I have found that a common experience among Christians, myself included, is fighting to stay focused in times of prayer. Have you been there? Perhaps you were there this morning. You know, the times where it seems like to-do lists of things that need to get done come to your mind and you wonder, “Why am I thinking of those things right now?” Or, as you move from one sentence to another or from one request to another, it feels surprisingly difficult to keep a steady stream of thought.
Be comforted because no temptation has seized you except that which is common. Just because you’re experiencing that kind of thing doesn’t mean you should ‘quit’ trying to spend time in prayer with the Lord. Rather, it’s likely that you’re learning lessons about praying even as those things are happening. Lessons that will help you pray with greater resolve even immediately after you jump over those hurdles of distraction.
Therefore, my encouragement would be threefold:
1. Go into prayer recognizing that may happen. This way, when you feel like your mind is ‘shutting down’ for a moment or that you have to keep swatting random thoughts like flies, you won’t be surprised that such a battle is occurring. Thankfully, you will probably experience many times where that won’t happen, but when it does, if you’re not surprised by it, Lord willing you won’t let it overtake you and by God’s grace you’ll keep praying.
2. Embrace the opportunity to push through. There is a sense in which those times of ‘battle for focus’ are opportunities to gird up the loins of your mind, or opportunities to take thoughts captive, and there’s a sense in which you and I are learning perseverance as we push through. Remember, God has committed Himself to forming the character of His Son in all who believe the Gospel; therefore, although your growth in Christlikeness may not be your first priority as you go to prayer, God may purpose to have that happen tangibly, through developing perseverance.
3. Let love keep you from leaving the place of prayer too soon. Paul told the church at Colosse that Epaphras was always “struggling” for them in prayer (Col 4:12a). The focus of his prayer was that they would stand “mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (vs.12b). There appears to have been two central motivations to Epaphras’ wrestling: love for the church at Colosse and love for God and His glory. If the church was growing and maturing then the best thing that could be happening to them was happening to them. And if they were doing the will of God, men would know they were Jesus’ disciples by their love for one another, and men would see their good works and glorify the Father in Heaven. Therefore, when it seems hard to focus, “struggle” to continue in prayer and “wrestle” to get your focus back, letting a love for God, His people, and His glory, keep you from leaving the place of prayer too soon.