Dealing With Distractions During Prayer: Towards A Theology Of Prayer, Pt. 15

Oddly enough, one of the most salient features of the prayer event for many people is "distraction". To be sure, there are many things that can act as distractors when it comes to praying. In this post, I want talk about two sorts of distractions: Inner & Outer Distractions.

I want to start by talking about outer distractions. These are things like someone or something interrupting during the prayer event (e.g. a person or a phone) or stuff preventing you from getting into the prayer event in the first place (e.g. not enough time, work, etc.). It may well be the case that the best way to curtail such distractions depends on both your personality and life context. After evaluating and taking these factors into consideration, you may need to force yourself to make time for the prayer event (e.g. schedule it into your planner).

While the types of outer distractions just mentioned can be tough hurdles to cross, in my opinion, it is the inner distractions that are harder to handle. In fact, it is probably the case for many that as soon as they begin to pray, their head starts to get flooded with all sorts of things (perhaps, even worries or thoughts about the "outer" distractions). At this point, even negative or sinful thoughts and emotions can surface. It is not uncommon to hear of people being distracted by vengeful, lustful, hateful and other similar thoughts during prayer time even in a congregational / church setting.

Sometimes, heading into the prayer event is just that: an encounter with the wild beasts within us that need to be tamed. Because this is the case, it is no wonder that many people avoid praying. As a spiritual metaphor, it is like the threats of throwing the Apostle Paul into the arena with the beasts or sending Jesus out into the wilderness to stand firm against evil and the evil one. So, how might we deal with such distractions? Well, the best answer may not be the easiest or most desired one but it seems correct: persistence!

Perhaps you have heard preachers or others talk about persistence in prayer: Well, despite many claims, persistence in prayer does not mean to keep praying the same thing over and over, to try to manipulate or cajole God or any of that. Persistence in prayer simply means to remain steadfast or to stay put; it means not ducking out when we feel like nothing is getting accomplished or like our wayward thoughts are taking over. If, as I have already argued, praying without ceasing means entering into the prayer event to continually seek out God's presence, wants and desires, then when we start to have distracting thoughts or begin to focus on our lives, we need to remind ourselves of our focus and persist in it.

Don't let the bothersome things push you away; face up to them and press on. It is in facing these things over and over again that we will finally be able to overcome them. Further, it is in facing these things over and over again that once you learn how to get past them, you will have learned more fully how to remain in God's presence and allow Him to remain in your presence.


Other posts in this series:

1) Defining Prayer
2) Imaging Prayer
3) Asking in Prayer
4) Why I Don't Pray For Things
5) Pray Without Ceasing? Why?
6) Does Prayer Work?
7) Can Prayer Change God's Mind?
8) What Is Genuine Prayer?
9) Frustration & Prayer (Rethinking Psalm 137)
10) Why Pray If God Already Knows Your Thoughts?
11) Mystical Praying
12) Prayer In School & At Public Events
13) When To Thank God
14) Prayer, Loneliness & Manipulation

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