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Too Distracted to Pray?

Why is it sometimes our experience with prayer is rich and comes easily and other times it feels like we’re talking into an empty well? Do you ever bow your head in solemn prayer and then a moment or two later find yourself thinking about something totally off topic? It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

Nothing compares to the feeling when our heart, mind and soul intersect with our boundless love for God and our desire to connect with His Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced those epic moments in prayer when it feels like the blood in your veins has become effervescent as the joy of His Spirit flows in you, through you and around you? Ah, those mountain top experiences. How I wish I could have those every time I go to our Lord in prayer!

I count myself blessed to have had a number of those moments with God since I became a disciple of Jesus Christ. My soul clings to the memories, perhaps because those experiences have been rare.

Perhaps you have them all the time, and if you do I’m jealous!

I’ve had a lot of great prayer times but not many when the veil between heaven and earth seemed to disappear. It feels like falling in love, a first kiss, going over the peak of a roller coaster, standing at the foot of a waterfall, cradling a newborn baby and being surrounded by a litter of adorable puppies all at once.  (I was going to include nailing the lift like Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey at the end of Dirty Dancing but that seemed a tad inappropriate.) These moments with God are part human, part spiritual and part miracle. They are glorious!

Perhaps that’s why I am so profoundly disappointed when I can’t seem to get anywhere close to that.

I don't know about you, but sometimes my prayers feel more like a stroll down the cereal aisle in the grocery store. Lots of distractions and very little nutritional value.  If there is such a thing as PADD (Prayer Attention Deficit Disorder) I’m pretty sure I have it. Can you relate or is it just me?

I think about the night Jesus spent praying in the garden of Gethsemani. He was in agony thinking about His impending death and asked His friends to keep watch and pray for Him while He went to pray in private. They promised Him they would… and then promptly fell asleep, much to the chagrin of our Lord. He was terribly disappointed in them. It was the one time He needed them to do something for Him rather than the other way around, and they blew it.

As much as I’d like to believe I would never let Him down that way, my face burns red knowing how likely it is I would have fallen asleep too.

Last Sunday my mind drifted far more often than it focused on what was being said in church. During the closing prayer I was completely out to lunch. I couldn’t tune in at all. After several rounds of inner scolding I gave up and decided to look inside and see if I could understand why I was having such a hard time.

I saw children playing jump rope in my mind. Do you remember playing jump rope? Two friends would swing the rope in circles from either end and, when it was your turn, you had to run in while the rope was turning and start jumping just before the rope passed under your feet. The challenge was getting the timing right. If you jumped too soon or too late you would trip on the rope and your turn would be over.

I remember how hard it was for me to run in. I would stand there with my arms stretched out, contemplating the speed and rhythm of the rope and trying to lock onto the perfect moment to rush in. Jumping rope is easy. It’s the focus and timing needed to jump in that can be hard. Especially if there are lots of ropes turning in your periphery to distract you.

Sometimes praying can feel like that.

Whether it’s easy or not, seeking God’s face through prayer is as essential to our relationship with Him as breathing air is to sustaining life. Prayer times can be rich, growing, life-changing experiences. When we are immersed in prayer, mind, body and soul, we often find answers and insights that are unavailable to us in the physical and intellectual realm. However, as much as we don’t like it, sometimes,our prayers go no deeper than a friendly, casual, abstracted conversation with a friend.

God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He is 100% ready to engage with us at any moment.

The Bible teaches us that deep calls to deep in the roar of His waterfalls (Psalm 42:7).

While God can be perceived at any level, connection happens when we go deep.

Here is another word picture for you (I love word pictures!). Imagine you are trying to connect with God while at a crowded public swimming pool. At the surface your ears are overwhelmed by the chatter all around you while your eyes search for God in the crowd. Now take a deep breath and allow yourself to slip under the water. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what is going on at the surface because you can’t hear it anymore.  This is where you’ll find Him. Down here…in the deep.

Naturally it is easier for us to connect deeply when we aren't stuck on the surface contending with shopping lists and other human distractions. It can be a struggle to quiet our hearts and minds enough to follow our heart into the divine. It’s frustrating, and very human.

Take heart dear one. God is very aware of our humanity with all of its foibles and flaws. He will abide with us at any depth. Those difficult, distracted prayers are not a waste of time. They just don't contribute to your spiritual growth the way the more focused, connected ones do. Don't fret over the former, BUT don't stop aiming for the latter.

Powerful prayers happen when our hearts, minds and souls flow together in rhythm with God’s Holy Spirit. A rhythm that moves us above and beyond anything we can experience in the natural. Bowing our heads and closing our eyes helps us to focus. Background music (worship music of course) can help our minds stay in the moment and keep temporal things at bay. Powerful prayers are transformational and transformation is essential to our spiritual growth and maturity.

When you find yourself too distracted to focus on prayer don’t beat yourself up. Shake it off and plan another time when you can better shut the distractions out. Just make it soon and do it often. Your devotion will wear a path through the surface of your cluttered mind into the deep….where you will find Him every time.

In His love and service,

Sharon Bollum

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Sharon Bollum
Sharon Bollum, producer of the 40 Churches in 40 Weeks book and documentary project is committed to finding ways to elevate the health and reputation of The Christian Community in the United States

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