You try to pray to God but you get distracted, your mind wanders, and you lose focus on your prayers. Welcome to the club! Sometimes I wonder if Jesus himself had to learn how to stay focused when he was praying. He was fully man, after all, and experienced life as we do.
If Jesus didn’t struggle to stay focused when he prayed, other disciples, apostles, priests and saints sure did! Paul, Mary, Martha and John the Baptist had human minds and struggled with human problems. Most if not all believers — no matter how deep their faith — struggle with focus and discipline during prayer.
These tips are inspired by a reader’s comment on 10 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship With the Holy Spirit:
“Thank you, Laurie for this article. I am going to try being more open and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s whispers and nudges. I will also try being more quiet and listening and still in the Holy Spirit’s presence. The latter will be more challenging as I am already trying to be still in my quiet time but my mind wanders and so I give in and give up.”
Her comments made me reflect on how I stay focused during prayer. My approach to prayer is more of a written conversation with God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ. I also breathe Yahweh when I’m distracted, which is known as a “breath prayer” or “centering prayer.” I hope my experience shines a little light into your own prayer life…
3 Ways to Stay Focused When You Pray
In How Do I Communicate With the Holy Spirit? I share how important (crucial!) it is to invite the Holy Spirit into your prayers. Inviting Him isn’t for His benefit, but yours. Deliberately asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you reminds you that you aren’t in control…He is.
“If you love me, you will keep my commands,” says Jesus in John 14:15-17. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you.”
1. Write your prayers as a conversation with God
Writing is an excellent way to pray because it forces you to stay focused on the conversation. When I write to God, I don’t make a laundry or grocery list of prayers (“Dear God, please heal Aunt Mary’s bunions, Uncle Paul’s affliction that he won’t name, Brother David’s wandering eye, and Grandpa Moses’ stutter.”).
Here’s how I began my prayers one morning: “Holy Spirit, good morning! Father God, how are You? Oh glorious Jesus Christ, beloved Son and Brother and Savior, my Lord and Master — hello and welcome to today! I see You, I feel You, I humbly and gratefully kneel in your Presence.”
And another: “Jesus, do You know what day it is? My first theology exam! Finally. I’ve been studying, reading and thinking intensely for two days…Holy Spirit, open my mind, give me clear thoughts and fresh insights.”
2. Include the distractions in your prayers
When I’m writing my prayerful conversation to God, sometimes I get distracted by the taste of my coffee (I get up at 4 am every morning), sleepiness (because, after all, I get up at 4 am every morning!), setbacks (sometimes the dogs need a walk, a poop, a snuggle) and irritations (I disobeyed my own rule never to look at my phone until my first blog post is written, and I lost 15 minutes of prayer time).
Including the distractions is an effective way to stay focused when you’re praying. I write to God about the distractions. “Jesus, I’m distracted because of that theology exam. I want to know the material inside and out, but I can’t absorb it all! I can’t remember it all, but I want to. Where in the Bible does it say ‘the flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak?’ I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s in Your Word somewhere.” I might pray about the distractions, or ask the Holy Spirit for insight and solutions.
3. Breathe Yahweh when you lose focus during prayer
Here’s one of my absolute favorite ways to pray: I simply breathe the word Yahweh. Inhale “Yah” and exhale “Weh.” This is an especially effective prayer when I don’t know what to pray for or how to pray. It’s also brilliant — and soothing — when I’m in line at the bank, stuck in traffic, or caught in an unhealthy, unproductive situation. Breathing Yahweh immediately focuses my thoughts on God, aligns my prayers, and reminds me who God is.
Right now those are my three most effective tips on how to stay focused when you’re praying. Later today I may remember something different, such as imaginative prayer or contemplative prayer (lectio divina is my favorite!). I have a feeling I’ll soon be writing more articles on prayer.
I have so many questions for you! How do you pray? Who do you pray to? When do you pray — and do you use your whole body, or “just” your mind? Do you write your prayers? What entered your mind as you read my tips for staying focused during prayer (writing your prayers as a conversation with God, including distractions in your prayers, and breathing Yahweh when you lose focus)? Your big and little thoughts are welcome below!
May you hear the echoes of Jesus in your day, sense the Holy Spirit in your life, and walk humbly with your God all the way home.
With His love,
P.S. For more ideas on how to pray creatively without losing focus, read 5 Ways to Talk to God When You Can’t Pray.