Friday, January 18, 2008

Mind Control

"Be clear minded & self-controlled so that you can pray." 1 Pet 4:7

I don't know about you, but there have been times when I've not been able to pray. This week has been difficult for me as I've been laid up with what seems to be some sort of gastric 'flu. I've experienced a lot of discomfort and felt physically exhausted, sleeping for extended periods during the day. There haven't been many moments when I've been able to concentrate sufficiently to intercede for others. My mind has not been clear because it's either been subsumed in sleep or distracted by pain.

Mind & Spirit
Paul talks about praying with the mind and the spirit (1 Cor 14:14-15). Both are important. Those with the gift of praying in tongues should not neglect that gift since it is a resource given by God to build us up personally (1 Cor 14:4). In a situation where we are not able to be sufficiently clear minded to pray intelligently, the gift of tongues opens up the opportunity for the Holy Spirit Himself to guide our prayer (Rom 8:26).

This is a fantastic way to pray because we know that we will always be praying in conformity with the will of God which means, of course, that our prayers will be answered. That knowledge may tempt us to think that there is no point in praying any other way. But the same man who tells us that he wants everyone to speak in tongues (1 Cor 14:5) and boasts about how much of it he does himself (1 Cor 14:18), insists that praying with the mind is as important as praying with the spirit (1 Cor 14:15).

Clear Minded and Self-Controlled
God wants us to pray with our minds, that bit of us which is capable of thinking and reasoning. James talks about the double-minded man who should not expect his prayers to be answered (Jms 1:6-8). In fact, I'm not at all sure whether someone, who is not clear in their own mind about what to ask God for, can actually be praying. There may be thoughts passing through their mind, but they're probably just arguing with themselves rather than asking God. He wants us to be clear about what we're asking for.

To remain clear minded requires self-control. We all have those moments when we're praying for someone and our mind wanders off to things it thinks are more important, such as the need to make a particular phone call later in the day or what we should buy at the supermarket. We need an element of self-control to keep bringing the mind back to the task in hand. My experience is that this becomes easier with practice, but I'm also convinced that the wandering mind is a feature of our fallen nature with which we will have to contend as long as we have breath to pray.

Time Poverty
We also need self-control, or discipline, in setting aside time to pray in the first place. Every single one of us has 24 hours in the day. God may not have blessed us all equally with financial riches, but when it comes to time He has been completely egalitarian. I've heard the phrase "time poverty" to describe the plight of busy people. But there is no such thing. The problem is not how much time we have but how we choose to spend it. We get just one opportunity to use each of the precious minutes the Lord gives us & we need to be self-controlled & disciplined in what we do with them.

I believe it was John Wesley, the great Methodist preacher, who said that he had so much to get done that he had to spend 2 hours in prayer at the beginning of each day in order to accomplish everything. I used to think that was a bizarre statement. Surely spending more time in prayer meant there was less time for work. Anyway, in the 21st century there are so many demands on our time that it is more difficult for us than for Wesley.

Sowing Time
What I've discovered is that the principle of sowing and reaping, so often applied by preachers to money, actually works with time. Somehow, if I give a bit more time to God at the beginning of the day, I manage to get more done in the hours that remain.

The other great truth is that we always manage to find time for the things that are really important to us. Indeed, it is fair to say that we can measure the value we place on things by how much time we give them. The Lord says that He will allow us to find Him when we seek Him with all our heart (Jer 29:13). This implies that we are to put Him in first place in our lives. It may not be possible for us to give Him our undivided attention for the same number of hours that we need to devote to work or family. But if we can be self-controlled enough to focus our first thoughts at waking on Him, we will begin to discover that He finds His way into our thinking throughout the rest of the day.

Prayer College Assignment
Some time ago I was horrified to discover how much time I was wasting in front of the television. The little one-eyed god in the corner of the room was getting a tithe of my time! I radically cut the amount of hours I spent on it. It not only freed up space in my schedule, it stopped a lot of pollution flowing into my mind which had been detrimental to my spiritual health. Take a careful look at how you use your time. What do you do with your 168 hours each week? Are you content with how many of them are given to time for intimacy with God. If not, look for ways to change your priorities.

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