Today, we will look at Flavel's second word of advice to Christians who are seeking to guard their hearts unto prayer: putting away distractions.
If we really think about it, this could really be seen as a subset, or even a logical application, of what it looks like to plan for prayer.
Not only must we plan to pray. We must also plan to make sure our times of prayer are as distraction-free as possible.
If we set aside half hour to pray, but are constantly distracted by incoming text messages or emails or kids who want to play or music playing in the adjacent room, we will probably not really spend half an hour in true prayer.
One of my pet peeves in our day and age is trying to talk with people who incessantly fondle their phone throughout the conversation. Though they're "umm-hmmming" and nodding their heads here and there, we're not really having a conversation (and especially not an intimate one).
The truth is, we can convey more in 2 minutes of distraction-free talk than in 10 minutes of us trying to talk to them while they're texting, responding to an email, or checking their Facebook.
The same is just as true for us when it comes to prayer: we will get more "accomplished" in 10 minutes of uninterrupted prayer than we will in an hour of mind-wandering pseudo-prayer.
Here are a couple of [obvious] distractions we can plan to remove during our times of planned prayer:
- Put your cell phone in a different room. It's not enough to put it on vibrate: once it buzzes, your mind will likely begin to wonder who it is that just texted you or updated their FB status. At that moment, you have lost your train of thought, and will likely have to spend the next 10 minutes trying to get back to where you were.
- Pray somewhere where you have no technology. My mind never stops. And so, in prayer, I may remember I need to email someone, or update the church's website. Sometimes I will tell myself that I need to send the email or update the site. At best, this inevitably causes my mind to wander even more (I start planning my day, etc.). At worst, I may be tempted to check Twitter or YouTube (even to watch something godly), which basically terminates any further prayer at that time.
- Pray somewhere quiet. I have four young kids. It's hard to pray once they're up and running. They knock on the door, talk under the door, loudly ask me to come and play with them through the door. My most effective times of prayer are before they wake up, or when I go on a long walk outside.
- Avoid reading or watching material that "gets you going." After watching football highlights is not a good time for me to pray, as my mind will inevitably begin replaying some of the more memorable ones. Pray before you watch that movie with your spouse. Pray before you have that difficult conversation with a family member or friend. This is why it is often wisest to plan to pray first thing in the morning.
1 Peter 4:7 says, "The end of all things is near; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers" (ESV).
Being self-controlled and sober-minded "unto prayers" means removing distractions that seek to high-jack our devoted times of prayer.
Jesus' words are as true today for us as believers as they were when He first uttered them to His disciples 2000 years ago: "The spirit is willing [to pray], but the flesh is weak."
May God therefore give us the grace to plan not only to pray, but also to intentionally plan to remove any and all distractions. Let us never forget that self-control is an essential fruit that the Spirit of Christ gives His people to live in a manner worthy of the gospel!
In Christ, and for His glory to the ends of the earth,