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On Distractions in Prayer, *
WHEN the sun is above the horizon, all the stars which appear so plainly, and in such number, during the night, are no longer visible; and though they are really still in the heavens, they are lost in the blaze of the sun's brightness. This may illustrate a difference often observable between the Christian's striving to serve God in all things, and a worldly man who is living in habitual sin. The Christian condemns himself for nonumbered faults. He sees defects more numerous than the stars of heaven, in every part of his conduct. Even bis prayers appear full of sins; he discovers in them innumerable wanderings of heart, and perpetual distractions; for there is no great sin in his life, in the blaze of which all these daily infirmities are lost, as the stars are lost in the more dazzling light of the sun. But the man of the world, whose heart is unchanged and unrenewed, thinks that he performs a meritorious service in the outward worship of God, and is not troubled, though he never feels one holy inclination. Did he but watch his heart, and know its true
• See Steele's “ Antidote, against Distractions in Prayer.» from whom the Author has borrowed several ideas,
state, he would have to say, 'I was almost in all evil, in the midst of the congregation and assembly. Prov. v. 14.
There are, indeed, many defects in our prayers; there is often great coldness in our desires, much unbelief in God's promises, improper ends in our petitions : but one principle sin in all our devotion is, the wandering of the heart
It being of main importance to the right performance of prayer, to atiend upon the Lord without distraction, a fuller consideration of this subject may be useful. Distractions will not, indeed, be entirely cured in this life : but as a man who knows not how to swim, may gradually learn that art, so as to keep himself by degrees longer and longer above water; iso here, improvements may be continually made. It is possible to be more and more freed from distractions, and more and more to rise above those troublous waves. . .
Observe THE NATURE OF DISTRACTION. It is the wandering of the heart from God. Some indeed manifest this in public worship by the wandering of the eye, the irreverence of their outward behaviour, unnecessary whispering, and salutations : but I would rather dwell on the root of the evil-the wandering of the heart. In the midst of a solemn prayer, the heart will be dwelling on an earthly business, or pursuing a vain pleasure. , It will be engaged in thoughts of doing good on a subject foreign to the prayer then offering up with the lips, or be led aside to circumstances relating to the subject of our prayers.*
* A converted female among the liberated Negroes in Sierra Leone, describes this very expressively. She said, “ Wicked thing trouble me much; me want to do good, but my wicked beart will no let me. My heart run away all this week; run all about." When asked what she meant by her heart
There is a contest often carrying on in the Christian's breast, during worship, of which the mere formalist is wholly ignorant. His end is gained, his conscience is satisfied; if he has appeared in the house of God, or if he has repeated bis prayers-he thinks this a meritorious service, and is well pleased with himself. Not so the watchful Christian. It is his continual internal struggle to worship God in spirit and in trutb. He knows the task of raising an earthly mind to heavenly things. He strives not only against worldly thoughts, but also against good thoughts which often come thus unseasonably to hinder himn in attending to the present duty. In carrying on this contest, he finds the power of a carnal mind continually sinking him to the dust. He repels idle and wandering thoughts, he' labours against inattention, and, perhaps, after all, he has gained byt a transient moment of devotion, and he returns humbled, abased, and depressed, smitting his breast, and saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. Nothing humbles him more than the defects of his prayers. :
It is well when we are deeply affected by this wandering of the heart, and mourn on account of it. But, if the writer may judge from his own experience, how often do we insult and dishonour God by a slight and perfunctory service, and yet retire from worship with little brokenness of heart, and little contrition. How would such conduct towards an earthly superior, when
running all about, she replied, “Suppose me pray, my heart run to my country ; to Sierra Leone; all about; and then me can't say no more but Jesus Christ have mercy on me, poor thing! O my bad heart. Me tink sometimes me have two hearts; one want to do good, but the other always want to do bad. O Jesus, have mercy on me poor sinner!"
reflected on in sober moments, overwhelm our mindsetes, with shame and confusion of face ? . . . . . their va
To some, almost the whole of their prayers is, atsires to times, little else but one continued distraction; they y come have not a single holy thought really offered up to God in any part of the service; and, alas! if the thoughts of most Christians during their worship were expressed with their prayers, what strange petitions are the would be found to be offered up to God! An old wri. ter justly observes “thinking is the mind's speaking, and the Heart-searcher can, and does more easily take notice when the mind thinks impertinently, than we can observe when the tongue speaks so." "There are but few that make a real business of prayer.
There is GREAT EVIL IN THESE DISTRACTIONS. The more wandering the heart is, the more wearisome the duty: while the nearer we come to God, tbe more warmth, and life, and comfort we enjoy. The work of prayer not only ceases while our hearts wander, but distracted confessions increase guilt; distracted peti... tions only ask for a denial; and distracted praises tend to stop the current of mercy. We make light of distractions on account of their commonness; but God, greatly condemns them. · A curse is pronounced on those who do the work of the Lord deceitfully, or negli. gently. Jer. xlviii, 10. . God declares, “I know the things that come into your heart, every one of them.' Ezek. xi, 5. Sins in public worship must be peculiarly offensive to the holy God. Solomon says, with marked emphasis, I saw the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.' Eccles. jii, 16. .
It is an awful character described by David, . There is no faithfulness in their mouth, their inward part is very
wickedness, their throat is an open sepulchre, they flatter with their tongue.' Ps. 1,9. Observe, too, how this sin agrees to Ezekiel's description, (Ezek. xxxiii, 31.) • They come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people,- for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after covetousness.'
God has ever shewn himself to be jealous respecting those things which concern, his immediate worship. Thus we find Nadab and Abihu. punished with death for offering strange tire before the Lord. Lev. x, 1, 2. We read that Uzziah was smitten with death for touching the Ark of God. 2 Sam. vi, 6. The directions respecting his worsbip under the Mosaic dispensation were very minute and particular, which, among other things, may teach us the need of great attention in our approaches to God, and the regard which God pays to all our worship. Indeed, as one observes, “it is evidently a gross insult to the glorious God, when praying to him, to quit him in the midst of our prayers, as if we were conversing with an inferior, and to make vain excursions on every side."
Another thing wbich should teach us the sinfulness of, distraction is, they bear the stamp of HYPOCRISY. It was the reproach of the ancient Church, • Ephraim compasseth me about with lies.' Hosea ii, 12, &c. Is not this a true description of much of the worship of Christians ? You would not like that any fellow Christian should know what was passing in your heart during your prayers ; but is it not a small matter to be judged of man's judgment ? he that judgeth me is the Lord.
Alas! when we look back on the distractions of our prayers, (and the writer continually and deeply feels in his own prayers the prevalence of that evil wbich he