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My question arises from a preacher's Facebook post condemning the practice of being a "prayer squirrel" (i.e., getting distracted while praying). He offers the following as an example of what prayers by such a person might look like:

Dear God, heal brother James of ... i need a coffee, I wonder who will win the hockey game tonite ... God heal brother James of his heart condition, and Lord... sister Jennifer really could use a blessing from you because she ... I forgot to take out the roast for dinner ... the kids are late coming home from school ... bless sister Jennifer because she needs encouragement. Amen.

In support of this being sinful, the preacher translates Colossians 4:2 thusly (emphasis added):

Devote yourselves to prayer without distraction as you pray

Is this an accurate translation of Colossians 4:2? Does the verse prohibit being a "prayer squirrel"? While it certainly makes sense that we should be focused when praying, are we specifically commanded such by Colossians 4:2 or other verses, meaning that distraction while praying is sinful, or do verses such as Colossians 4:2 have a different application in mind?

Note: I asked this on the Christianity site, but since my key question pertains to an interpretation of Colossians 4:2, it was suggested that I ask that part of the question here.

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  • Better translation, BLB. "Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching in it, with thanksgiving,"
    – Dottard
    Aug 1, 2022 at 7:17
  • Is there anyone on earth who does not have thoughts pop into the mind during prayer ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 1, 2022 at 12:49
  • @Dottard With that translation, could "watching in it" teach a requirement to be focused on what you're praying and not be distracted, perhaps? I think that's the phrase that the preacher rendered as "prayer without distraction." What would "watching in it" reference?
    – The Editor
    Aug 1, 2022 at 13:43
  • It means to be consistent and persistent. There is no hint of in the semantics of distraction, etc. See 1 Thess 5;17.
    – Dottard
    Aug 1, 2022 at 20:22

2 Answers 2

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In the Berean Literal Bible we have this more accurate translation of Col 4:2

Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching in it, with thanksgiving,

In slightly more idiomatic English the ESV has:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

This teaching is consistent with other parts of the NT that teach similar things:

  • 1 Thess 5:6 - So then we should not sleep as the others, but we should watch and we should be sober.
  • 1 Thess 5:17 - Pray without ceasing.
  • Eph 6:18 - through all prayer and supplication, praying in the Spirit in every season and unto this very thing, watching with all perseverance and supplication for all saints,
  • 1 Peter 4:7 - Now the end of all has drawn near. Therefore be clear-minded and be sober for the purpose of prayers,
  • Matt 26:41 - Watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the flesh weak."

Thus, while "distraction" is not explicit in any of these references, it is not excluded. Certainly, when we pray, it is best to put all else aside to have a meaningful conversation with God, else we end up with "vain repetitions" (Matt 6:7). See also Matt 15:9, Mark 7:7.

It is for this reason that some prefer to pray while walking or with eyes open so as not to fall asleep - whatever works is best.

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I think KJV has a better translation:

Colossians 4:2 (KJV 1900)

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

The BDAG for προσκαρτερέω entry is

  • to persist in someth.,
  • busy oneself with, be busily engaged in,
  • be devoted to,
  • hold fast to,
  • continue in,
  • persevere in

and is also found in:

  1. Romans 12:12 (KJV 1900):

12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

  1. Acts 2:42 (KJV 1900)

42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

  1. Acts 1:14 (KJV 1900)

14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

ESV and LEB are similar.

The idea is to be devoted to praying, to not stop praying. Not that you pray without distraction, which obviously you shouldn't do.

The Preacher is right

Thus even though I would not use Col 4.2 as the proof text, the preacher is right, as it's important to be single-minded in prayer. E.g. that your mind be focused when you pray on the thing that you are praying for, and for you to be sure that you really want it. As James warns that the double-minded man will not have his prayer answered:

James 1.5-8 (KJV 1900):

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

The idea is that God promises to answer your prayers, but God sees all of you, not just what you vocalize. As an example, if part of you is praying to say, get a job, but you're not sure you want the job, so the other part of you is scoffing at the part that is praying. Then the question becomes -- which part should God listen to? So James is saying that if you waver -- you're not really sure if you want something -- then you aren't going to get it. Thus unity is required. If you pray in a group, the group must be united. If you pray alone, you must be united. So on the one hand, we have these powerful promises that God will give us whatever we ask in prayer, especially in a group, on the other hand, it's almost impossible to be united either in yourself or in a group.

This is the tip of a deep spiritual iceberg that goes all the way to the confusion of lips in the tower of Babel, where God basically prevented people from agreeing by creating disunity. If people were united, they would get whatever they wanted, so God intentionally confused our lips, exactly to prevent us from being able to get whatever we want. This is only superficially about languages, and much more about disagreement, especially internal divisions.

Then all of this is made more complex as believers have the spirit of God that is another voice, and the carnal mind that is also a voice, and all these voices create disunity. So coming to agreement - to be unified -- is a deep thing that is necessary for effective prayer, both agreement within yourself (which is often referred to as "making peace") and agreement with others you are praying with.

Here are two more verses to flesh out this internal agreement with respect to prayer, and aid in your study:

Ephesians 2:14–15 (KJV 1900)

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

Romans 8:26–27 (KJV 1900)

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

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  • Thank you for your reply! Would to need to "watch in the same" teach a requirement to be focused on what you're praying and not be distracted, perhaps? I think that's the phrase that the preacher rendered as "prayer without distraction." What does "watch in the same" reference, therefore?
    – The Editor
    Aug 1, 2022 at 13:45
  • @TheEditor "watch in the same" means "be watchful in it", e.g. be alert, pay attention. I think being focused on it and not distracted would be a valid interpretation.
    – Robert
    Aug 1, 2022 at 22:46

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