Originally published February 27, 2009
A friend of mine recently remarked that sometimes when he begins his prayer time, he has trouble with his mind wandering to the various tasks of his day instead of being able to concentrate on doing business with God. I’ve had that problem too.
It’s easy to get distracted no matter what you’re doing, but since Satan isn’t particularly wild about our praying, he frequently uses distraction as a tool to either keep us from praying altogether, or to keep us from entering into deep, focused communion with God.
Have you ever painted a wall? My husband frequently paints as part of his business, and there have been a few times when he was so hard up for an assistant, he had to settle for me. Painting is definitely not my forte. It’s tedious and boring and I hate it. I hate it so much I even made up a little song to sing – under my breath, of course – while I’m doing it, about how much I hate it. (I know, I know, “do all things without grumbling,” but for me painting is more of a Psalm 55:17 proposition.)
But, thanks to my husband’s good teaching, at least now I know how to do it right.
When he paints, he doesn’t just go in, throw some paint on the wall and leave (like I would, because I hate painting so much). He prepares before he paints. He makes sure the floor near the wall won’t get spattered with paint. He protects the baseboards, chair rails, and mouldings. He removes the switch plates and outlet covers. Often, he will prime the wall with a base coat of a neat product called Kilz, which covers up stains and marks and leaves a nice, clean surface on which to roll on the new paint. Only after all of that preparation does he begin painting.
I’ve found that that kind of preparation can be helpful before praying as well. So what can you do to “prime” your prayer “wall”?
◊ Get as far away as possible from physical distractions. Get into a quiet room away from other people. (For me, that sometimes means I have to leave the house and walk the neighborhood or sit in the car while I pray!) Turn off the music, the phone, the computer, and anything else that might make noise. Sometimes a white noise machine can be helpful as well.
◊ Keep a piece of paper and a pen handy. Before you pray, take a few moments to take a mental inventory of the rest of your day. Jot down any reminders to yourself or lists of things you need to get or do. Then, set it aside, both mentally and literally, but within arm’s reach. Later, when you’re praying, if something that’s absolutely crucial comes to mind, just take a second and write yourself a very brief note about it and get back to prayer. I usually ask God to please help me to remember or accomplish whatever it is I’ve just had to write down.
◊ Prime the wall. My “primer prayer” usually goes something like this: “Lord, thank you for drawing me to this time of prayer. Please keep my heart, mind, and will focused completely on You and prevent me from being distracted. If I do get distracted, please help me realize this right away and give me the discipline to re-focus on you. Direct this prayer time and bring to my mind all the things You want me to pray about.” This gives me that “nice, clean surface” so I can start praying.
◊ Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). Once I have prayed my “primer prayer”, if a thought comes to mind, I pray about it, even if it’s something as simple as, “Lord, please help me remember to stop at the store and get bread on the way home.” It’s important to be discerning, though, about whether a thought is a distraction, or God is impressing on you that you really need to pray about this thing that you thought was trivial. If it’s a genuine distraction, I usually employ the Scarlett O’Hara principle and say to myself, “I’m not going to think about that right now, I’ll think about that later.” Then I make a conscious decision to re-focus on the prayer issues before me.
◊ Practice. Keep at it. Prayer is like anything else– the more you practice it, the easier it generally becomes. Practice preparing for prayer. Practice asking for God’s help to focus. Practice re-directing your thoughts when they go astray. The more often you do it, the less often you’ll find yourself distracted.
Now go prime that wall and pray, pray, pray! It’s a lot more fun than painting!