The home group Bible study met at her parents’ house, and little RoseAnn decided to join the prayer circle at the beginning of the meeting.
As each person prayed, RoseAnn peeked and studied each man and woman around the room.
Then, as the prayers ended, she announced to the group, “You all looked really bored. You kept playing with your hair, Mrs. Green. You were doodling, Miss Willow. You even yawned, Mr. Hancock!”
“Well, little miss,” Mr. Hancock said, “you must not have been paying much attention to the prayers yourself, if you spent all that time peeking.”
RoseAnn’s mouth dropped open. She was so embarrassed. Apparently, she’d never thought about her own distractions in prayer!
I’m little RoseAnn sometimes. Most of the time, I’m focused on the Lord and what I’m praying about. But then it’s like I’m “peeking” into other scenarios.
- “I’ve got to remember to put out some hamburger for dinner.”
- “I wonder when Bob will be home?”
- “When was that doctor appointment?”
- “Do I smell chocolate?”
- “I’ve got to get new shoes for the conference.”
Ugh. I have such a short attention span.
It’s like the dog who has the attention span of a gnat. In obedience training, he’s so easily distracted.
“OK, Master, I’ll heel. Such a nice day. I love walking right next to you all over the neighborhood. OH LOOK … a squirrel!”
And the well-meaning doggie is on the chase!
I don’t want to be like that dog, chasing after squirrely thoughts. So as I’ve thought about distractions in prayer, here are six strategies that help me have better prayer times.
1. Retreat: Find a Place that Makes Sense.
Obviously, although you can pray anywhere, you don’t want to have an extended time of prayer in a crazy-busy place. That doesn’t make sense.
If possible, find a private place, something that becomes a place of retreat from the distractions of your life. Matthew 6:6 says, “…when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place….”
2. Remove: Shut Off Other Sounds
The Psalmist said it’s in the “still” place where we come to know God (Psalm 46:10). This is stillness toward distractions from outside you. (There’s another kind of stillness in #5.)
To encourage stillness, shut off electronics — television, computers, the phone ringer, music, etc. — so you can listen for God’s voice in your heart.
3. Refocus: Lift Up Your Soul.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look away from yourself and look to God. Then, focus your attention away from the things of earth and “lift up” your soul — give your full attention to the Lord (Psalm 25:1).
Practice His presence and rest there. It’s a choice! Let it become a joyful habit!
4. Resist: Don’t Give In.
The simplest solution, once you realize you’re distracted, is to turn your heart and thoughts back to prayer. Don’t take time to “entertain” or examine the distraction.
Recognize that the enemy, Satan, wants your mind to wander. Resist him (James 4:7) and capture your thoughts for the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5b). Another way to say this is, refuse entrance to anything that hinders during your quiet time with God.
5. Relinquish: Yield Over Stresses and Struggles
Carol, a friend of mine in college used to say “Be still” near the beginning of her prayers. This “be still” was a message to her own heart. It was like she was saying a stern “Shhhh!” to remove the inner distracting rumblings of her troubled spirit.
This is stillness that is more internal, and the best way to arrive at this stillness is to yield (hand over) all worries or anxieties to the Lord as they arise in your heart (Psalm 55:22; Matthew 6:25-34; John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7). Stillness comes when we cast all our anxieties on Jesus (1 Peter 5:7-8).
6. Record: Jot It Down.
Be prepared with paper and pen when you go to prayer. If a distracting thought returns, one strategy may be to write a simple phrase to help you dismiss the thought and pick it up later.
(Be careful with this one. I once wrote half of a blog this way because I couldn’t seem to shut my mind off to distracting thoughts! I’d pray a sentence, jot a note, pray a sentence, jot a note. Maybe that’s a good strategy for writing — to pray before we write — but it’s not very effective for developing intimacy with God. Imagine if you did that in a conversation with a good friend!)
What distracts you when you pray? Which of these strategies might help? Can you think of another strategy?