Let's be honest: prayer is hard. As soon as you sit down to pray, thousands of distractions you never even considered enter your head. Even the most driven and focused individual suddenly finds the most mundane Facebook post fascinating. YouTube becomes an encyclopedia of need-to-know information to the extent that an hour later, no praying has been done.
It is comforting to know even the disciples struggled. When Jesus was facing arrest, torture and death, they fell asleep instead of praying (Matthew 26:36-46).
""Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation," Jesus told them. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.""
So how do we deal with our weak flesh which seems to have quite a strong influence over our spirits?
Here are five tips and habits to help you focus in your prayer times.
1. Short and often
Some people seem to be able to spend hours at a time in prayer. They sit in contemplative silence listening to the Lord as their halo grows ever brighter around their head. This 24/7 Prayer lot – mental.
But if you struggle to focus for long periods of time, try regular, short prayers to God. Prayer doesn't have to be 45 minutes on your knees as soon as you wake up. Pray throughout your day. After all, it is supposed to be a conversation with our Lord, with whom we live in relationship. "Pray always", Paul says (1 Thessalonians 5:16). In every situation, in every way, in every place, at every time. Pray as you do your teeth. Pray as you walk down the road. Pray as you cook dinner. That way your relationship with God permeates all areas of your life,
2. Active prayer
I really struggle sitting or lying down for long periods of time. So why not pray while walking around the house. Pray in different rooms. Find a walk you can do while praying to keep your mind alert.
If you want to pray for different people or events around the world, try using a map to help keep your mind focused. Or create little Post-it notes with the names of people to pray for. Or you could have different objects to prompt you to pray for different things. For example I know friends who have a card in their wallet that prompts them to pray for persecuted Christians whenever they see it.
3. Write it down
Prayer journalling is one of the most fruitful techniques to keep focused during prayer. Instead of mumbling your prayers in your room while your mind gradually wanders, write them down. It doesn't need to be an essay. It could be bullet points if you prefer. But God doesn't need you to speak your prayers aloud and writing them down helps you to focus.
A journal also provides an excellent memoir for what you prayed when. Some of the most encouraging points in my faith have been when I looked back at what I was so worried about and consumed with six months ago and realised how much had been answered and dealt with.
4. Find a routine
Your brain is programmed to focus on what is new, interesting and exciting. So if you want to focus just on God then try to create consistency so your attention isn't diverted by something else. If possible find a time and place that is familiar. If you are going on a walk, go on one you know well so you are not distracted by new sites or finding the route. If you like to listen to music when you pray, listen to familiar songs so your attention isn't drawn away. In all things, try and create a consistent routine to help minimise distractions and different interventions.
5. Join some friends
One of the best ways to bring discipline into your prayer life is to form a small group to pray together. Don't make the group too big but if you can agree to meet with a couple of friends on a regular basis to pray together, not only will praying together help keep you focused, you will also have other people praying for you and the issues you are concerned about. The Church is a body. We're designed to help, encourage and support each other. Praying together is a fundamental way of doing this.