Taking Our Wandering Thoughts Captive

I should have been praying for my cousin. After all, it was his “day” on our family prayer calendar.

Yet, as soon as I began to pray, my thoughts wandered. I kept thinking about my aunt and my sister.

I mulled over the conversation I had with my sister on the phone the day before. She had spent an afternoon with our aunt. I wished I could have done the same. The reason being, I missed my mom—she had died a few months earlier—and some time with my mom’s sister would have made up for the loss I felt.

As much as I wanted to, I could not focus on prayer.

Do your thoughts wander when you pray? You intend to pray for one thing, or a particular person, and instead you start thinking about something or someone else. We often interpret this as a lack of concentration or a failure to pray well.

Perhaps though, instead of seeing this issue as a hindrance in our prayer life, we should understand it as a help to know what to pray about.

Perhaps our wandering thoughts should become the content of our prayers.

Take every thought captive, 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us, and this includes even our wandering thoughts.

So, I grabbed hold of my distracting thoughts about my aunt and my sister, and I brought them to God. I asked him to help me understand why my sister’s relationship with my aunt consumed my thoughts.

Eventually, it came to me. I’m jealous, I thought. It was a shock to discover. But, remember, it is no surprise to God—he knows the deepest secrets of our hearts.

I was envious of my sister’s bonding with my aunt. I wanted what my sister had. But more than that, I deserved a better friendship with my aunt than my sister. After all, I was the one furthest away from home.

Jealousy, however, does not belong in the life of a child of God. It belongs with earthly not spiritual desires: anger, disagreement, or selfishness—things that don’t fit with a life being conditioned by the Holy Spirit and made healthier.

But, envy can be difficult to get rid of—like a hard knot in the shoulders.

Jealousy did not want to give up its place in my heart. I crossed my arms, stamped my foot, and sulked, “It’s not fair!” I spoke like a spoiled child to my heavenly Father. I felt entirely justified with my feelings. Jealousy had taken root in my heart.

The problem is, however, unless dug out, what has taken root internally will flourish and blossom outwardly, too. Jealousy brings disorder in life.

There is an example in scripture of two sisters whose relationship was marred by envy. To drive the point home, one of them even had the same name as myself.

Leah resented the love Rachel received from their husband, and Rachel coveted Leah’s fertility. Jealousy contributed to considerable pain and misery in their lives. Desperate to give birth like Leah, Rachel argued with and blamed her husband. Rachel and Leah competed fiercely with each other to see who could produce the most children, and they dragged their servants and Jacob into their fight.  It could not have made a happy family life.

If I hadn’t acknowledged the root of my thoughts I would have let jealousy grow into my behavior—giving my sister the cold shoulder, competing to build a closer relationship with my aunt. Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things, God reminds us in James 3:16.

Instead, I needed to follow through on the second part of 2 Corinthians 10:5 and make my thoughts obedient to Christ.

Prayer gives us an opportunity to repent. Although, not before I allowed myself a bit more self pity and an additional stomp of my feet.

Does your mind wander when you pray? Have you considered taking the time to investigate your thoughts—to take them captive?

Next time you pray, take notice of where your mind wanders and offer these thoughts to God.

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