If you have been a Christian for some time, shouldn’t you know how to pray? The truth is, many people struggle to focus in prayer, and they are too embarrassed to admit it! It is not as if you haven’t tried to pray, but even when you do, you feel as if your prayers don’t really count. You may not even be sure that God is listening!
You may be rising early to pray, but after waking up and reading a few verses in the Bible, you might doze off again without having really engaged in prayer in any meaningful way. Worse still, you might have signed up for a prayer hour at church and are not able to complete it because you struggle to focus, or do not know how to engage in prayer meaningfully for a whole hour.
Some people pour out their hearts naturally to God every time they pray, but others learn to pray through practise and discipline. If you are the latter, you are not alone! There are many more, much more than you would think! To assume that everyone automatically knows how to pray is not true, but while not knowing how to pray is not something to feel ashamed of, it does reflect a need to strengthen this discipline.
What can you do when you struggle to focus in prayer?
There are many meaningful ways to connect with God in prayer. Here are some ideas you can try to help you focus in prayer for longer.
1.The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is the easiest way to start. Jesus said, ‘When you pray, pray like this’! Open your Bible to Matthew 6:9–13, and read this prayer from your heart to the Lord. Do it every day, morning and evening to start yourself off in prayer. This is Jesus’ advice, and no matter how many times you pray this prayer, it always ‘counts’, and it covers every aspect of our lives!
Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day.
2.Pray out loud
Pray out loud, especially when you are alone. Pray while you drive, walk, shower, etc. Pray out loud so that you hear yourself speaking to God. Speak to Him about everyday matters, your family, or anything that is bothering or burdening you. Pray also about things that make you happy or what you rejoice over. Start with simple conversations with the Lord – this is the essence of prayer. Daniel prayed like this at home, unashamed, as was his custom, three times a day (Daniel 6:10)!
Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you to pray with boldness, like Daniel did.
3.Sing hymns, praises and songs of joy
If the four living creatures around the throne of God in heaven are crying out, “Holy, holy, holy…”, so can we! You do not need to create a fancy song or sound like a rock star! The important thing is that you sing from your heart. You can sing along to a CD/DVD or to a song on the radio. Or, you could sing your own words to the Lord. You can simply sing, ‘holy’, ‘hallelujah’ or ‘hosanna’. Try singing from a songbook, or print some lyrics. Perhaps even play a few simple chords on a musical instrument. It does not matter how you sing, as long as your heart is set towards the Lord.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to sing and make music to the Lord from your heart. (Ephesians 5:19).
4.Imitate great prayers in the Bible
Perhaps singing is not your style. Just as Jesus set an example in prayer, so did many other people recorded in the Bible. Pick one of their prayers, and read it prayerfully unto the Lord. Start by looking up the following prayers:
Hannah’s prayer of desperation: 1 Samuel 2:1–10
Jesus’ prayer for His disciples and all believers: John 17
Paul’s prayer for the church: Ephesians 1:15-23
Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength: Ephesians 3:14-21
Paul’s prayer for spiritual protection: Ephesians 6:10-20
Jabez’ prayer: 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
A prayer to guide you in living a life of love: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to pray the above prayers.
You can turn every moment into a prayer. On your way to work, pray for the day’s activities and for the people you will encounter. Pray that they might honour God. As you wait in a queue, pray for the people in front of you. As you do your laundry, cook dinner or clean the house, pray for the different needs of each person in your household. The more you speak to God, the more natural ‘prayer’ becomes! It is not only something we do at designated times; prayer is a relationship!
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
6.Pray with your kids
Involve your whole family in prayer. Make it a normal part of the family’s daily activity. Pray with your kids before they leave for school. Pray with them again at meal times and before they go to bed. Pray when they feel sick, or when they are struggling with something. Teach them to rejoice before the Lord when they experience a breakthrough or an answer to prayer. This will not only help them, it will help you too!
Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to model a lifestyle of prayer to your family.
7.Pray with your spouse
Praying with your spouse may sometimes overlap with prayings for your children. When you wake up in the morning, pray a blessing over your spouse. Do so again at bedtime. Would you like to try something really challenging and humbling? Stop in the middle of a fight or disagreement with your spouse and pray! Incorporate prayer into your normal conversation, making God a part of your relationship by speaking to Him.
Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you to pray when you are with your spouse.
8.Go for a prayer walk, run or drive
There is something relaxing about being outside. Going for a walk or run, or taking a drive, are opportunities for you to focus in prayer. It has been proven that some individuals focus better when they are involved in a specific activity. Start by giving thanks to God for what you see around you.
Ask the Holy Spirit to turn such moments into times of thanksgiving. When you are in nature, especially, thank God for His greatness.
9.Pray the Psalms
How about using your Bible as a prayer tool? This way you can read and pray at the same time! Most of the Psalms are prayers, and it does not take much to turn them into personal prayers. Start by pray-reading the following Psalms to the Lord:
Psalm 23 for guidance.
Psalm 51 for cleansing from sin.
Psalm 63 for times of spiritual longing.
Psalm 84 when you rejoice in His presence.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray the above prayers from Scripture whole-heartedly.
Sometimes, a denial of the flesh through fasting can cause the spirit to soar again. This is also true for when we struggle to pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how and when to fast, and for how long.
During your fast, ask the Holy Spirit to touch your heart again with the compassion of the Lord Jesus, to pray as He did.