6 Strategies to Deal with Distractions in Prayer

24 Apr

ChildPeekingDuringPrayerThe 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. DidYouSaySquirrel_Maltese

“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?

– Dawn

Two Steps from Stupid

11 Apr

ImWithStupidWhiteTeeI recently scanned a subjective list of the “50 Greatest Living Geniuses”—people like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and others who were/are “geniuses” in various fields, including the arts, sciences, sports and so on. I wondered if geniuses ever think, “Boy, that guy is really stupid!”

I imagined a shirt something like the one on the left, but worn by inventor Thomas Edison. His shirt might say, “I’m with Stupid,” but the arrows I'm with stupid_Amazonwould point left and right! And then I found this Einstein t-shirt on the right at Amazon! LOL!

I thought I was stupid for most of my life, even though I got good grades. It all goes back to a third grade teacher who made it her mission to humiliate me in front of the class. (Her actions would be called child abuse today.)

Nobody wants to be called stupid. But we frail, fleshly humans are really closer than we realize to doing something stupid! Sometimes I wish I had a “stupid meter” that would warn me when I’m about ready to do something I’ll regret later.

I’ve been writing a book lately about the importance and blessing of Christian friendships. It was easy writing about the positive aspects to friendship . . . like encouragement, praying together and helping each other. But there’s another aspect that doesn’t feel so positive. In the book, I’m calling it a “Learning” friend. But it’s really Accountability.

It’s important. It’s necessary. It’s biblical!

When Alvin Reid, in an article on Church Planting,* wrote about the vital importance of accountability in church networks, he said,

“Left to ourselves we are all two steps from stupid. We need each other.”

Christians, in particular, need to understand this. Christians are interconnected in the community of the Body of Christ and the Bible presents accountability as our duty to each other. Part of our responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ is building each other up (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Accountability has two sides. One is encouraging: “Spur one another on in love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). The other is challenging: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1). That restoration presupposes sin being exposed. But it might not even be an overt sin. It might be something left undone, or something we can’t see ourselves but it’s obvious to others. It might be as simple as challenging us to keep our own commitments!

When we are accountable to someone, we humbly choose to be responsible for our actions. People who refuse accountability are often proud. They think they can do as they please without answering to anyone. They unwittingly set themselves up for Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8). We’ve got to drop our pride, because so often it takes a caring accountability partner (which I’ll call an “AP”) to see our blind spots.

As a teen, I embraced Jiminy Cricket’s advice: “Always let your conscience be your guide.” But as a maturing adult, I realized my conscience might not always be the wisest adviser! I need a Holy Spirit-controlled conscience.

(By the way, I mentioned earlier wanting a “stupid meter.” I’ve learned my most trustworthy “stupid meter” is the Spirit of God who uses the Word of God to alert me to foolishness. I can know the truth. I can know God’s will for me on earth. And I know I need the Spirit of God to help me make the wisest choice too.)

But as Reid said, “We need each other” . . . meaning we in the Body of Christ. We need flesh-and-blood “APs” (and mentors) who will walk alongside us—sometimes telling us a truth we’ve forgotten . . . and sometimes a truth we don’t want to hear.

Two scriptures highlight this beauty of accountability.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22, ESV)

The writer of Proverbs says we are meant to “sharpen” each other as we live the Christian life. This is true because we may not realize where we’ve become “dull.”

Dull = Compromising. . . Hypocritical. . . Lazy. . . Indulgent. . . Sinful.

Caring, challenging support might be just the thing we need to fight against the enemy. And our godly “advisers” can help us walk in line with God’s Word when the world encourages us to tread a crooked road.

Accountability partners challenge us to live in truth—to practice what we preach to others. They also help us make wise choices. A good “AP” has our back, keeping us from doing (or continuing in) something stupid.

We see examples of accountability throughout the scriptures. One of the strongest examples in the Old Testament was the prophet Nathan, coming to King David, to confront him over sin (2 Samuel 12:1-13). Nathan used a powerful story to first capture David’s heart, then ZING! And David got the point.

In the New Testament, Paul challenged Peter for hypocrisyfor being a two-faced believer (Galatians 2:11-13). Paul also (acting something like an accountability partner for a whole congregation) confronted the Corinthian Church over complacency in dealing with members’ immoral behavior (1 Cor. 5:1-13). His words reflected his heart of loving concern for the Body of Christ.

I discovered a few things in relating to my own “APs” over the years:

  1. A good accountability partner loves you too much to allow you to get away with being sincere and serving . . . while willfully sinning.
  2. A good accountability partner won’t allow you to “keep the rules” while maintaining a heart far from God.
  3. An accountability partner should want you, above all, to become more like Jesus.
  4. Accountability should include intentional, specific, regular plans to meet and encourage each other . . . a time, a place, a purpose.
  5. Times of accountability should involve prayer, challenging questions, practical encouragement and, when appropriate, loving nudges to confess sin (James 5:16).

Every Christian, whether a new believer in the pew or the most seasoned pastor, needs an Accountability Partner. We all need someone to pray with, confide in and be honest about our struggles with sin. After all, we’re only two steps from stupid, right?

Do you have an accountability partner? If not, will you pray and ask God to show you a wise, godly person to approach about this vital issue?

* Alvin Reid, “Networks Work, Especially for Church Planting,” 2-16-15

– Dawn

 

A Perfect Substitute

3 Apr

PeepDynastyI love Peep “creations,” like this “Peep Dynasty” diorama (left) created by Minnesotans Liz, Maddie, Drew, Matt and Ryan Mulcahy to resemble the “Duck Dynasty” TV show.

My sister-in-love, Janice, loves Easter “Peeps” candy and we’ve shared some of those squishy, sugary chicks or bunnies with her every spring. But they don’t belong in her healthy diet, so she firmly told my husband and me last year, “No more Peeps!”

JansBirthdayPeep_2015_croppedWe complied, until we saw this huge stuffed “Peep” (right). Jan’s birthday is two days before Easter, so Miss Pinky Peep was her special gift this year!

LOL indeed!

The stuffed Peep was a good substitute in place of her more tempting marshmallow version, don’t you think? It brought nothing but joy.

I’ve been thinking about “substitutes” lately — how the Bible mentions at least two kinds of substitutes. Here’s what I’m thinking . . .

1. It’s a good thing to find acceptable, even beneficial substitutes when we are tempted. The reason temptations are successful is, when they connect so deeply with our desires, we often choose to give in. As James, one of the disciples, wrote,

“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14-15).

Actually, temptations arise from the world (1 John 2:15-17), our sinful flesh (Galatians 5:16-21) and the devil (1 Peter 5:8). So we can’t just say, “The devil made me do it,” or blame the culture. We are responsible for our choices.

Our example of dealing with temptation is Jesus Himself.  He was tempted as we are, yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). When tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), Jesus substituted God’s truth for Satan’s lies.

God wants us to do the same.

When tempted, we must not rely on our own skill, our own wisdom or our own strategies. We must appeal to, quote and rest in the sure Word of God.

The Lord uses His Word to correct and transform us (Romans 12:2; 2 Timothy 3:16). We can rejoice in that!

And we can ask the Lord to show us how to stand against temptation, perhaps by choosing an alternate activity or a godly option. Remember:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

When faced with temptations today, we must learn to use the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) and the Word of God (Psalm 119:9, 11), to defeat our enemy. We must be watchful in prayer, discovering and becoming more alert to Satan’s strategies (Matthew 26:41). [A good resource for this is Warren Wiersbe’s book, The Strategy of Satan: How to Detect and Defeat Him.]

We must not be ignorant of Satan’s tricks (2 Corinthians 2:11). Our crafty adversary twists scriptures (Genesis 3:1-5) as he masquerades as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). He seeks “opportune” times to tempt us (Luke 4:13). We need the Holy Spirit to show us how to recognize and defeat the devil through the power of the Word.

We can always rely on the truth of the Scriptures to show us how to substitute healthy, godly, wise choices for spiritual growth and victory.

And then . . .

2. Jesus is my PERFECT Substitute. That’s another “substitute” concept that truly blesses me this Easter season.

God promised Adam and Eve a Savior would come (Genesis 3:15), but ironically, He spoke those words to Satan. From that moment, Satan knew he was headed for defeat. He likely sensed it again, before the cross,  when Jesus defeated him in the wilderness through the power of the Word. But that doesn’t keep Satan from trying to destroy God’s children. We must remember the promise of Genesis 3 and how God fulfilled it in John 3:16!

Yes, every believer has counted on God’s promise of a coming Savior since the Garden of Eden.

The blessing of Good Friday and Easter is that Jesus kept the law perfectly his 33 years, then died on the cross and rose to victory as our gracious Substitute.

JesusTheLambOfGod_OurSubstituteThe perfect Lamb of God died for our sins and rose that we might have eternal life, if we trust in His substitutionary sacrifice for us.

He took what we rightly deserved, and gave us what we could never deserve in ourselves. This was spelled out in Isaiah 53:5, which prophecies Christ’s “substitutionary atonement,” as well as many New Testament passages, like:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God . . . He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness . . . For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. to bring you to God . . . “ (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).

Yes, Jesus, our Champion — Jesus our Substitute — rose from the dead and won the victory. And by faith, the victory is ours as well.

In summary, remember:

1.  To find victory over besetting sins, learn to substitute God’s truth for Satan’s lies.

2. We cannot save ourselves; we need a substitute to take our place. We must rest in God’s grace . . . in our Holy Substitute, Jesus.

Have you placed your trust in the perfect Substitute? Are you learning to find victory in the Word of God?

– Dawn

 

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