Issue: 2nd quarter 2016

Keys to Focused Prayer

Written by Renee Dugan


When I was eight years old, I was convinced God had an email address.

Growing up right on the curve of the internet boom, I thought that AOL was the coolest, most innovative thing to ever happen to mankind; naturally, I saw absolutely no reason why God Himself wouldn’t be on the cutting edge of technology with His own holy “”.

During that same hyperactive, bouncy childhood phase, I was having an incredibly difficult time concentrating on prayer. Verses about “praying without ceasing”, and the importance of praying for things, struck but didn’t stick, however much I tried. For me, prayer usually went from thanking God for my stuffed animals, to imagining if He could bring them to life, to creating epic stories where they slayed dragons…

Needless to say, any angel transcribing my prayers probably would have stopped, scratched his head and gone, “Wait, what?” at least a dozen times a prayer session.

Meanwhile, my mom was in charge of a virtual prayer-chain that used email to disperse prayer needs to hundreds of dedicated believers around the world. Watching her work on it night after night, my curious mind put together that “email = prayer”—and thus came the belief that there was a better way for me to pray: sending mental emails to God! Sitting next to my mom’s chair, I would craft these “emails” with eyes closed, fingers tapping the air, constructing a long and dedicated account of all the things I had to say to God. Wonder of wonders, it worked! No more mind-wandering, no more distractions. I even imagined that God was emailing me back, inbox-ding and all. It was something of a breakthrough for me to finally be able to pray without losing my train of thought.

Giving Up vs. Holding On

My guess is that I’m not the only person who has ever struggled with being distracted while praying and therefore gone in search of methods to help improve their focus. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have struggled a bit to focus when praying. Keeping track of our thoughts as we share them with God can even become more difficult, not easier, as we get older; it can be easy to slip from praying about a doctor’s appointment to simply worrying about it. This doesn’t, by any means, imply that God doesn’t hear us—but the focus of our heart goes from surrendering the matter to taking it back in and dwelling on it more than we’re giving it up to God.

Thankfully, we aren’t the victims of our wandering minds. Scripture tells us that we should strive to lead our thoughts captive—even those prayers that want to get away from us. Below are four methods to help with focus while praying:

1. Get Down on Your Knees

Though this practice has been somewhat hijacked by mockers as well as marketing companies looking for an easy way to make poignant prayer-related posters, the actual action of kneeling in total surrender before the Creator of Heaven and Earth can have a powerful, focusing effect on one’s prayer life. It requires you to stop whatever else you’re doing, put yourself in a position of genuflection to God, and stay there until you’ve brought your supplication before Him.

1 Kings 8:54-56
When Solomon finished praying this entire prayer and petition to the Lord, he got up from kneeling before the altar of the Lord, with his hands spread out toward heaven, 55 and he stood and blessed the whole congregation of Israel with a loud voice: 56 “May the Lord be praised! He has given rest to His people Israel according to all He has said. Not one of all the good promises He made through His servant Moses has failed.

2. Speak Out Loud

Ever heard someone say, “That sounded better in my head?” Our thoughts tend to wander every which-way before we say them, but actually speaking aloud forces us to really think about our thinking. Praying out loud can keep us on a single subject, without that thought leading down a rabbit hole. This isn’t always an appropriate option if you’re in a public place or a quiet, sleeping house, but it certainly has its applications in other cases, like in the car while driving to work. The next time you find yourself struggling to stay focused while praying, try doing it out loud!

Psalm 77:1
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me.

3. Pray a Recited Prayer

Example: Some prayer journals, such as “Amazing Grace for a Woman’s Heart” by Jane L. Fryer, offer the beginning of a prayer from which you can “launch” into your own prayer, tailoring it specifically to your needs, desires, and struggles. Following a prayer devotional on grace and peace, Fryer closes with this recited prayer:

“My Savior, because you died in agony, I can live in peace. Teach me to approach every circumstance, every relationship, clothed in that peace, especially…”

Leaving this prayer open-ended allows the reader to fill in the blank with their own needs, helping them along toward crafting a prayer.

4. Journal Your Prayers

Similar to speaking out loud, writing prayers down can help us to stay in the moment so that our minds don’t wander to other things that derail our actual praying into just thinking about the things we’re praying for. An added bonus to this method of prayer is that you can open up these notebooks years later, read the things you prayed about, and truly see the marvelous and oftentimes unexpected ways these prayers were answered. It’s one thing to read the way God answered prayers in the Bible—it’s another entirely to have the inexorable proof right in front of your face of how He answered yours! Journaling of any sort is also a method widely used to combat stress, anxiety, and even panic disorders, all of which can get in the way of a person’s prayer life. Taking the time to write out a prayer first thing in the morning, right before bed, or even in a few moments of respite during a busy day can be a great focusing technique as well as an excellent source of remembrance and a memorial for the things God has accomplished in your life.

Psalm 77:11-12
I will remember the Lord’s works; yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders. 12 I will reflect on all You have done and meditate on Your actions.

Prayer Takes Many Forms—Find The One That Works For You!

These are just four examples that can help with focusing the mind and taking control of our thoughts during prayer. Different methods work for different people! One of the most wonderful aspects of prayer is that it doesn’t have to “look a certain way.” Prayer is not reserved for a church pew on Sunday; it isn’t required to be verbal, written, or simply “thought”, and we don’t have to be down on our knees to do it. To pray is simply to “ask”, and everyone goes about that in a different way. God looks on the heart and desires whole-hearted relationship with each of us—He hears us whenever we pray, no matter if it’s spoken or unspoken.

But if you have ever had trouble keeping your mind focused while approaching God in prayer, praise, or supplication, consider trying some of the methods above—or developing your own! We can even pray to God to help us pray! The wonderful thing about prayer is that the more we do it, the easier it becomes—and the more we train our focus, the more readily it comes. Always remember that God is a God who meets us where we are at; He is willing to help us along to becoming better prayer warriors with greater confidence who readily turn to Him in prayer at the first sign of strife. All we have to do is ask!

Speaking of which, if you’d like to write to God directly, his email address is…

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Renee Dugan

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