One evening when I (Kyle) was in seminary, I went with some classmates to a professor’s house. The professor was talking about a pet peeve: when people pray to the wrong person of the Trinity. After a short rant, he suggested we close in prayer. No one spoke a word! After a minute or two, everyone started laughing because we knew what was going on. We had become so self-conscious about praying correctly that no one wanted to pray.

It is all too easy to focus on praying the right way to the detriment of actually praying. But this is where prayer goes to die. If prayer becomes a place to pray about what we think God wants us to pray about and not what is on our hearts, then we simply won’t do it. In the words of Dominican priest Herbert McCabe, “People often complain of ‘distraction’ during prayer. Their mind goes wandering off to other things. This is nearly always due to praying for something you do not really much want; you just think it would be proper and respectable and ‘religious’ to want it.”

When prayer becomes a kind of performance, it is easy to interpret experiences like having our mind wander as failures. But McCabe touches on something profound. Because we have the Spirit of God in our souls, mind-wandering should not be seen as a random act of an undisciplined intellect. Our minds wander because, in Jesus’ words, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). When we come into God’s presence in prayer, we do so with the Spirit present to the deepest truths of our hearts. We should not be surprised that the truth of our hearts begins to percolate and rise to the surface.

Instead of seeing a wandering mind as a failure, ...

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Where Prayer Becomes Real
Where Prayer Becomes Real
Baker Books
2021-03-02
224 pp., 11.29
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