Prayer and Concentration

Of all the parts of the Christian life the one that I probably have the most shortcomings with is prayer. This is no small tragedy as prayer is one of the greatest gifts from God. My problem is in concentrating when I pray. So many times I go before The Lord in prayer and the next thing I know I have wandered to the lesser thoughts that fill my day. Sometimes I’m anxious. In the worst of times I’ve even compounded the sin by letting blatant sinful thoughts take hold of my mind as I pray. God certainly deserves so much better than this. Surely when we pray we should cast aside all unworthy thoughts and make him our focus in concentration.

Our prayer time with God should be a humbling time. It’s in this time that The Creator of the universe lets us come to him in praise and to cast all of our troubles his way. John Calvin described it well:

First, let every one in professing to pray turn thither all his thoughts and feelings, and be not (as is usual) distracted by wandering thoughts; because nothing is more contrary to the reverence due to God than that levity which bespeaks a mind too much given to license and devoid of fear. In this matter we ought to labour the more earnestly the more difficult we experience it to be; for no man is so intent on prayer as not to feel many thoughts creeping in, and either breaking off the tenor of his prayer, or retarding it by some turning or digression. Here let us consider how unbecoming it is when God admits us to familiar intercourse to abuse his great condescension by mingling things sacred and profane, reverence for him not keeping our minds under restraint; but just as if in prayer we were conversing with one like ourselves forgetting him, and allowing our thoughts to run to and fro. Let us know, then, that none duly prepare themselves for prayer but those who are so impressed with the majesty of God that they engage in it free from all earthly cares and affections. The ceremony of lifting up our hands in prayer is designed to remind us that we are far removed from God, unless our thoughts rise upward: as it is said in the psalm, Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul, (Psalm 25:1). And Scripture repeatedly uses the expression to raise our prayer, meaning that those who would be heard by God must not grovel in the mire. The sum is, that the more liberally God deals with us, condescendingly inviting us to disburden our cares into his bosom, the less excusable we are if this admirable and incomparable blessing does not in our estimation outweigh all other things, and win our affection, that prayer may seriously engage our every thought and feeling. This cannot be unless our mind, strenuously exerting itself against all impediments, rise upward.

The first thing we can do to keep our concentration when we pray is to give due reverence to God. Recognize who you’re talking to. While God is our Father, he’s also the sovereign creator of everything…even the creator of nothing itself. He’s also your merciful savior. With this proper perspective in mind, the second thing one can do to concentrate is to recognize what concentration is. Whether we realize it or not, we’re always concentrating on something-if even for a fleeting moment. This happens all the time as concentration is really just thinking. When we think we are always thinking about something. There’s an objective. Our length of concentration may be long or it may be so short that we can’t even recall what it was we were thinking about. Nevertheless, we’re thinking about something. We’re always concentrating on something. What we concentrate on depends on our priorities. We concentrate on what matters the most at that time. When our thoughts wander what’s essentially taking place is a shift in priorities. The initial objective that had the highest priority that we were thinking about is set aside for something else. Usually this is a lesser thought that becomes number one.

During prayer we should keep God and his will as our top priorities. Over everything we pray our state of reverence should be …Hallowed be thy name. Over all of our supplications should be Thy will be done. (Matthew 6:9-13) When we pray and let our thoughts wander we are essentially letting those new thoughts become the top priority. I find that when my thoughts wander during prayer in this way it helps to be conscious of what’s happening. Acknowledge that when this happens you’re not honoring God. What follows is repentance and restored communion with God that will give him glory and bring all the joys of Heaven. (Luke 15:7)