How to focus when you pray

DeAnna McEntire

I don’t like dealing with things.

There, I said it.

I hate crying and getting emotional, and so most of the time I prefer to push sad thoughts or events from my mind instead of dealing with them. Because of this, when I take the time to pray I can’t seem to focus.

I have a difficult time settling on any one thought because I am so used to removing them from the front of my mind. Instead, I am left with thousands upon thousands of little thoughts all whirring and buzzing in my head. This makes it incredibly difficult to focus on one or two things that may be looming in my life.

You may feel the same. Maybe you are wondering, “How can I change this?”

Focused prayer comes from a focused heart.

The answer? You can tell yourself, “I need to focus more,” all you want, but simply saying it won’t change anything. Instead, dealing with the cause of our unsettled heart leads to focus. Focused prayer comes from a focused heart. A focused heart is a settled heart.

I believe there are three common reasons we often feel unsettled and struggle to focus when we pray.

1. Something big is going on in our lives and we’re fighting to ignore it. 

Trying not to think about something takes a lot of energy. What if instead of trying harder not to think about that specific thing, we let ourselves dwell there for a minute?

Asking God into our worries, our fears, and our day-to-day struggles is what it means to daily surrender to Him, to make Him our rock and our refuge (Psalm 119:114-116, Luke 12:22-31). Once we surrender something huge or stressful over to the Lord, that frees up a lot of space in our mind to focus on other things while praying. 

2. Something (or someone) competes for our attention. 

Maybe it's the kids. Maybe it's the constant ping of your smartphone. Making time to get away to pray isn't selfish or a luxury; it's a necessity to hear from God and prepare for the day (1 Kings 19:11-13, Luke 5:16). We need to hear from Jesus and spend time with Him in order to get through the day.

I actually have to put my phone out of arm’s reach when I pray so I’m not distracted. Think about what may be competing for your attention, and then take steps to protect time for prayer. The Lord deserves our undivided attention when we speak with and listen to Him.

3. Sin hinders our connection with God. 

It's awkward to start up a conversation with someone we know we've wronged. The same is true with God. It's not popular to talk about, but God makes it pretty clear that He wants us to confess our own flaws and brokenness, and not doing so can hinder our prayers (Psalm 51). We need to be ready to deal with sin in our lives and repent so that we can enter into deeper community with God (1 John 1:9).

Prayer remains vital in our relationship with the Lord and remaining focused is key. Take a moment to consider which of these three distractions are the biggest challenges to focusing in prayer. Ask God to help you deal with them and show you any blind spots you haven’t considered.

Get a fresh start with practical methods that help you connect regularly with God. Consider setting reminders on your phone to pray for specific things at specific times. Any time you remember someone or something to pray for, pause for a moment and bring it to God. Using every opportunity to talk with and listen to Him builds a lifestyle of prayer. As you develop the habits of focused prayer, you’ll move forward in faithfulness to God in prayer and in your life.

Want help getting started when you don’t know what to pray? Use these verses, and invite a trusted friend to pray with you. Visit the Care Room on a Sunday at NewSpring and someone will pray with you and for you.

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