III. THE SOBRIETY OF THE MIND
A mind that has been renewed should be very clean and bright. Such a mind is also surely transparent. Sometimes it is impossible to talk with certain brothers or sisters concerning spiritual things because their mind is neither clear nor bright. Rather, it is all mixed up just like paste. A person with such a mentality is unable to discern between the head or tail of anything. To him, there is not much difference between eight and nine, nor is there much difference between nine and ten. How can someone like this pray? If his mind is confused, surely he will not be able to pray with clarity.
Please read the examples of prayer in the Bible. You will find that none of those who prayed spoke silly words. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, is a good example. Following the birth of Samuel, she went before God to offer her thanksgiving. It is unlikely that Hannah had much education, because there was no girls’ school among the Israelites at that time. However, when you read her utterance in prayer, you can sense that she not only had a shining spirit, but also a sober mind. Since her mind was as clear as a glass window, the Spirit of God could directly utter words of prayer through her spirit in a clear way.
In the New Testament there was another mother, Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus. Being of a humble background, she was not highly educated. Her prayer, however, demonstrates that her mind was also very sober and her thinking was not at all confused. Confused prayers are the products of confused minds. Because of God’s mercy, He may answer many nonsensical prayers. Nevertheless, one should not be content with praying silly prayers, thinking that one way or the other God will always listen. This attitude is wrong. All those who know prayer realize that many times when we go before God to pray, it is like handling diplomatic affairs or defending a case in court. A lawyer knows that when defending his client his mind must be clear and his words must be sober. A sober speech is based on his ability to understand as well as to speak forth clearly. Thus, in order to be a man of prayer, we need a mind that is renewed and sober. The renewing of the mind is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word. But in order to have a sober mind we ourselves need to be responsible to exercise it.
IV. THE CONCENTRATION OF THE MIND
Our mind should not only be sober, but should also be able to concentrate well. I believe many brothers and sisters have realized that the biggest problem in our prayer is a desultory mind, a mind which does not easily concentrate but always drifts about. When some brothers and sisters kneel down to pray, in less than five minutes their minds begin to travel around the world. One moment they think of the United States, then their thoughts move on to Great Britain, and later they think of Hong Kong. Their minds cannot be focused, and their thoughts fly everywhere and go every place.
I believe we have all had this experience. The reason we are unable to pray is that our thoughts continually drift. We cannot either collect or direct them. It is very strange that this does not happen while we read the Bible or talk with people. However, for some unexplainable reason, whenever we pray it seems that a telegraph inside keeps transmitting messages until we become disabled in prayer. This is what is referred to as being scatterbrained. We may not be aware of having a mind that is not sober, but we are very clear concerning what it means to be scatterbrained. Once our thoughts become scattered, we cannot pray. Thus, in order to pray, we must have a proper concentration.
To gain a proper concentration requires regular exercise. The way to properly exercise your mind is to control your thinking, not allowing your thoughts to run wild. Some people are too loose and free in their thinking. Such a person indulges his mind, exercising no control or restriction over it whatsoever. The mind of such a one is like a wild horse running loose without a bridle. Not only is that person unable to pray, but he is also unable to read the Bible. Learn to control your mind, and do not allow it to fall into fanciful thinking. Always restrict your mind to not think beyond its proper limit, but think only of the things that pertain to your duty or responsibility. For example, if you are going to visit a friend today, you need to exercise your mind a little to consider which way to go, the means of transportation, the best time to go, what to do there, and when to come back. Because this kind of thinking pertains to your responsibility, it is proper. But sometimes you allow yourself to think of things about which you should not be thinking. At such a time, you need to restrict yourself. At times you may find yourself unable to restrict your thoughts. Then I would suggest that you perform some chores or read a book. Whenever you discover that your mind is running wild, try your best to keep yourself busy. The more you let it go, the more wild your mind becomes. Such indulgence makes you unable to pray.
Also, many times thoughts which are not our own may come into our mind. These are darts shot from outside. These darting thoughts also distract our mind and disturb our prayer. Hence, we must learn to refuse them. Even though they may return after you refuse them, do not receive them. Sometimes, the more you refuse those darting thoughts, the fiercer they become. This is like mischievous children knocking at your door. The more you tell them not to knock, the louder they knock. At that time, you can stop refusing them and just ignore them. In the same way, by refusing and ignoring those thoughts, they too will just go away.
In summary, to properly concentrate we need to practice the control of our thinking and refuse the darting thoughts. After such practice, our mind will spontaneously be directed in a proper way; then when we again kneel down to pray our mind will respond to our direction and will be able to concentrate.
(Lessons on Prayer, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)