And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tents here, one or you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Matt. 17:3-4
I’m the world’s most distractible pray-er. This is a bit like saying I’m the chief of sinners, because voices out there are already saying, Oh no you’re not. I am. But I’m sticking to my story. Just as Paul, chief of sinners, knew what went on in his own heart, so I suddenly, and frequently, recognize how my mind has been pattering off on little feet in every direction when it’s supposed to be focused on God. And I gasp in dismay.
I suddenly, and frequently, recognize how my mind has been pattering off on little feet in every direction when it’s supposed to be focused on God.
Here’s what happens. I have begun a method for praying which is supposed to develop habits of devotion. Does it work? I’ll get back to you on that, as I haven’t been doing it very long. The main idea is to make prayerful responses to specific passages. So I read the above passage from Matthew and try to think of Jesus with a face shining like the sun, his clothes white as light:
That would be something to see . . . wish I’d been there . . What do I need to mine from this passage? What can I write about—No, don’t go there (always fishing for material to write about)—focus! Three tabernacles; what would they look like? . . . Sounds like a praise and worship song: Lord, it’s good for us to be here . . . . Would make a cool Sunday Morning parody, like . . . No wait, where was I? Focus! What was the original tabernacle for? What’s Peter thinking—like, some kind of first-century church camp meeting? Camping retreat . . . Hey, how many people at church would be interested in a camping retreat? Great way to bond . . . Should I bring it up, or . . . Or do I want to be the organizer because nobody else will . . . Did I remember to defrost the ham?
You see the problem here. Can anyone relate?
Eventually—before too long—I feel conscience brandishing a whip to get my straying thoughts back in line. Now it occurs to me that I’m tabernacle-building, just like Peter. I assume he was much more focused than I on the splendid sight right before his eyes, but he was not overwhelmed into speechlessness. Mark says he didn’t know what to say (Mark 9:6), in which case he shouldn’t have said anything. But he was still weirdly distracted. The sight that should have filled his head and drawn all his worship and awe sends him in a sideways direction: What can we do with this? I know!—
The rebuke from above redirects him, and us: Don’t speculate—look! Don’t talk—listen! And specifically, Listen to him.
Why is that so hard for us? Even—or especially—in the quiet and solitude of prayer.
He made us to think and he made us creative; that’s the positive side. The negative side is that we seek out many schemes (Eccl. 7:29), or find a way to twist every good gift, such as direct access to the Father through the Son, and use the opportunity even there to build our own tabernacles.
God made us for himself, but we find all kinds of ways to take ourselves back. Plunking down on the altar every morning, and then crawling right off. Back on, back off. It gives a different meaning to “wrestling in prayer.” Rather than wrestling with God, as I think the idea is supposed to represent, I’m head-blocking and pinning myself while God stands patiently aside, waiting to get my attention again.
But you notice, I did come up with enough material to write about it. As creatively wool-gathering as I am, God is more creative still. While I find a way to wander, he finds a way to use the wandering. Just think how much better it would be if I could stay in one place and let him do the building!
Wretched mind that I have, who can rescue me from this persistent plague of tabernacle building?
These distracted occasions usually end with petitions for forgiveness, and thanks for the same. Still: wretched mind that I have, who can rescue me from this persistent plague of tabernacle building? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ! He saves us through himself rather than handing down a self-improvement plan.
Still, does anybody have any helpful suggestions for staying on point?