Do you ever have a hard time focusing in prayer? Wandering thoughts distract attention making it difficult to pray. At times my thoughts are all over the place when I pray, making me wonder if I have spiritual ADD. How about you? Do you find it frustrating to focus in prayer at least on occasion? Concentration can be hard to develop in prayer, but our relationship with God grows deeper as we learn to pray with a attentive heart.
Maybe you’ve experienced a conversation that went something like this:
Did I tell you about what happened yesterday, I asked my teenaged daughter. Texting a friend, she replied with a nod, Hmm…did you say something?
It wasn’t a stretch to realize that I didn’t have her full attention.
Somehow I expected to hear some sort of related response as part of the conversation, but my girl moved on to talk about something completely different.
Mom, can I borrow the car tonight?
Our distracted thoughts can keep us from focusing in prayer.
Prayer is a conversation with God.
How often do I talk with God like my conversation with my daughter? Half listening as I flit from one concern to another? My daughter shifted straight to her request rather than joining the conversation. I find it easier to pray corral wandering thoughts when I think of prayer as a conversation rather than a monologue. Any good conversation involves both listening and speaking.
Relationship is the heart of prayer.
Prayer is a conversation that is rooted in love. Embracing the truth that God loves you can change your motivation and focus when you pray. Oswald Chambers penned these words on prayer and relationship:
“We look upon prayer simply as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical purpose of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself” (My Utmost for His Highest, August 28).
Talking with someone we love is one of the deep delights in life. Approaching prayer from the foundation of our relationship with God inspires deeper attentiveness. Author Jan Johnson reminds us that “When we shift to a relational approach to life with God, prayer becomes a place of meeting God” (When the Soul Listens).Approaching prayer from the foundation of our relationship with God inspires deeper attentiveness. #prayer Click To Tweet
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began with relationship:
“Our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).
Particularly in prayer for the needs and challenges that weigh heavy on my heart or rise from hurt in my soul, trusting my Father infuses my thoughts.
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
This truth has impacted my prayer in a profound way. More and more, the relationship of God as my good Father infuses my awareness as I pray.
Don’t worry about having the right words to pray.
When we remember prayer is a conversation that flows from relationship, we can simply share our thoughts. When we express the thoughts, emotions, and concerns in our heart, focus is enhanced because we aren’t distracted by searching for words that sound good, important, or religious. This is particularly an issue when praying aloud in a group. I can remember being so worried about what I was going to pray that I didn’t hear much of what others prayed.
God knows our heart and understands everything about us.
“You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, Lord, You know it all.
You have encircled me behind and in front,
And placed Your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:3-5).
Since God already knows what’s on your mind, you can stop worrying about how you sound when you pray. The important thing is to pray.
And here’s one more thought that comes to mind. Because God understands you inside and out, He also understands your struggle to focus. He’s with you in it all, so when you catch your attention wandering, circle back to finish your conversation with God.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray.
The very best place to start in developing greater focus in prayer is to ask for help. Again, I’ll refer to the disciples asking Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” Jesus responded with instruction and parables to help them come to a deeper understanding of prayer. Clearly, Jesus was glad to help them learn to pray (Luke 11:1-11).
One of the blessed roles of the Spirit is to be our helper (John 14:25-27). God understands that we often do not know how to pray as we should. Our struggles with focus relate to this challenge. The Spirit can guide the content of our prayers, as well as assist with motivation and concentration. At times, the Spirit even prays for us: “Now in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
When we struggle with focus, how often do we skip the simple step of asking the Spirit for help?
Begin with worship music.
We often think of prayer in terms of words. Language is primarily a function of the left side of the brain. Music has the power to incorporate both sides of the brain which can help with focus, creativity, and processing. Make a play list of favorite worship songs that inspire praise, prayer, and worship. When emotions weigh heavy, music has a way of touching our emotions which can help us move beyond distraction to the deep concerns of our heart.
Here are a few songs and musicians that draw me deeper in prayer:
- Open Up Let the Light In (Steffany Gretzinger)
- The Blessing (Bethel Music, We the Kingdom)
- Run to the Father (Cody Carnes)
- Sinking Deep (Hillsong Young & Free)
- Abba (Jonathon David Hesler)
Pray God’s Word.
Specific Scriptures can give our prayer a focal point. When it is hard to settle our thoughts, praying God’s Word brings clarity to prayer. It can also give us language to pray when words aren’t coming easily.
- Praying a verse provides a starting point in our conversation with God.
- God’s Word is like rails, keeping the train of our thoughts on track.
- Biblical passages can provide content, ideas, patterns to inspire prayer.
Pray out loud.
Another simple way to focus in prayer is to pray aloud. Praying aloud keeps us physically engaged. It also involves the auditory system, the mind, and the heart which increases concentration. In addition, verbal prayer is helpful when we feel sleepy. Time alone in the car is a great time to pray aloud. It is much easier to overcome distraction when we can hear ourselves pray.
When prayer feels like a battle with the noise in your head, try taking a prayer walk. Rhythmic physical movement like walking or running can aid attention. One of the many benefits of physical exercise is the increase of brain chemicals that impact focus and concentration.
Biblical meditation deepens prayer.
Meditating on God’s Word increases focus in prayer.
Prayer and Bible reading are two primary ways we experience a deepening relationship with God. A. W. Tozer wrote about the importance of deep focus on God:
“For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”
If we do all the talking when we pray, we will miss what God has to say. Prayerful Bible reading slows us down to receive and reflect on God’s Words to our hearts. Meditation helps us concentrate on the listening side of prayer.
Focus by staying on the same subject with God.
Hearing from God through the Holy Spirit begins to engage our minds, drawing our attention to particular concepts.
Open to what the Holy Spirit has to say, we slow down and let the words sink in. Once we pick up on what God draws our attention to, we can choose to continue the conversation.
When we read Scripture and pray, we need to learn to stay on the same subject with God—to respond to what He has said, rather than changing the subject and praying about something else—stay on topic so you can hear all that God has to say.
This morning I am reading John 16:13-14:
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
What do I too often do?
Great verse, Lord. Thanks for guiding me…
And then I whip out my laundry list of prayer requests. While God invites us to share our concerns, prayer is much broader and deeper than seeking solutions for problems or provision for needs.
God is gracious when we gloss over truths He brings to our attention…but consider what we miss by not staying on topic with what God is bringing to our attention? When we struggle to focus in prayer, God’s Words go in one ear and right out the other with barely a stop in the grey matter between.
Meditating on Scripture, focusing in prayer, and listening to God are intrinsically linked. As we listen more fully to what God reveals, we continue the conversation with responsive prayer.
Write it down.
When attention wanders, try writing down your prayer or insights revealed through your meditation on God’s Word. Sometimes I write my prayers in my journal.
- Writing helps develop thoughts, keeping distracting thoughts at bay.
- Write the verse that stands out to you.
- Write down key thoughts from your meditation.
Ask God questions.
Prayerful conversation with God continues when we bring our questions to God. Here are few questions that have been helpful for me:
- What do want me to know about this?
- Will you help me to understand on a deeper level?
- What in my life most needs this truth right now?
As you can see, learning to focus in prayer is a process that takes time and practice. The very best way to develop concentration in prayer is to pray. Be patient with yourself in the process and realize that some days will be better than others. I hope these suggestions and truths will help you reign in distraction and deepen your relationship with God through meaningful time in prayer.
What helps you focus in prayer? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Related Posts on Spiritual Concentration
For more tips on prayer, check out the prayer chapter in my book, Holy in the Moment.
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