furiously, so that it is gone before they are aware. But how slowly and tediously it passes, while a prayer, a sermon, or a worship service lasts! The Lord’s day is the longest day of all the week for many; therefore they must sleep longer in the morning and go sooner to bed that night then they ordinarily do; that the day may be made of a tolerable length… the hours of worship are the longest of that day… when duty is over, they are like men eased of a burden…”

Pretty convicting. “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:25-26) that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. “His Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26) and works in us to will and to do his good pleasure.