How to Pray: Combating Distractions in Prayer

| January 12, 2017

Most of us believe we should develop better prayer habits, but it’s hard sometimes to know exactly what to do. Wake up earlier? Set aside time each day? Those might be great choices, but what about when our minds wander? How many times have you set aside time to pray and ended up spending ninety percent of it trying to remember your shopping list or mentally rehearsing everything you have to do? How do we stay focused in our prayers when there are so many other things vying for our energy and attention?

I’m not a fan of any one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to prayer. Martin Luther, for example, would spend three hours in prayer if he had a particularly busy day ahead of him. He did this because he knew he needed that time in prayer to organize his thoughts to get to all the tasks he had ahead of him. James, the brother of Jesus, was nicknamed “Camel Knees” because he spent so much time kneeling in prayer that his knees developed knobby calluses.

If you feel God leading you to set aside hours a morning in prayer, or if you love to kneel by your bedside to pray, then go for it! The point is to find the prayer tips that work for you. After all, even if you woke up at four every morning and spent three hours on your knees, if your mind wanders so much that you’re only praying a total of ten minutes, you may as well have slept for that extra two hours and fifty minutes! A lot of growing in the spiritual discipline of prayer is training your mind not to wander. Of course, there’s nothing better than practice in overcoming distractibility, but there are also some practical tips you can employ to combat distraction in prayer.

4 Practical Tips on How to Pray Distraction Free

#1. Use a Prayer Journal

Like everything else prayer-related, there’s no one-size-fits-all method that’s guaranteed to work. But keeping a prayer journal is a great way to stay focused in your prayers since it’s a lot harder for your mind to wander when you’re actually putting the pen to paper. There are several ways to set up a prayer journal. You could write it in a diary style, where each day you write out whatever you want to talk to God about. Other people prefer keeping prayer lists or bullet points. For example, you could have one page where you write the names of people who need physical healing and pray through that list each day. I’ve used all kinds of methods for prayer journaling (including a prayer scrapbook I once made with pictures of family members and magazine clippings from current events), but right now I like the list method. I’ve particularly enjoyed getting into the habit of writing out the things I’m thankful for each morning.

#2. Set Up Prayer Reminders

These are quick visual prompts you see throughout the day that remind you to pray for a specific thing. For example, every time you drive by your church, you could remember to say a short prayer for your pastor. When you wait for your computer to start up, you can pray for an unsaved friend. Use post-its if you find it helpful to have a visual reminder for your prayers. I like to pray when I start up my computer. While I’m waiting for it to load, I ask God to bless the work I’m about to do.

#3. Pray With a Timer

You can find interval timers that will go off every 30 or 60 seconds on YouTube or set up something similar on a smart phone app. Try to pick different people and pray for them for these short periods of time. You’d be surprised at how much you can pray for a person in only half a minute! Having a timer helps you stay focused because you know you only have a certain amount of time to pray for that particular topic.

#4. Be Gentle With Your Wandering Mind

Remember that prayer isn’t a formula. It’s a relationship with Christ. If you find your mind wandering, keeping directing it back to the Lord, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right every time.

Bonus Prayer Guide

Another great way to combat distractions in prayer is to pray through Scripture or to use Bible verses as the basis for your prayer. Sign up below to request a free PDF with fillable prayer journaling prompts based in Scripture.

What About You?

Do you have any great tips for combating distraction in prayer? Have you tried any of these? Do one of the above stand out? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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35 Comments

  • Reply Heather Hart January 12, 2017 at 8:26 am

    Something that really helps me is if my mind strays to something I start to pray about it. If I start thinking about my busy day, I start to pray about it. If I start to think of that person I had a disagreement with, I pray about it. If I start to think about one of my kids, I pray for them. It has really helped! Thanks for the great post, Alana!
    Heather Hart recently posted…Introducing Candid ConversationsMy Profile

    • Reply Alana Terry January 12, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      Such a good point about praying through the things you’re distracted about!

  • Reply Ailie January 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I try pray into my distractions because I believe that they can also be God showing his heart on those matters. For example I may be praying for my kids and suddenly start thinking about a work situation. I start praying into that. If I start thinking (out of the blue) about someone who hurt me awhile back it gets prayed into because God may want to bring healing. I find quickly jotting it down helps to – especially tasks that need to get done. Hope its helpful

    • Reply Alana Terry January 12, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Yes, such a good point. Especially about writing things down so you don’t forget them later. I do that all the time!

  • Reply Lisa notes January 13, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Staying focused while we pray is a toughie. I do Centering Prayer a lot, and that’s my main struggle with it; my mind wanders. Your #4 tip is the most helpful for me; be gentle with myself. Every time I catch myself wandering and return to prayer, it’s a beautiful welcoming back from the Lord.
    Lisa notes recently posted…3 Resolutions to Grow Faith through UncertaintyMy Profile

  • Reply Jaime Hampton January 13, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    I love this post! I had no idea about James’ nickname – imagine how much prayer it would take to develop knees like a camel? One thing I like to do when my kids distract me is to include them in my prayer time. Every prayer time can’t be with them; there is a time to pray alone, shutting the prayer closet door, but taking time to model prayer for them, and draw them into my own prayer life is something I know God will honor & use. I am such a distractable person, these tips are awesome. Thanks, Alana!
    Jaime Hampton recently posted…CleavageMy Profile

    • Reply Heather Hart January 17, 2017 at 8:27 am

      That’s a great point, Jaime! We can definitely include our kids in our prayer time. I used to do that for my quiet time. If my daughter woke up early and invaded it, I invited her to get her Bible and join me. I have such precious memories from that time.
      Heather Hart recently posted…Neglecting My Quiet TimeMy Profile

  • Reply Stephanie January 14, 2017 at 7:54 am

    I do a pray journal. Have one each for my kids. It’s a great way to pray.

  • Reply Liz January 16, 2017 at 7:55 am

    I definitely needed to read this today! My mind has traveled to China and back during prayer time. I’m so thankful God doesn’t hold it against me. Prayer journalling has been a very effective tool to keep my focused. too! Blessings!

    • Reply Alana Terry January 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Yes, I need that reminder to be gentle with myself too!

  • Reply Helene January 16, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Oh I appreciate both the encouragement to pray more and with more focus, and the reminder to not be too hard on ourselves.

  • Reply Terri January 16, 2017 at 8:22 am

    I needed to read this. I struggle with how and what to pray and struggle with more then 5 minute prayers. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Cheryl Gerou January 16, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Thank you from your neighbor at Monday’s Musings. This post is exactly what I needed. Great helps and reminders. Distraction can be such a problem. I look forward to trying some of your ideas. May your soul be refreshed reshed as you meet with our Lord in prayer.

  • Reply Starla Jimenez January 16, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Great tips. I recently started a prayer journal and love it!

  • Reply Andrea January 16, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Maybe if I get a prayer journal, it will help me focus better in prayer

    • Reply Alana Terry January 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Yes, I’ve really enjoyed using mine!!

  • Reply Leslie January 16, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Such good ideas. I know a lot of people who do prayer journaling but I have never tried it.

    • Reply Heather Hart January 17, 2017 at 8:24 am

      I know lots of people who use them and love them, I have found that they aren’t for me, but definitely worth a try to find out.
      Heather Hart recently posted…Neglecting My Quiet TimeMy Profile

  • Reply Marie January 16, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    I use to use a prayer journal all the time. I need to get back to that because you are right, it truly does help
    Marie recently posted…Volunteers NeededMy Profile

  • Reply Amy Hagerup January 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    I love these tips. I have a prayer notebook and several helps that I use for my organized prayer times. But my favorite is just extemporaneous prayer throughout my day.
    Amy Hagerup recently posted…5 Network Marketing Lessons Learned from Track MeetsMy Profile

  • Reply Tara January 17, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    I love the idea of praying with a timer. I had never thought of that!
    Tara recently posted…4 Healthy Family Meal Planning Sanity SaversMy Profile

  • Reply Rosie January 18, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Great post, I love the tips! And happy to have found your blog! Be blessed!

  • Reply Ruth January 18, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Sometimes I write prayers out in a prayer journal. These are heartfelt prayers, and the wonderful thing about that is that if I am having a particularly distracted time, I can pull out the prayer journal and pray the same prayer again, and it is just as heartfelt the second or third time around. Sometimes that’s all I need to get my mind going in the right direction; the written prayer from another day becomes a springboard for the present day.
    I also like the above comments about praying through the things that you are distracted about, because God cares about all those things, and He may truly be bringing things to mind that He wants us to pray about.
    And praying Scripture can truly be helpful as well, especially the Psalms and other Scriptures that are actually prayers.
    Here’s one of my prayers that I published on my blog:
    https://plantedbylivingwater.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/lord-you-know-me-intimately-i-want-to-know-you-more/

  • Reply Joy Willia January 18, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    This is wonderful…I struggle with this sometimes too, and I really love your suggestions!

  • Reply Tracey January 22, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    I like these tips! I know that having a prayer journal has helped me keep my mind from wandering as much during my prayer time. I write out specific lists for my family members each month, and keep a separate list of running requests for extended family, friends, etc.
    Tracey recently posted…Saturday SalutesMy Profile

  • Reply Amy Christensen February 21, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Sometimes, when I am alone, I will pace the floor. Not only do I get some extra steps, but I can speak out loud and it keeps me focused. – Amy

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