How to stay focused while praying
About a year ago, I started a series exploring the way Jesus prayed. My theory was that if God’s goal is to make me more Christ-like, then I should probably take a look at how, when, and where Jesus prayed. Out of the numerous things I learned, two observations of Jesus’ prayer life stuck out:
First, that He frequently went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer. Out of a variety of circumstances, Jesus was constantly devoting chunks of alone time to talking with His Father in Heaven.
Second, Jesus’ main concern in His prayers was the Father. Jesus was primarily focused on the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory. His aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.
As rich as that study was, as I moved on to other parts of Scripture I didn’t always remember these main lessons. Looking back, my prayer life has both ebbed and flowed…tossed about by circumstance and my mental state of the moment. One particular item I’ve struggled with is staying focused while praying.
When I pray, I’m usually sitting in a quiet room with my eyes closed to avoid visual distractions. My conversation with the Father starts out alright, but about half way through the fourth sentence…my mind jumps to something that needs my attention later on in the day, or I remember what I had forgotten to buy at the store, or I start to process a relationship problem that needs addressed at work or with a friend or in my family.
It never fails…my mind picks the worst possible moment to leave the deep waters of relationship with the Father, and I starting splashing around in shallow thoughts of the smaller parts of life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to God for mentally abandoning our quiet time together.
I don’t think my struggle is all that unique, either. In various forms, I’ve heard other Christians voice similar difficulties. I suspect that ancient believers also dealt with this, because towards the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
Since Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the gap between us and God, we know that as a child of God, we can pray at any time to our Father. However, I think we tend to take advantage of that freedom and we get comfortable with sporadic communication. Paul’s instruction here is to make prayer a priority, something we are devoted to. Just like Jesus purposely setting aside chunks of time, we should as well. Early morning, late night, commuting to work, or wherever we can consistently get time for just us and the Father; we need to make the time and protect that time from other things that will try to distract us.
This is where I’m so grateful for the second half of Paul’s instruction – stay alert in it with thanksgiving. When my mind drifts off, I can immediately refocus my attention by thanking God for something, anything. Giving thanks takes the focus off of me and my agenda because it makes me look toward the person I’m saying “Thank you” to.
As I have been applying Paul’s instruction, I’m realizing how a lack of thanksgiving has kept me unfocused…and being unfocused has prevented me from growing deeper with the Father. So I need to make sure I’m purposely scheduling chunks of time with the most important Person in my life, and also telling Him about all the parts of my life that I am thankful for. I’m certain that as I do this, my concern for the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory will increase. Then I will begin praying like Jesus did, because my relationship with the Father will be a lot like Jesus’ relationship with the Father.
Maturity, growth, and deep relationship will not happen if we give God some sporadic moments of talk during our week. The richness of a relationship with our Creator will only happen as we devote time to Him. Will you make that choice? The first step is simply saying “Thank you”.