Peter Du Moulin on the evil of wandering thoughts in prayer

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Why then are the prayers of them that love and fear God so little effectual many times? The main cause is the wandering of their thoughts when they are about that holy duty. For it is no wonder that God granteth not what we ask when we think not what we ask. And it were a wonder if that Holiest of Holies, being spoken to without attention, did not resent so great a contempt which we would not use to our inferiors.

Since then the wandering of our thoughts is the cause of that great evil, what is the cause of that wandering? Indeed the prime cause is the incapacity of our low carnal nature to comprehend the infinite God; who being invisible and immaterial doth not help the mind with any image proportionate to the sense and imagination; without which it is very hard for the understanding to fix his thoughts. And that defect in our nature is made worse by this defect in our duty, that we make our addresses to God having not considered before what we are going about, what God is, and what we are.

For the reference, see Peter Du Moulin on the evil of wandering thoughts in prayer.
 

dhh712

Puritan Board Freshman
Those wandering thoughts often assail me. Since I became a Christian 8 years ago, my prayer life has grown and strengthened by God's grace. The first years prayer was not regular for me. But God drew me closer to him in trials.

Recently I found that the prayers where my mind would wander the least is when I say them aloud and when kneeling. For me, I think the comfortableness of sitting in bed or on a chair or whatever would cause my mind to like slack off and become more dull to the things of God.

So I just wanted to share that with my brothers and sisters here who like me may often find prayer to be a struggle to perform. Exercising those prayer muscles, I find that to be really tough at times, most times.

I remember hearing something about how I think it was Calvin or maybe it was Luther, saying something about how his wife would kneel on the floor in a corner and pray, and that was how she wanted to pray all the time like that and I thought that was odd when I heard that, but now I understand what she's talking about now.

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iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Why then are the prayers of them that love and fear God so little effectual many times? The main cause is the wandering of their thoughts when they are about that holy duty. For it is no wonder that God granteth not what we ask when we think not what we ask. And it were a wonder if that Holiest of Holies, being spoken to without attention, did not resent so great a contempt which we would not use to our inferiors.

Since then the wandering of our thoughts is the cause of that great evil, what is the cause of that wandering? Indeed the prime cause is the incapacity of our low carnal nature to comprehend the infinite God; who being invisible and immaterial doth not help the mind with any image proportionate to the sense and imagination; without which it is very hard for the understanding to fix his thoughts. And that defect in our nature is made worse by this defect in our duty, that we make our addresses to God having not considered before what we are going about, what God is, and what we are.

For the reference, see Peter Du Moulin on the evil of wandering thoughts in prayer.
Well, that's a downer.

I mean, I'm sure he is right that wandering thoughts in prayer to Almighty God are a great evil, one that I suspect most of us are plagued with, but the quote as it stands makes me reluctant to pray for fear of sinning, since I find it impossible to pray without finding my thoughts wandering. Doubtless, I am a very poor prayer.

Does he anywhere comment on the fact that our heavenly Father delights to hear our wandering, disorganized, inconsequential thoughts addressed to him, much in the same way that I listen to my 2 year old grandson babble away on whatsApp? I don't rebuke him for his childish weakness, although his grammar and sentence construction are greatly lacking and his topics of conversation flit around all over the map. Rather, it warms my heart to communicate with him and hear him chatter away to me. To be sure, I anticipate that as he grows up, our conversations will change and improve in many ways, but I don't despise the weakness of his youth. Romans 8:26-27 encourages me with respect to the weakness of my own prayers, that my Father in heaven will not despise their weakness and flaws, interpreted to him by his own Spirit, who searches my heart. In that hope, I am encouraged to pray, however poor and sin-stained my attempts may be.
 

dhh712

Puritan Board Freshman
Iain, do you mean not-well-put-together prayers for what you're describing in the second paragraph? My own wandering thoughts during prayer go something like this: I'll start off asking God to give my brother saving faith. Then my mind will slip into thinking about how nice it was when my brother and entire family got together for Christmas. Then I'll think about how much I enjoy buying gifts and wrapping them for people. Then I'll think I wonder if I'll find any good wrapping paper this year for Christmas? Then I'll think how I'd really like to be able to put my Christmas tree in front of one of my living room windows, wouldn't that be nice to have a house like that? But what I'd really like is to have a really large kitchen--never enough cabinet space! Can't wait until I'm able to start looking for a home with that in mind!

So now, during my prayer time my thoughts have deteriorated to what I'm looking forward to getting in my next new house, instead of engaging in heavenly minded things. Though I think perhaps God will be merciful enough to condone such things--once I realize my thoughts have wandered faaarrrr off track and pull them back into line. However, I just don't see how God would be delighted with that.

So that is what I was talking about when I am assailed with wandering thoughts--not scattered jumping from one topic to the next in not well-thought-out and polished praise to God, confession, thanks and supplication, but worldly desires that have nothing to do with God.

I do think the Lord takes delight in our fumbling child-like sounding prayers, as long as they are sincere from the heart and directed to him. A prayer that is not refined and elegant is not something our merciful Father snubs at. But yes, by his grace in time I think he would be like the grandfather to the 2 year old who would delight in more mature conversation.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
It is useful and commendable to learn to control your thoughts.

Also useful to remember that simple prayer our Lord endorsed:

“Forgive me, a sinner.”
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
It has been helpful for me to try to remember that, a lot of the time, not every comment on a fragment of a given topic is meant to be a comprehensive statement. For example, there was a review that was recently released that slammed the new Dane Ortlund book, Gentle and Lowly. One of its criticisms was that the book was not as comprehensive a work of Christology as, say, B. B. Warfield's treatises on the subject. Ortlund, the critic said, spoke too much of Christ's compassion and not enough of his anger. The problem this critic missed is that this particular book was never intended to be a full-fledged Christology. It is only addressing a particular aspect of Christ's "emotional life" (as Warfield put it).

Perhaps this excerpt should be treated the same way. It could have been intended to people who approach prayer lazily, without much thought, and are only seeking to check their daily prayer box. Perhaps it was never meant to be a universal and comprehensive statement on weak prayers, never meant to be a rebuke to the one who desires to pray but simply cannot find the words or peace of mind.

That's how I understand it, anyway.
 
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