Scripture moves me to pray every time I read the words of James, where he reminds us that Elijah had the exact nature as you and I, and his prayers accomplished much. He prayed and asked God that it would not rain, and it did not rain for three years. After his showdown with the prophets of Baal, he prayed that it would rain, and it rained (James 5:17-18).
With this truth in my heart, that God hears and answers prayer, I sit down determined to pray. Then, three or four sentences in, I am thinking about my to-do list at work or that I need to buy gasoline for the mower. I assume I am not alone in my struggle to stay on task while praying.
How do we combat this? D.A. Carson, in his book, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, a book I commend you to read, gives us three ways to mitigate mental drift while praying. Here are his points.
1. Vocalize Your Prayers
If you are in a place where you can do it, speak your prayers aloud. If you cannot talk aloud, move your lips silently like Hannah when she prayed in her affliction (1 Samuel 1:13). Our mind is always quicker to wander than the words we speak. The Lord does not need us to speak audibly to hear our prayer, but it will help us stay on task.
2. Pray Over the Scriptures
Pray with your Bible open, and as you read a passage, whatever the topics those verses are addressing, pray about them in your life and the life of others. You can also use the psalms or prayers in the Scripture and pray analogous prayers for yourself. One of the best options is to use the petitions of the Lord’s prayer. Go through each petition and organize your prayer according to each one. One final aid you could use is the worship section of a theologically robust hymnal, which has been built upon the scriptures.
3. Keep a Prayer Journal
Use a journal to write your prayer request or your prayers themselves. Track your prayers and answers to prayer and record your spiritual growth through the process. Keeping a prayer journal requires us to slow down. Slowing down is not easy for us to do, but it is necessary for a focused prayer time. We will not daydream as much when we are writing. The other thing a prayer journal does is it pushes us to self-examination. It causes us to look at our hearts in light of Scripture. With both of these benefits of journaling in place, a slower pace of prayer, and self-examination, you will find yourself much more focused as you pray.
Remember, Elijah’s nature was no different from ours, and a righteous person’s prayer accomplishes much. May your prayer life this week be much more focused, and may you see God move mountains.