Ever feel frustrated that you can’t focus for prayer? Concentrating on God in prayer feels like trying to nail jello to the wall. You can’t stop the flurry of thoughts ranging from what your day ahead looks like to that email that needs your attention to the last cat video you saw on YouTube.
If you struggle with distraction in prayer, you’re not alone. In fact, most believers say it is one of their biggest struggles. Even Jesus, who faced every temptation that we do, had to escape the crowds and distractions for private prayer (see Mark 1:35; Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12).
How do we fight distraction to better concentrate in prayer? This article provides a simple framework to help you answer that question. Before we move forward, why not ask God for help in fighting distractions caused by the world, the flesh, and the devil?
7 Tips for Fighting Distraction in Prayer
1. Remember Who you pray to: God Your Father.
The most important thing about prayer is remembering Who we are praying to. That’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray by beginning with, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Often we focus on our actions and words in praying that we forget at its simplest, prayer is responding to God who started the conversation with us by revealing Himself in His Word.
2. Diagnose why you may be distracted.
Look at the voluntary and involuntary distractions you face most often. What are the distractions that you can control? These are voluntary distractions. I am tempted to let my phone or a noisy environment keep me from focusing in prayer. There’s a reason Jesus told us to go into our rooms, shut the door, and then pray (Matthew 6:6).
Involuntary distractions are the ones we don’t have control over. These are the random thoughts that pop into our minds of what chores we need to do or who we need to text back. Sometimes these thoughts are important. These distractions aren’t necessarily sinful, but we do need to find ways to keep praying and not let them derail us. I’ll share a couple ideas for that later on.
We may be distracted for prayer for simple reasons like we have no mental energy left after a long day of work. Or, the root may be a more complex issue in our lives. Is some of your distraction in prayer caused by responsibility avoidance, idolizing your work (and thus thinking about it all the time, even during prayer), or just plain laziness? Maybe deep emotional pain prevents greater focus. Ask God for wisdom and His help in working through the heart issues that cause distraction.
3. Optimize Technology for prayer.
Let me suggest a simple rule: use technology when it helps you focus in prayer and ditch it when it hinders.
Even if we follow the spirit of Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:6 for private prayer, bringing a phone into our prayer room can bring in the whole world in with us. That’s why I recommend disconnecting entirely from technology when possible. Turn off your phone, put it in airplane mode, or put it in the other room. You may also want to limit technology use throughout the day because, if you’re like me, you realize the more you’re constantly distracted with technology, the more likely you will be distracted during the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading.
But there are also tech tools that help foster faithful prayer. The PrayerMate app helps me pray by organizing a myriad of prayer priorities and requests into prayer cards that it regularly cycles through. But I have to exercise self-control using it, because it is after all on the most distracting device known to mankind!
4. Find an offramp for distractions.
If you’re wondering, what about the distracting thoughts that are important? I need to return that call! I can’t forget to pay that bill! If important thoughts come to mind while praying, write them on a piece of paper and then organize those thoughts after prayer. Once you write down a thought, get back to prayer. This keeps one small stray thought from hijacking a perfectly good prayer time.
5. When distracted, re-engage.
This is perhaps the simplest tip: when you notice that you lost focus in prayer, refocus. Run back to God. Puritan Thomas Brooks writes: “Vain thoughts pass through the best hearts; they are lodged and cherished only in the worst hearts.”
6. Find practical tools to help you focus.
This point may be the most practical. Implement focus-inducing tools when distracted. Here are a few to consider:
- Use a mental path for prayer. You might pray the Scriptures, follow the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer as a template, pray using the A-C-T-S acronym, or create your own path. A path helps us focus and refocus after being distracted.
- Write down your prayers. A journal, word processor, or piece of paper are all you need to scribble down your prayers to God. This practice helps visual learners like me, because writing focuses our minds on the words we write. An added advantage of writing down your prayers is that it enables you to see how God has answered past prayers and see how you have grown.
- Set an Alarm. For some reason it is easier for me to focus when I know there’s a time-limit to my prayer session. An added benefit is that often when the timer buzzes, I add more time because I’ve warmed up and entered a flow state of prayer.
- Go for a walk. This could be walking around your neighborhood or pacing in your living room. My practice is to write Scriptures and requests on a notecard and refer to it as I walk. Walking takes me away from many distractions, and my notecard gives me the mental structure I need to have a profitable prayer time.
7. Realize God is honored by our fight.
Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t remove all of our distractions with the snap of His fingers? He has the power to do that. I think one reason He doesn’t is because He is pleased with our fight because our efforts tell Him He is worth it. Our fight for focus is a fight to worship.
Focus on Him
Let this encourage you: you may battle to squeak out just a few sentences in prayer, but God can hear them and can change your life and even the world through them. Just because distractions land a punch against you doesn’t mean you can’t fight back in God’s strength and serve them a knockout blow. Don’t give up!