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We speak of the "absent-minded professor", who never knows what is going on, who forgets everything, because he is so wrapped up in his own intellectual world. In the same way, if we are absent-minded in prayer, it means we are so wrapped up in other things-just like the professor-that they always attract our thoughts like a magnet.
Not knowing what is going on, not being in prayer and not working with God can have another reason: daydreaming. Some seek refuge in certain thoughts and others take refuge in daydreams and live in an imaginary world. Whether we are absent-minded or whether we daydream, our thoughts are not under the dominion of God. We have withheld a certain section of our lives from Him. Yet we usually do not realize that our absent-mindedness and daydreaming cause us to withdraw from Jesus and His demands on us. For whether we want to cling to something that fascinates us or whether we lose ourselves in daydreaming we are keeping Jesus from coming into our hearts and dwelling there.
That has serious consequences, for whatever is not under the dominion of God, Satan takes as his sphere of influence. How often have daydreams actually led us to take a sinful path in our life? Satan took possession of our daydreams.
Such seemingly harmless dreaming is not therefore really harmless. In addition to the fact that it can lead to concrete sins, it always separates us from Jesus and therefore deprives us of the fruit of our lives for eternity.
But that's not all. Jesus says, "If a man does not abide in me he is cast forth as a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:6). Here Jesus is telling us how serious the punishment will be-we will be thrown away- that is, we will be separated from Him and His kingdom above, because we lived apart from Him here on earth.
That is why we must be set free from our absent-mindedness and daydreaming at all costs. Otherwise it will bring us the greatest sorrow in all eternity-having to live far away from Jesus as an outcast. Therefore, the first thing we must do is repent, because we have lost the "first love" (Rev. 2: 4), the love that keeps us with Jesus all day long with all our heart, with all our thoughts, in all our activities.
So, if our lives are still bound to anything but Jesus, to our egos, our wishes, people or things, we must repent. This is where our wandering thoughts during prayer come from. That is why we cannot follow a conversation with others. Other ideas captivate our thoughts and fantasy all day long. It is necessary to break away from things in order to be freed. We must break away from people and groups which are not in God's will for us, or stop reading certain books and magazines, or not read too many of them, even including Christian ones. We mast also stop spending so much time talking with other people if we sense that it fascinates us and has a hold upon us. It also means doing away with certain types of work and service that are not necessary and are only done to satisfy ourselves, and to use the extra time for prayer. If Satan wants to prevent you from praying by telling you it is impossible to find time, you know the answer: Where there is a will, there is a way. The more we break with other things and have time apart with God to speak with Him, the more the absent-mindedness will disappear and Jesus will take you into His world.
Often there is another root for our daydreaming and absentmindedness: our desire to avoid the cross. We do not want to see reality with all its problems, the reality of the darkness of the world, the reality of God's holiness and our sin. We do not want to bear the consequences of this: taking the cross upon ourselves and fighting the battle of faith against our sin. Therefore, we flee into our make-believe world with our absent-minded thoughts and daydreams. But in reality we cannot get away from the difficult things. We are actually even more at their mercy, because we are separated from Jesus. We must ask the Holy Spirit to give us light about this and a deep spirit of repentance in order to make a thorough break from this dreaming.
But then it is a matter of entering a real battle, so that all our thoughts and ideas are rooted in Jesus and we really attain the stage where we abide in Him. Again and again we must fight so that our association with Jesus will not be broken by dreaming and absent-mindedness. Otherwise our days and our work will be without fruit; they will be in vain. And in the other life we will not be in His presence.
I have found something that has helped me very much. Every evening, at the end of my prayers, and in the morning, before I begin my work, I ask the Holy Spirit to admonish me, whenever I begin to lose myself in my thoughts again. And Jesus answers my prayer. He also gives me the dread and hatred of everything that seeks to destroy my relationship and union with Him, who is alone life eternal and can make my activity full of immortal fruit.
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2: 12). "Fight the good fight of faith" (I Tim. 6: 12). We must call daily upon the victorious name of Jesus and proclaim its power over our inability to concentrate and our dreaming. As surely as Jesus has come as the Redeemer, He will redeem us to be disciples who abide in Him and fill our life and activity with divine life and fruit. Jesus is longing for us to be with Him, because He is yearning for our love. And a sign of true love is that we desire to be intimately united with the one we love in everything we do, say or think. If we love Jesus, we have only one wish, not to lose Him during the day, not to fall out of His love-and on the other hand to prove our love for Him by giving Him everything, even our thought-world so that it may come under His dominion.
Keep your heart with all vigilance;
for from it flows the springs of life.
(Prov. 4: 23)
Copyrighted material. Taken from YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SAME by M Basilea Schlink and used by permission. Further information at: www.kanaan.org