Often times when we’re trying really hard to give our attention to something we get distracted by some sort of background noise. It could be people talking, dogs barking, machinery operating, TV or music, traffic sounds, etc. Maybe we just try to tune it out or put in ear plugs ... but background noise makes it hard to concentrate.
There’s another kind of background noise we have to deal with when we want to spend time in prayer. It may be anxiety about finances, fear of the unknown, obsession with an idol, pride of an accomplishment, curiosity about what others are thinking, the day’s agenda and to-do list, what you’re planning for supper, coveting what someone else has, or a host of other such things. Far too often when I try to spend time in prayer my mind gets sidetracked; something rattling around in my mind grabs my attention and my prayer time is derailed. I suspect I’m not alone in this experience. Most all of us struggle with this.
The question is, “how should we deal with it?” Though I hope you continue reading, I also hope you don’t expect a perfect answer to that question. The wrong way to deal with it is to feel guilty, wallow in self-condemnation, and stop praying. We must press on! Finding a quiet place surely helps … but every mom and dad with kids realizes that’s not gonna happen. Devoting a specific and regular time each day also would help … but most of us are already too busy to cram something else into the daily routine. Having someone to meet with and hold you accountable would also be good … but finding that person is much easier said than done. So we’re back to the question of how to deal with this background noise.
I was very serious this past Sunday when I said I struggle in my prayer life and this background noise is largely to blame. I’ve not yet learned sufficiently to quiet my heart and be still before the Lord. However, I have found a few simple things that help me a bit in this area. First, keep an open Bible in front of me. Listening to God from the Scripture helps focus my mind on Him rather than the myriad of distractions. Secondly, following the advice of Job (Job 40:4), “I lay my hand on my mouth” and don't even try to say or express anything to God for few moments. It’s beneficial to just pause and reflect on who God is for a bit. Thirdly, I find that literally closing my eyes helps. Maybe the old adage has an element of truth even here – “out of sight, out of mind.” Fourthly, I just start sharing what’s on my heart. If my intent was to pray for an upcoming event but instead start thinking about a friend, I trust the Spirit was somehow involved and go with it. Sometimes I’ll even remember to pray for what I originally intended to pray for … sometimes I don’t … but again, I believe the Spirit is working in and through all this to accomplish His purposes. Yet still I often continue to hear the distracting background noise of worry, fear, agendas, anger, pride, greed, etc.
Maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I need to expect the background noise and not feel guilty every time it distracts me. I pray (now, while the noise isn’t so loud) that you will find sufficient grace from our Father to allow you to build a healthy prayer life, despite the abundance of background noise with which we all struggle. Let's press forward together in this battle. Let me know how it goes for you!