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St Paul and Distractions in Prayer

We must all have had that experience before – we come to prayer intent on listening to God but our minds are running all over the place following distracting thoughts. Someone once said humorously, “If you want to remember the things that you easily forget or tend to ignore, start praying seriously.” Prayer time easily become time to remember the chores that must be done, all our unfinished business, our hurts, worries about the future, and regrets about the past.

How do we deal with these distracting thoughts, images or feelings? Some spiritual writers recommend that we merely ignore them. We can indeed ignore them when they are just fleeting thoughts or images that have little or no emotional effect on us. But we just cannot ignore them completely when they are persistent and have strong effects on us.

St. Paul writes to the Philippians from prison, unsure of how his life would end, but refusing to succumb to discouragement, regrets, or self-pity. Forgetting himself, he focuses instead on his Christian brethren to encourage them in their own sacrifices for Christ. Phil 4:4-9 shows us a way to focus on the Lord in the midst of countless thoughts that distract us in prayer.

First of all, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” This calls us to rejoice in the Lord’s loving presence in our lives. Most of the time our distractions are an indication of the people and things that we tend to find our greatest source of joy in e.g. respect, wealth, comfort, success, etc. We must ask, “What am I rejoicing in today? Am I rejoicing in the Lord and His presence in my life or in something else?” We might even find ourselves rejoicing in our success at prayer! Remember the words of Jesus, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21) To check distractions, we must ask ourselves if Jesus is indeed the sole treasure of our hearts.

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