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Sometimes I really am well-intentioned. I do want to pray, to talk with the Lord. I want to take to heart Paul’s admonition: “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2).

I want a fervent and frequent conversations with the living God. I want to live as if prayer really matters–because it does. I want my talk about praying to be reflected in a life really held together by strands of prayer.

So I do pray. Sometimes early in the morning. At times, as the day draws to a close. Between appointments, I might sit in my car and begin to talk with the Lord about what has just transpired or what is ahead or what he wants for me this day. And then, all too often, I drift off . . .

Sometimes I begin to doze off. The head nods. The eyes close. Sometimes I just mentally drift off. My mind wanders. The thoughts scatter. After a few moments (or longer!) I realize that I’m no longer really praying.

I wonder if Paul ever faced such challenges. The language he uses in Colossians suggests to me that he just might have. He wrote:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

He tells his friends in Colossae to be devoted to prayer–whole-hearted, all in, passionately pursuing prayer. But then he adds “keeping alert” in prayer. It’s an interesting word; it means, well, “keep alert” (as most translations render it). The word is used by Jesus in Matthew 26:40-41 of what Jesus wants for his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane–in contrast to their dosing off during a time of prayer.

Devote yourselves to prayer, friends, and don’t doze off, keep awake, be alert in your praying!

Why write such things? Could it be that Paul (and the Colossians) faced the challenge of drifting off in thought or in sleep when they prayed? It might just well be. After all, the twelve did that very thing when praying with Jesus.

Recognizing this does a few things for me.

First, it keeps me from getting panicked about drifting in my praying. It’s not that I’m going to settle for a constantly drifting prayer life. But to recognize that this may be a common challenge can keep me from over-reacting when I do drift.

Second, I am reminded that praying well might just take a little more attention and energy than I give it. I know that if I want to have good conversation with my sweet wife, there are optimum times and occasions and places and spaces to talk–so that I don’t drift away or drift off. That same kind of attentiveness could well enhance my life of prayer.

Lastly, seeing as Paul can call for us “keep alert” in our praying, there must be ways to lean into that. I don’t have to settle for a continually drifting, frequently disengaged kind of praying. I might have to talk with others, pray a little, pursue ideas in Scripture–but to hear Paul calling for alertness in prayer, it must be possible. That’s hopeful.

So, I am going to lean into the call to devote myself to prayer, looking to discover how not to doze off, how to keep awake and be alert in my praying!

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