TUESDAY, SECOND WEEK IN LENT
ON ATTENTION IN PRAYER
Consider first, that the most essential condition to make our prayer either acceptable to God, or beneficial to ourselves, is a serious attention; it deserves not the name of prayer without it. To pray with wilful distraction is a mockery; it is affronting the divine majesty. ‘This people,’ saith he, ‘honoureth me with their lips but their hearts are far from me,’ Isais. xxix. 13. See, my soul, if this he not too often thy case? And if so, seek a speedy remedy for so great an evil. There needs no greater to sink thee into the very depth of all misery for time and eternity. For as he cannot fail to live well, who has found the way to pray well; so he that prays ill must not expect to live well, or die well.
Consider 2ndly, that in order to pray well, our heart and mind must go always along with what we are about, or, which is the best attention of all, and most conducing to bring us to the love of God, our thoughts must then he fixed in God; not considered as abroad, but as within our own souls; not as represented by corporeal images, but as the being of all beings, the eternal, incomprehensible, infinite truth. But that we may be better able to keep this attention in the time of prayer, we must hearken to the admonition of the wise man. ‘Before prayer prepare thy soul, and be not like a man that tempteth God.’ This preparing the soul for prayer consists in discharging beforehand, as much as possible, all foreign thoughts; restraining even at other times all the rovings of the imagination, and vain amusements; untying the heart from its disorderly affections, and beginning by a serious recollection of the soul in the presence of God, and an earnest address to him, to teach us and help us to pray as we ought.
Consider 3rdly, that if, after taking these precautions, we still find ourselves hurried away with a multitude of distractions in the time of prayer, we must not be discouraged. For as long as our will has no share in these distractions, they will not be imputed to us; nor hinder the fruit of our prayers. ‘Tis the heart, ‘tis the will that God regards; our care must be to keep this right; to set out at first with a good heart, and a will to seek our heavenly Father, and not to retract this by any wilful turning aside from him, and we may be assured that he that seeks and sees the heart, will not be offended at the involuntary wanderings of the imagination, which can never separate the soul from him.
Conclude upon ever keeping a close guard upon thy mind and upon thy heart, if thou desire to pray well, and this not only at the time of prayer, but at all times. For if thou live in a constant dissipation of thought at other times, and with a heart set upon irregular affections and cheating vanities, how canst thou expect but that both thy mind and heart, in the time of prayer, will be still running after those things they are accustomed to, and which they have unhappily made their treasure instead of God.