How do I avoid the distractions while praying that I so often encounter?

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Answered by: Michael, An Expert in the Praying Category
It is often said that prayer is the lifeblood of faith. Without it our faith would simply wither and die. However, prayer isn't always that easy. Often when I go to prayer, my intention is to spend time in the quiet hours of the day alone with God, pouring out my heart to Him. Unfortunately, it never seems to be quite that easy. Distractions while praying always seem to interfere.

As I begin to settle in, my mind goes to work! It always seems like there are a thousand things that suddenly demand intention. An issue at work may make itself known. Grocery lists often pop into my head. Some news event may rerun itself. For every person there are probably several stories of what causes distraction during prayer. It is not an uncommon problem.

However, Jesus recognized this problem and had some advice for us. In Matthew 6:6, he said, "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

There are no quick fixes in His offering. He did not give out any tips as to how we can better center ourselves His Father. But what He did do was to offer us the certainty that if we were to close ourselves away in private, quieting our restless spirit, we would encounter God in a very special way. Our intimacy with the Father would increase because, as Jesus says, "pray to your Father who is in secret." What exactly is Jesus getting at?

To understand this more fully, it is necessary to read the passage found in Matthew in its complete context. Failing to do this is like looking only at a snapshot of someone's arm while trying to see their face, using their arm as a frame of reference.

Jesus was speaking of the sincerity of our prayer. He said, "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matt 6:5-6)

Jesus warns us that we are not to be ostentatious in our prayer to God. our prayer is to be intimate, not showy. We do not pray to impress others. Simplicity in both prayer and attitude are best. When we pray with simplicity, we find our minds become uncluttered, free to concentrate on God. That, too, is often the problem.

Far too often we get wrapped up in our inability to focus during our prayer time. Our inability to center ourselves on one topic becomes the main thing we think about. In short, we obsess about our inability to bring God into focus. Saint Augustine once famously said that our heart remains restless until it rests in God. (cf, "The Confessions") Until we can achieve this centering of God in our prayers, distractions will nearly always have the upper hand.

There are several ways to focus our hearts on God. Scripture is a great place to start.

When we immerse ourselves in the Word of God, we automatically place Him into the center of our consciousness. Prayerfully read whatever text you decide upon. Spend time with it. Absorb it. Make it your own by using your imagination. When reading the gospels, imagine Jesus speaking directly to you. Place yourself in the middle of the scene being described. Center your whole being on God by realizing that it is His love song written for you delivered precisely in this time and moment as was intended.

Inspirational reading can also help us begin to focus solely on God. Choose a favorite author and subject that not only interests you but inspires you. When you are inspired, you allow yourself to probe more deeply into that which has provided the inspiration. Inspiration is often accompanied by feelings of assurance and security, but it is much more than that. Inspiration is a sense that you have a purpose, a purpose inspired by God. It is an energizing force that propels us forward.

One thing is for certain. Distractions while praying will always come your way. It makes no difference the method you use to center yourself. It is inevitable that distractions can and will interrupt even your deepest moments with the Father. The trick is to simply remain focused. Do not let the distractions pull you into discouragement for it is in this that we meet Satan himself, the "father of lies."

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