5 Ways To Avoid Distraction During Prayer
Distraction can be a huge hindrance to our prayer life, but I am also discovering that it provides an opportunity for growth. Here are five strategies for fighting distraction, and harnessing it to deepen and direct our prayers.
1. Pray with Scripture
I remember hearing somewhere (I can’t remember where) that Scripture teaches us how to pray as a mother teaches a child how to talk. God speaks to us through his Word, and then we speak back to him in response, much as a child listens to his parents and then responds. As the father of soon-to-be-3-year-old who is talking more and more, and saying some truly hilarious things, this is an illustration that resonates with me! And I find it true in my prayer life.
2. Prayer with a Pen
I find it helpful on occasion to write out a prayer. Written prayer should not be a replacement for vocal/mental prayer—but I find it works very effectively as a supplement to it. When you are writing, there is a kind of mental discipline and intentionality that is often absent in vocal communication. It’s harder to get distracted, and it enables you to channel and structure your prayer a bit more.
An added benefit is being able to go back, even years later, to see how God has answered your prayers—or (more commonly, in my experience) changed what you pray for!
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!” When we are earnest in prayer, it helps us deal with the hunger pains.
I find one of the areas I need to fast is with social media. Social media changes the way our brains function. It speeds up information flow, clutters our consciousness, and reduces our ability for things like meditation, reflection, quiet. It’s not an easy transition from surfing Facebook and Twitter for hours to lingering before the Lord in prayer.
When Jesus prayed, for instance, he often went out to “a desolate place” (Mark 1:35). Like him, we need to cultivate the discipline of solitude, the discipline of stillness before the Lord. We should not be surprised if we are scattered and distracted in prayer if we are scattered and distracted all the time.
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.
Not only is it harder to get distracted when you’re not out there on your own, but Christ promises his provision (Matthew 18:19) and his presence (Matthew 18:20) to the prayers of “two or three.”
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 ….”
It’s hard to drift off when there is a theme or some kind of orienting structure to the prayer.
Also, if you are consistently getting distracted by the same things, you might consider praying about those very things, whatever they are, that is distracting you. Convert the distraction into an opportunity; leverage its grip on your mind and heart to intensify your prayers. “Lord, I am distracted today by _____. I give this to you ….”