Have you ever struggled to focus in prayer? Do distractions seem to rise up when you bow down to pray? If so, you are not alone. If not, you are a liar. Because of our own fleshly weakness and Satan’s great efforts to oppose, the blessed privilege of prayer is often difficult and distracting.
Gavin Ortlund recently wrote a great piece offering seven ways to fight distraction in prayer. Each is worthy your consideration and practice.
1) Pray with Scripture.
Some biblical prayers that may be especially worth meditating on to focus our minds and hearts:
- Nehemiah 1:5-11: Nehemiah’s prayer when he hears the walls of Jerusalem are still fallen down
- Daniel 9:1-19: Daniel’s prayer for God’s people during exile
- II Chronicles 20:1-12: Jehoshaphat’s prayer for deliverance from attack
- Ephesians 3:14-21: Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength to grasp Christ’s love
- Matthew 6:9-13: The Lord’s Prayer (this is often a great one to start with)
2) Prayer with a Pen.
I find it helpful on occasion to write out a prayer. Written prayer should not be a replacement of vocal/mental prayer—but I find it works very effectively as a supplement to it.
3) Pray with Fasting.
Prayer and fasting are healthy practices in themselves, but work especially well together. When our stomachs are empty, it reminds us to pray, “Lord, fill my soul!”
4) Pray with People.
I believe corporate prayer and private prayer fuel one another (kind of like prayer and fasting). The corporate prayer is all the more powerful if we’ve already been praying on our own; and the private prayer is instructed and encouraged by how we’ve seen God at work in the prayers of others.
5) Pray with Purpose.
Distraction flourishes with the amorphous, the ambiguous, the under-defined. I find it helps me maintain focus if I structure my prayer time in specific ways. For instance, I might structure a prayer around one particular aspect of God’s character. “Lord, today I have seen your faithfulness through….” Or I might focus on a particular area of need: “Lord, lately my heart has been cold because ….”
6) Pray with Emotion.
There is a kind of unhealthy manipulation that can occur in trying to stir up emotions that we think we should be feeling through an act of the will. On the other hand, it is also unhealthy to let our emotions have untouched sovereignty over our will. There is a way to actively engage our emotions (rather than passively experience them) that is entirely appropriate, and can help us fight distractions.
7) Pray with the Gospel.
Spurgeon once advised preachers, if they ever lose their place in their sermon and/or don’t know what to say next, to go straight to the gospel. That is a good instinct, and I believe it can help us in our prayer life as well. If all else fails, if distraction keeps seeping in, keep circling back to the gospel. I often find it helpful to pray with this kind of framework:
Lord Jesus, this is where I would be without you _____.
Lord Jesus, this is where I am now with you in my life _____.
Lord Jesus, this is what you went through to do this _____.
Once you practice these helps and still find yourself struggling in prayer, remember that God understands and loves your prayers even when they are faltering. To quote Ryle,
“Do not fear because your prayer is stammering, your words feeble, and your language poor. Jesus can understand you. Just as a mother understands the first babblings of her infant, so does the blessed Savior understand sinners. He can read a sign, and see a meaning in a groan.”
Read the entire post here.