4 + 4 Strategies To Eliminate Distractions To Your Prayer Time

There’s a quote that has been the theme for this series on prayer: “Prayer pursues joy in fruitful fellowship with Jesus, knowing that God is glorified when we bear fruit in answer to prayer. Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer? Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” —John Piper 

And unless I’m badly mistaken, the most obvious thing we need to plan to eliminate is distractions. 

Some people say they can juggle a lot of things at once. “I’m a really good multitasker,” they say. But science says differently. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller concluded that our brains are “not wired to multitask well…. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” What is that cognitive cost? “Multitasking can drop IQ as much as 15 points, essentially turning you into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old” (Inc. Magazine). 

If the devil can make you think you can multitask prayer with other things, he has seriously inhibited the effectiveness of your prayers. 

Jesus was not a multitasker—but He was singularly focused on His Father’s plan. And yet He accomplished more in His three years of public ministry than anyone else in history! 

Here are 4 strategies to help you get ready to pray:

  1. Try to have your prayer time in the same place and at the same time. Your brain likes routine and it will help you zero-in during your scheduled prayer times. 
  2. Silence your cell phone or other noisy distractions. 
  3. Keep a notepad handy for random thoughts that pop into your head. Writing them down will keep your brain from switching back-and-forth to them.
  4. Focus on listening, not on talking—Eugene Peterson said, “Prayer is first of all a means of listening. Prayer is an act of attention.” 

When we get right down to it, prayer is spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:10-18). In the context of warfare, the word strategy means the maneuvering that takes place prior to the battle. The devil is a masterful tactician, and he will do everything he can to keep you distracted. 

That’s why three times Peter tells us to be clear-minded and singularly-focused in our thoughts SO THAT we can pray without the hindrances of distractions (1 Peter 1:13-14; 4:7; 5:8-9). And Paul tells us to take all our thoughts captive, so that no un-Christlike thoughts are inhibiting our prayer time (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). 

Here are 4 strategies to help you stay focused in prayer:

  1. A—adoration. Enter into God’s presence with a Psalm or worship music. 
  2. C—confession. Deal with unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, or relationship strife as quickly as possible (Psalm 66:18; Matthew 5:21-24). 
  3. T—thanksgiving. Paul counseled us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition WITH thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  
  4. S—supplication. Intercede for your brothers and sisters in the battles they are facing (James 5:16; Job 42:10; Ephesians 6:18).  

Remember—

Prayer isn’t preparation for the battle; prayer IS the battle! Let’s not be distracted from that!

Prayer Expectations

Many of our prayers could be much bolder and much more specific than they are. Why is that? Because how we view God is going to determine what we pray and what we expect after we pray.

When we pray, we approach an All-Loving Father, and we approach an All-Powerful God. I have found that typically people get warmed by the idea of Father and get scared by the idea of God. They say things like: “What if my prayers don’t hallow God’s name? What if He’s mad at me? What if I pray an improper prayer?” 

God wants us to come to Him in prayer, so He makes Himself very accessible! The Father is both Father and God; the Son is both Friend and King; the Spirit is both Comforter and Convictor. We get ALL of this in One God. 

Charles Spurgeon had this word of encouragement: “If You are my Father, then You love me. If I am Your child, then You will regard me, and poor though my language is, You will not despise it.” Jesus came to earth fully God and fully man, making Him our perfect intermediary (see Job 9:32-35; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25). And the Holy Spirit helps interpret our groaning prayers (Romans 8:26-27). 

Have you ever noticed that neither the prophets of the Old Testament, nor Jesus in the Gospels, nor the apostles in the New Testament ever prayed, “God, if this is Your will please do such-and-such”? They simply prayed. Or more accurately, they prayed so boldly and specifically it almost sounded like a command: “Stand up” or “Be clean” or “Go, your prayer has been answered.” 

When you and I are praying to an All-Loving and All-Powerful Father, with Jesus interceding for us, and the Spirit helping us, we too can pray these bold and highly specific prayers. 

After all, if you don’t pray specifically and expectantly, how will you know when your prayer is answered? 

I find John Piper’s acrostic very helpful in praying these bold and expectant prayers. He calls it APTAT: 

  • A—Admit I can’t do anything without Christ. This hallows His Name. 
  • P—Pray for help to do it. 
  • T—Trust a specific promise of God to help me (two general promises are found in Isaiah 41:10 and Romans 8:32). 
  • A—Act. Do the things I need to do: apply for the job, ask forgiveness, schedule a meeting. 
  • T—Thank Him when I’m done. 

Two final thoughts—

  1. Make prayer more of a listening relationship than a talking relationship. 
  2. Give yourself some grace as you are maturing; don’t expect immediate perfection. Start praying and then let the Father, the Son, and the Spirit help you mature in your prayer life. 

I hope you can join me this Sunday as we continue to work on our plans to pray.

11 Quotes From “When The Darkness Will Not Lift”

John Piper has given us an extremely helpful book whether we ourselves are battling the darkness of depression, or someone close to us is. Please check out my full book review of When The Darkness Will Not Lift by clicking here. 

“This is the rock where we stand when the dark clouds gather and the floods lick at our feet: justification is by grace alone (not mixed with our merit), through faith alone (not mixed with our works) on the basis of Christ alone (not mingling His righteousness with ours), to the glory of God alone (not ours).” 

“Where should you start? Start at the easiest place for those in darkness. Start with despair. Despair of finding any answer in yourself. I pray that you will cease from all efforts to look inside yourself for the rescue you need. I pray that you will do what only desperate people can do, namely, cast yourself on Christ.” 

“You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind and spirit. The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression then at any other time and there are great illustrations of this in the Scriptures.” 

“It will be of great advantage to the struggling Christian to remember that seasons of darkness are normal in the Christian life.” 

“One of the reasons God loved David so much was that he cried so much. … It is a beautiful thing when a broken man genuinely cries out to God.” 

“Faith is sustained by looking at Christ, crucified and risen, not by turning from Christ to analyze your faith. … Paradoxically, if we would experience the joy of faith, we must not focus much on it. We must focus on the greatness of our Savior.” 

“It follows from this that we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties. While we have the light, let us cultivate distrust of the certainties of despair.” 

“Instead of only saying, ‘Just do your duty,’ we must say…that joy is part of your duty. The Bible says, ‘Rejoice always’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16). And in regard to the duty of giving, it says, ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7). In regard to the duty of service, it says, ‘Serve the Lord with gladness’ (Psalm 100:2). In regard to the duty of mercy, it says do it ‘with cheerfulness’ (Romans 12:8). In regard to the duty of afflictions, it says, ‘Count it all joy’ (James 1:2). We simply water down the divine command when we call someone to half their duty.” 

“In dealing with our sin we can make two mistakes. One is to make light of it. The other is to be overwhelmed by it.” 

“If we want the joy of seeing and savoring God in Christ, we must not make peace with our sins. We must make war.” 

“Sometimes the darkness of our souls is owing in some part to the fact that we have drifted into patterns of life that are not blatantly sinful but are constricted and uncaring. … Unconsciously we have become very self-absorbed and oblivious and uncaring toward the pain and suffering in the world that is far worse than our own.”

“Paradoxically, depressed persons may say that they must care for themselves and cannot take on the problems of the world, when in fact part of the truth may be that their depression is feeding on the ingrown quality of their lives. … Joy in Christ thrives on being shared. That is the essence of Christian joy: it overflows or dies.”

When The Darkness Will Not Lift (book review)

Depression and a “dark night of the soul” can happen to anyone. It falls over us sometimes because of physical issues, sometimes spiritual issues, and sometimes mental or emotional issues. Whatever its root cause, When The Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper gives hope for those battling joy-suppressing melancholy. 

Depression, as with most ailments that humans face, doesn’t have a simple starting point. Most likely, depression is the result of a combination of many things—environmental, physical health, emotional crisis, spiritual attack, among other things. Sadly, many Christians attempt to address this multifaceted problem with a singular solution. Darkness doesn’t lift simply because someone has enough faith to make it so! 

“It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold Him.” —John Piper 

Pastor John weaves together Scripture, practical insights, and historical examples to help us see depression in its entirety. This comprehensive look will help you better understand both your own battle with darkness as well as helping you be a better friend to others who are also struggling with depression. 

Pastor John looks at the physical, emotional, and spiritual causes of depression, and then helps us battle for joy when the darkness will not lift. This is a short book, but one that you should return to frequently to help yourself and others in times of depression.

Our Prayer Coach

I love football! 

The plays that the quarterback calls in the huddle are very creative. It may sound something like this: “soultrain alert 13 trap on 1.” Then after the team breaks the huddle with the play that they just know will be successful, the quarterback may look over the other team’s defense and callout something like, “check” or “sally” or “Omaha.” This is called an “audible” and it’s communicating to the team how they are now going to modify the play that they just called. The quarterback calls this audible because it appears to him that the defense may know what sort of play they were planning to run. 

The teams that can adjust better on-the-fly—or call audibles—usually win the game. 

None of this happens without lots of practice! Practice builds good habits. Practice helps teams learn from their mistakes and develop even better habits. All of this practicing also requires a good coach overseeing the process, and individual team members who are willing to submit to the coach’s direction and correction. 

Have you noticed that there are some Christians who “audible” well? Unexpected things pop up that seem to throw many people off their game plan, but these Christians seem to adapt so easily. Why is that? It’s definitely not because they are wired that way, or have a higher spiritual IQ, or they can think faster. It’s because they’ve practiced good habits, they’ve learned from past experiences which have developed better “audibling” habits, all under the guidance of a perfect Coach. 

Jesus told us about the amazing prayers that we would be able to pray, and how the Holy Spirit can be our perfect Coach in this process (John 14:12-17, 26; 16:13-15). 

There are some incredible things that happen when we pray consistently, when we pray boldly, and when we pray in the character of Jesus. 

John Piper asks, “Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer?” He answers his own question like this: “Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” 

Successful football teams don’t simply show up on game day and compete successfully. They plan to be successful. They practice and study the coach’s game plan so that they can be ready to audible when necessary. So too for Christians—we can’t just show up for spiritual battle and expect to be successful. We must also practice, and study the game plan laid out in the Bible, and listen to the Holy Spirit as He coaches us. That’s the only way we can successfully handle all that life and even the devil throws at us. 

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be sharing some hindrances that I see that can derail our practice of prayer. In the meantime, I want to challenge you—as I’ve challenged myself personally—to think on three questions:

  1. Do I really want to pray effectively? 
  2. Am I willing to put in the energy necessary to pray this way?
  3. Am I willing to let the Holy Spirit coach and discipline me in my prayer practice? 

If you can, please join me at Calvary Assembly of God on Sunday as we continue our series called Prayer Plan. 

Read Your Bible More

“Read your Bible more and more every year. Read it whether you feel like reading it or not. And pray without ceasing that the joy return and pleasures increase.

“Three reasons this is not legalism:

  1. You are confessing your lack of desire as sin, and pleading as a helpless child for the desire you long to have. Legalists don’t cry like that. They strut.
  2. You are reading out of desperation for the effects of this heavenly medicine. Bible-reading is not a cure for a bad conscience; it’s chemo for your cancer. Legalists feel better because the box is checked. Saints feel better when their blindness lifts, and they see Jesus in the Word. Let’s get real. We are desperately sick with worldliness, and only the Holy Spirit, by the Word of God, can cure this terminal disease.
  3. It is not legalism because only justified people can see the preciousness and power of the Word of God. Legalists trudge with their Bibles on the path toward justification. Saints sit down in the shade of the Cross and plead for the blood-bought pleasures.

“So let’s give heed to Mr. Ryle and never grow weary of the slow, steady, growth that comes from the daily, disciplined, increasing, love affair with reading the Bible. 

‘Do not think you are getting no good from the Bible, merely because you do not see that good day by day. The greatest effects are by no means those which make the most noise, and are most easily observed. The greatest effects are often silent, quiet, and hard to detect at the time they are being produced. Think of the influence of the moon upon the earth, and of the air upon the human lungs. Remember how silently the dew falls, and how imperceptibly the grass grows. There may be far more doing than you think in your soul by your Bible-reading’ (J.C. Ryle, in Practical Religion).” —John Piper 

Stop Letting Fear Limit Your Life

It’s inescapably true: We let fears limit us when we listen to them. 

John Piper wrote, “I call you today to stop defining and limiting your future in terms of your past and start defining it in terms of your God.”

When we have a spirit of fear instead of the confidence that comes from a right relationship with God through Jesus, the smallest of things sends us ducking for cover! “As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall.” (Leviticus 26:36 NASB) 

God says, “Fear not—there is nothing to fear—for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My victorious right hand of rightness and justice.” (Isaiah 41:10 AMPC)

“When God calls you to be free from fear (to overcome this natural emotion and have peace), He does not leave the command hanging in the air. He puts pillars under it. Five of them in Isaiah 41:10. That’s the nature of all biblical commands. They come with divine support.

  1. Fear not . . . God is with you.
  2. Fear not . . . God is your God
  3. Fear not . . . God will strengthen you.
  4. Fear not . . . God will help you.
  5. Fear not . . . God will uphold you.” —John Piper

When we grasp that God is with us, that God is helping us, that God is bigger than the things we wrongly fear, there is nothing we cannot do! 

As Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, and let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For there is nothing to prevent the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6 AMPC)

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by Your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for You! (Jeremiah 32:17 NLT)

“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” (Matthew 17:20 MSG)

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