Another thing we can do to win the battle for our mind is to pray with focus. We have all had the experience of day dreaming. Our mind becomes unmoored from the immediate situation and begins to float freely over a sea of miscellaneous thoughts. If this happens at school or at work we likely will be brought back to reality by someone telling us to focus.
Satan can use an unfocused mind to lead us into all kinds of places that we should not visit. By doing this he leads us away from our awareness of God’s presence. He even does this when we try to pray. I have often had the experience of beginning to pray only to awaken a few minutes later to the reality that my mind was really a thousand miles away. At those times I have to consciously recapture my mind. An unfocused mind inevitably wanders.
Paul tells us to be alert as we pray. To be alert is to be aware of our surroundings. What is going in my world, my life and my heart? Why is this so important? It is important because our life depends upon it. Annually there are 5,800 traffic deaths and 515,000 injuries due to distracted driving. A few seconds of inattention can be fatal. The impact of having a distracted mind is just as costly spiritually.
When we are inattentive in prayer we often miss God’s promptings in our heart. We go through the motions of prayer without fully engaging. When we have a distracted mind we make decisions that are less than the best; decisions we often regret later. How many times have you found yourself asking, what was I thinking? The truth is you were not thinking clearly at the time.
So what does it mean to be alert in prayer? It means paying close attention to where you mind drifts in prayer. During prayer it is common for thoughts to come into our minds seemingly out of nowhere. When this happens, rather than trying to ignore them, we need to stop and examine them. Is this thought from Satan or from God? Some thoughts we know instantly are wrong. These thoughts need to be captured and brought before God’s throne. I cannot hide my thoughts from God. It is better to deal with these negative thoughts. God my mind keeps going to this lustful thought. I confess that to you and ask you to replace that thought with your thoughts. Many times when we pray our minds drift to things we are struggling with. I have learned that this is God’s way of bringing something He wants to deal with to the forefront. I may want to hide the struggle or handle it myself, but God wants to talk about it. We also have to be alert to the times when we slip into auto-pilot. We can pray “acceptable prayers” without ever really being involved. The familiar words flow from our mouth but there is really no substance behind them. In all of these cases and more we need to be aware of what is going on and invite God to take control.
Being alert is not limited to our formal times of prayer. We need to be alert to all that is going on in us and around us all the time. Our enemy is always looking for some opportunity to take advantage of us. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)] We must constantly be on guard.
Be alert to what is going on physically in your body. We often ignore the warning signs that God has hardwired into our bodies for our good. When we are tired and worn down physically we become vulnerable.
Be alert to the circumstances around you and primarily how you are responding to them. Our emotional response to our circumstances is a good indicator of what is going on inside of us. Be ready to examine why you respond to certain situations they way you do. Don’t accept your emotions as the final word on the situation. Challenge yourself. Am I responding as Christ would have me respond?
Be alert to the ebb and flow of your life. Are you beginning to settle into unhealthy patterns? Are you drifting away from Christ or intentionally moving toward Him? Are you becoming more or less loving, caring, joyful? The time to make course corrections is early on. Being alert to what is happening in our life allows us to take action before we crash.
Along with being alert we need to be intentional. Paul told the Ephesians to be alert and keep on praying for all the saints. Paul was challenging them to be focused in prayer.
Generic prayers are the norm for most of us. We pray in non-specific terms that sound good but have no substance. We all need to learn to pray with more focus. Instead of asking God to bless Jim, pray that God will help Jim find a job that matches his gifts and abilities. Instead of asking God to bless the missionaries, pray by name for the family in Africa that is working to build an orphanage for AIDS victims. Ask God to supply the $20,000 they need and to clear the way with the local authorities so they can begin construction. You get the idea.
When we pray generic prayers we have no way of knowing if God answered our prayers. But if we pray specifically we can rejoice when we see God answer our prayer in a specific way. We can be bold when we come to God. He invites us to be bold. He wants us to make God-sized requests so that we can experience His power and glory.
There are many ways that we can be more intentional in how we pray. One classic way is to follow a set pathway. This gives you the structure to organize your prayers in a positive way. One such pathway is ACTS; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. This framework allows you to plug in your personal items without skipping over important aspects of prayer. An ACTS prayer may go something like this. “Father I am in awe of the wonder of your creation. Today I was able to witness the sunrise and it was amazing. The corn in the fields by my house grew another foot this week. Your creative genius overwhelms me. I had another encounter with Sally today and I was rude to her. I confess that my attitude was wrong. Please forgive me. I want to thank you for the job you have provided to me. I really enjoy using my talents in that way. I need wisdom in dealing with a difficult situation at work. Give me your perspective on the situation and your heart for the people involved. Thank you your love and your grace. Amen.”
Another way to be focused in prayer is to use a prayer journal. Record the items that you want to pray about along with the date. Then watch for God to answer. When you become aware of His answer write it down along with the date. Writing out your requests makes them more tangible. Recording the answers makes you more aware of God’s presence in your life.
Paul’s point is focused not on the method that you use, but on keeping your prayer life vital and active. Don’t let prayer become a routine.
We all engage in mind games. Some are frivolous giving us a break from the routine of life. Some are designed to sharper our minds. Some are destructive leading us in the wrong direction. Keeping our minds centered on Christ is the ultimate mind game. It is the only one that can save our soul.