How to Pray When You Just Can’t Focus

The best tips for focusing in prayer

Welcome, friend! Are you looking to kickstart your prayer life? Be sure to check out 7 days of printable prayer prompts in addition to the tips in this post.

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Knowing how to pray is one of those things you think should come naturally, right? Especially if you’ve been a Christian for a while?

But if you’re like thousands of other people who’ve landed on this post, I bet you’ve run into the same problem: you can’t focus. You don’t know what to say or even where to start sometimes. It just doesn’t come naturally for everyone.

I’ve been praying in some capacity since I was a teen. I remember curling up in my bed at night when my life felt confusing, asking a big mysterious God for guidance and strength. I drifted in and out of a youth group and felt guilty for my lack of commitment, although I wasn’t even sure what “commitment” to him should look like.

Finally I promised this God that I would go to church when I went to college.

I kept that promise and my life turned upside down. After deciding to follow Jesus I never looked back. Early on I learned that if I was going to keep this up, prayer was going to be an essential part of my life.

But here’s the thing. I suck at praying.

I say that a little tongue in cheek because at least I’m trying, and I’m pretty sure God listens to whatever jumbled mess of thoughts I throw his way. But let me give an example of what my mornings can look like…

My alarm goes off, I grumble, hit snooze a couple of times.

I finally turn on my phone and start rifling through emails and notifications, to wake up my brain. I start thinking about my day.

Depending on the day, I either read some of the Bible or go work out. Or put it off and sleep more.

At some point I turn to God like I know I should (and want to):

“Good morning God, thank you for the beautiful sunrise, thank you for guiding our family…oh I wonder how Jonathan’s cough is this morning. I’ll need to give him his medicine, but first I’ll need to make breakfast…oh no, I hope we’re not out of bread…oh sorry God, I mean, uh, please help Jonathan feel better…is he well enough to go to the library? Ugh, I really need to deposit those checks on the way home, Marc needs to sign them before he leaves…oh hi God, sorry, ummmm where was I? Ugh, I’m so tired, can’t focus…”

I could blame the stage of life I’m in, but the truth is I have always struggled with this. I’m a Type A, always planning, always ten steps ahead of where I’m at.

I have difficulty being in the moment.

When I pray, I just can’t focus.

Some people naturally pour their hearts out to God every time they turn to him. Others have to learn it through practice and habit. Guess which category I fall into.

I’ve made the mistake of assuming that knowing how to pray is a skill that everyone should know automatically, but it doesn’t quite work that way. As someone constantly grappling with grace I know that my prayer life is not something to be ashamed of, but it reflects a weakness in character that needs strengthening.

Over the years I’ve learned that there are a lot of ways to connect with God in a meaningful way. I may not be the 21st century Psalmist, but I can pray faithfully and powerfully even with my disjointed, distracted train of thought.

If you relate to this, I hope you don’t feel guilty. Just know that God is listening, no matter what you try. And if you feel like you don’t know how to pray, don’t worry. It’s never too late to learn.

Related: How to Have Daily Bible Devotions When Life Is Chaotic

How To Pray When You Just Can’t Focus

Focus in prayer can be tougher than it looks, so I compiled the best tips about how to pray, for beginners or anyone!

Here are some simple tips about how to pray and connect with God if you struggle with consistency and focus. Also be sure check out the journal I developed as a result of the popularity of this post (you can try a free sample!).

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1. Pray Out Loud

Yes, even when you’re by yourself. Or not by yourself.

When I was a college student I would pretend I was on my phone while I prayed during my walk to class so people wouldn’t think I was crazy!

I think of the story of Daniel. A Babylonian law forbade anyone to pray to any god but the king, yet Daniel continued to pray visibly and loudly enough to get arrested. Why didn’t he whisper or do it in his head? (See Daniel 6.) I find that when I make my thoughts verbal, they’re less likely to trail off.

2. Sing Hymns

No need to come up with eloquent words when they’ve already been written. Don’t turn on music and zone out; say the words and mean them. I’m a fan of old-timey hymns with rich lyrics as opposed to saying “hallelujah” over and over. Get a songbook/hymnal, or print out some lyrics and try it!

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord
—Ephesians 5:19

3. Start with the Lord’s Prayer

Sometimes there is great value in ritual. It can keep us on target.

Jesus’ disciples were with him constantly and must have seen his relationship with his Father, and yet they still asked, “how do we pray?” Jesus laid a foundation in Matthew 6:9–13:

This, then, is how you should pray:
’Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

When I don’t know what to say, I know I can’t go wrong with honoring God, asking that his will be done; asking for what I need, for forgiveness and for help through my weaknesses.

4. Imitate Great Prayers in the Bible

Just as Jesus set an example in prayer, so did many other people in the Bible. Pick one. I love Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1–10 for starters.

Related: How to Read the Bible When You Feel Stuck

5. Fast

It’s Lent as I write this so fasting is on a lot of people’s minds; however, it doesn’t have to be a special occasion to get your heart and mind spiritually focused.

I know that whenever I have practiced a traditional fast by giving up food, the hunger is a constant, humbling reminder that my strength comes from God alone. That helps me focus.

6. Pray Continually

This tip is for you, parents—yeah you who don’t have more than five quiet minutes to yourselves ever.

You’re probably already aware of this, but praying doesn’t have to be a formal event. God’s listening all the time.

Say a quick thanks, a shout out for your friend, praise, or a request for help whenever you think of it. Nehemiah did it constantly, if you want inspiration.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
 for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
—1 Thessalonians 5:16–18

Related: What Are Spiritual Disciplines? Plus 10 Ideas to Get Started

7. Pray with Your Kids

This seems obvious, but is it? I regularly forget to even pray at meals.

Yet I nonetheless try to have regular times throughout the day. This practice not only for them—it helps me too.

We pray when we load up the car (usually because this is stressful and I need the reset button). We pray at the beginning of our school day. We pray whenever someone is scared or sick or is being disciplined. We pray when kids throw fits and we pray when Mommy throws fits. We pray when something awesome happens and we want to thank God. We pray as a family at bedtime.

These are quick and may or may not always be super heartfelt, but you know what? They add up. And what’s more, you’re teaching them how to pray!

Related: 10 Easy Bible Verses for Kids to Improve Behavior

8. Pray with Your Spouse

Sometimes this overlaps with the praying with the kids thing, but we try to spend at least some time in prayer together daily. Want to try something super humbling? Stop to pray in the middle of a fight.

9. Go for a Prayer Walk or Drive

I did this a lot more before I had kids and when they were stroller size. Just thinking about it makes me want to get back in the habit. There is something about being outside that clears the mind. When you’re out walking you’re less likely to be distracted with your to-do list. Plus, there’s nature.

The heavens declare the glory of God; 
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
—Psalm 19:1

10. Pray the Psalms

I remember the first time I read through the book of Psalms; I was completely bored. Yeah, really.

At that time I was trying to absorb the knowledge that the Bible offered, and I was falling asleep getting through this very long collection of poetry. But years later, I love the Psalms because they have guided me in prayer on so many occasions.

You know those times when your mind is a flurry and you’re either sobbing uncontrollably or you’re so numb that you can’t even do that? You want to pray but you don’t even know where to begin? Pray a Psalm. A couple of my favorites include Psalm 23 and Psalm 63.

Friends, I don’t call myself a prayer warrior, but even as I write this I feel empowered because I know that in spite of my weaknesses, I do speak and God hears my prayers. If you have a hard time focusing, I hope this list empowers you too.

If you found these tips helpful, be sure to check out this prayer journal!

4-Week Guided Prayer Journal promo

The first week (which you can get for free) spends seven days going through the teachings of Jesus. You’ll also receive a free email series about how to make prayer a daily habit.

Plus, check out my Facebook Live video on how I pray when I’m a hot mess:

Do you know how to pray when you’re having trouble focusing? What do you do?

Hey, I'm Gina!

I’m a wife and mom of five, with kids ages toddler to teenager. I’m created in the image of God, made whole in Jesus. In this online space, I help others overcome the overwhelm all of us face when navigating this messy, beautiful journey we call life. Want to join us?

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48 Comments

  1. Vanessa V. (@SurvivingMayhem)

    I’m not religious, my family has an assortment of religions. I’m more of the I believe and love God and he and I talk (pray). He understands that there will be times we don’t but He is there when I need him. I tend to combine my praying with meditation and sometimes my prayers are more of an apology in advance.
    I want to add more prayer in my life, I’m going to try to make more time for it!

    Reply
    • ginapoirier

      That’s great Vanessa! I was going to mention meditation as well but it was getting to be quite long, lol! Maybe next time. I appreciate you chiming in, as I want to include people of different beliefs in the conversation

      Reply
      • Desire

        Thank you so much. Just realised how possible it is to give prays. I need God more then ever. Thank you God bless

        Reply
        • Doreen Gail Harper

          I’m always so amazed at how God works in our lives… I’m new to walking with God… And I’m loving every second of my new life… I’ve always believed but never really put my whole life in His hands… Just in the 6 months that I’ve been living my life for God… My life has changed drastically…I feel like I just can’t get enough of His word… I have the hardest time focusing when I’m praying… I’m always apologizing to God for it… But I have found myself praying through out the whole day…. Not exactly like I’d like it but I’m always in verbal contact with God. I thank you so much for sharing your experience of this issue cause it helped me to know that I’m not the only one struggles with this…
          Thank you very much for sharing!!

          Reply
          • Gina Poirier

            That’s wonderful to hear how you’re drawing close to God, Doreen. A relationship with him is just that – a relationship – that flows and evolves and grows. What matters most is giving him room in your heart to let that relationship blossom

  2. Lisa Hurley

    Thanks for the shout out! Yes, I get so distracted in prayer. I pray as much as I can when distractions are limited… in the shower, after bedtime, etc. It also helps to remember that prayer can be messy and disconnected, but God still hears!

    Reply
    • ginapoirier

      Yes the shower prayer is the best! Forgot about that one

      Reply
  3. Lina

    I appreciate all you shared about having a growing prayer life. I personally get distracted by things I am anxious about aswell. Once I realize that my thoughts are scattered and being pullled in different directions while praying I have found it helps me to surrender each distracting thought/problem to God so I have His peace and allow my heart to release it to God so I can then focus on a heart to heart prayer with Him. I also enjoy praying Psalms and am doing that now, a new Psalm each day. Praying out loud helps me aswell. I appreciate you sharing the struggle, we’re in this together!

    Reply
    • ginapoirier

      We are in this together! It’s reassuring I’m not the only one

      Reply
      • Charlie

        I also get distracted. Whilst praying whatever distraction and thoughts come i pray over that thought

        Reply
  4. Write Your Own Story Podcast

    I have the hardest time concentrating! This really hit home for me! I also use a lot of the tactics that you suggested but I definitely need to pray with the kids more often. Thanks for reminding me that we can pray all day long as we are going about our day. Great read!

    Reply
  5. dianet5913

    Good points and thanks for sharing. The church I attend is having a Ladies Day in April and our them is “Soul Repair 201: 20/20 What’s Your Focus?” Your title really got me curious – how did you know we were thinking and praying about the same thing? Life gets us all so distracted “we” know He knows what is on our hearts, HE just likes us to recognize Him as the Creator, the Physician, the one who Loves us and gave us a plan. Let’s pray for this re-focus for ourselves, our children and each other. God bless you and your readers.

    Reply
    • ginapoirier

      Haha, I guess a lot of people are thinking about this topic! This is by far the most popular post I have written so I am going to be exploring this topic further. Thank you for your comment and your prayers!

      Reply
  6. Cindy

    I pray in the car too! Great book from the movie War Room. It’s called “The Battle Plan for Prayer. It’s a good beginner’s book as well.

    Reply
    • ginapoirier

      I haven’t read it but I’d like to check it out soon!

      Reply
  7. Rachel

    Ironically I was literally thinking about this this morning, & the post pops up in my feed. It’s not the type of post that typically does; however, I’m very grateful that it did! I often find myself apologizing for going all ADHD in the middle of praying on my drive to work, & even more when I start getting frustrated & verbal (to myself) at other drivers. I do try to pray at other times, especially when something beautiful is present (perfect day, happy moment). I pray for a lot of guidance. I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Thanks for the encouragement!!

    Reply
    • ginapoirier

      It turns out A LOT of people feel the same way! I’m really encouraged too that I’m not the only one.

      Reply
  8. Akinniyi

    Wow! These are ten powerful nuggets that went down well. Thanks a lot.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Glad to hear it! Thanks for your support

      Reply
  9. Michelle

    Great and pertinent post. I think having a strong prayer life must be difficult for most people otherwise Paul would not have exhorted us so much to do it! It’s a discipline, just as seeking after God is a discipline, to realize that He is a person and we have to seek out that relationship and want that relationship. I have struggled with a strong prayer life because, like you, I tend to get distracted. What I have tried doing is: journaling every morning, spending time with the Lord. Playing worship music and singing my heart out to Him. When a need comes my way, asking the Holy Spirit to give me a scripture to pray for that need. Two things that have really helped me are: an app called Scripture Typer, which has helped me so much with memorizing scripture. Now when I need a scripture, it’s right there for the Holy Spirit to shine a light on it. Another tool in my Arsenal is Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain. She is a Christian, who has spent her life studying the effects of toxic thoughts on our lives. I’ve used her program to help me become more focused and meditative and contemplative. Finally, I give Saturday’s (the 7th day) to God completely. I am a nurse, sometimes I have to work, because weekends come with the job, but as much as possible, I set aside Saturday’s for Him. Most people will balk at having to give up an entire day to the Lord, especially a Saturday, no less. But try it. It will change your life. He meets with His people on the Sabbath. He consecrated the 7th day, and called it holy. It is one of the 10 commands. I can’t imagine not having the Sabbath in my life or my family’s life. I have two teenage kids, and from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown, it belongs to the Lord. Thanks for your post!

    Reply
  10. cjclarkwrites

    Great post and by the amount of comments I’m glad to see I’m not the only one with this problem. I do my fair share of praying but most often they are “arrow prayers”/one-two liners (i.e. Lord, just get me safely home. or Lord, please take this laryngitis away while I sing my solo in church today.) prayed throughout the day. But, I thank you for the tips. I’m going to try much harder, for I know prayer works and is vital.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      We’re all working on this for sure!

      Reply
  11. Julie Pfeifer (@aLovingChrist)

    What a wonderful post. If I had $1 for every time I couldn’t focus for prayer… well…. Thank you for the ideas!

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Glad that they’re helpful!

      Reply
  12. C. Ellen

    I am just so glad to hear that others struggle with this. Sometimes I feel so inadequate when I can’t stay focused.
    Thanks for the suggestions. Some of them I try regularly, but it’s good to see a couple of other ideas that might help me.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      I’d love to hear how it goes!

      Reply
  13. afishfry@icloud.com

    The Lord’s prayer indeed is a good starting point. I just did some research on it and found great inspiration on http://www.desiringgod.org, John Piper sermon from 1984.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Thanks for sharing! Do you know the title of the sermon?

      Reply
  14. Cheryl Able

    Dear Gina, I have had the same problem with praying. You gave some excellent advise, and I am grateful. There are some of your tips I haven’t tried, but I will definitely try in future. One of the Psalms prayers I like is Psalms 121. God bless you and thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply
  15. Mary @ kennedyfamfive.com

    I have been very un-focused in my prayers lately! Thank you for writing this. It came across my Pinterest feed at just the right time. 🙂

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      I’m glad it was helpful! I still need these tips like every day!

      Reply
  16. Tina

    I’m not sure exactly when you posted this, it looks like at least as far back as February. It popped up on my pinterest feed today in July and literally just yesterday one of my small group girls sent a message about getting distracted, asking if any of us others did! Of course several of us answered yes we have adult adhd! I can’t wait to share this with them! And I think it’s so cool that in July God is working thru you for others with your post for 🙂

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Thanks for sharing, Tina! Based on the response I’ve gotten, A LOT of us feel this way!

      Reply
  17. Linda Sullivan

    Gina, thanks for this post. At times it’s hard for me to concentrate and stay focused during prayer. I have learned to keep a pen and paper next to me and as soon as I get off track I write down what that thought was. Sometimes this becomes a to do list: call Barb, text Judy, clean the bathroom…etc. Other times it becomes something God wants me to focus on later. Now this doesn’t work when I do a prayer walk but like you said, it’s easier to stay focused because of God’s creation.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Great tip, Linda! I’ve been doing more of this too…I’m currently keeping a running prayer list in my planner and while it might be distracting, it actually helps because I can “dump my brain” onto paper and then focus on the prayer list instead.

      Reply
  18. Lori

    my mother passed away 2 months ago and since then my prayer life has all but stopped. not for the lack of trying. my mind and thoughts are so disjointed and confused. i laughed out loud reading your prayer…it sounds so much like mine. I have felt like such a failure with my relationship with God these past weeks and it is refreshing seeing someone else’s crazy scattered prayers. you have refreshed my spirit in so many ways today. i truly trust in the Lord, even as i am grieving, but with these awful prayers i have been sending him i just figured he felt i lost faith or something. thank you so very much. usually i just repeat over and over to him. i trust you, i trust you and hope he understands me. I know the bible says he can interpret a groan or a sigh so that gives me hope. again thank you so much for the carefree belly laugh over your prayer..it helped so much.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mom but glad I could put a smile on your face. I think you’ve got the right perspective.

      Reply
  19. Della

    This is a great post. I have found that keeping a prayer journal helps me keep focus. (I’m late to the party here as now you’re offering one!! ) I love having something tangible to look back on and see where God moved when I would have forgotten I’d even prayed about small things. It’s so great to have with me when I’m out and about (waiting on kids or in a coffee shop). I start a new one for every year. This digital world has messed with our brains so much! It goes so fast from idea to idea. The physical act of writing slows it down. Thank you for posting!!

    Reply
  20. Julie

    Oh. My. Gosh! I thought I was the only one who experienced this! Thank you so much for sharing this – I needed to know that I am not the only one who has ADD when it comes to praying!

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Definitely not the only one! ?

      Reply
  21. Ruth

    Thank you! I feel stuck at times and bad for not being able to say anything. I know the lord knows my heart and desires. Thanks again for these tips

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Hi Ruth! Guilt is definitely not helpful, and God absolutely is on our side. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  22. Irene

    Stumbled across this on Pinterest. I am so grateful to God that I did. Reading your prayer in the beginning made me fell like I am not alone. That is how my prayers go most of the time and I felt like a failure and alone. God is using you and your transparency to encourage me. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Thanks Irene! It encourages me every time someone comments “me too!” about prayer.

      Reply
  23. Melissa @myhillsandvalleys

    Great post! Im glad i came across it. It’s true and alot of ppl can relate to distractions in our mind while praying. I “learned” to pray mostly by listening to others pray. I also dont always designate quiet time but I’ll pray when I’m washing the dishes or walking to the laundry room, etc. The length of time we pray isnt where our focus should be, but more communion with God throughout our day as we seek and acknowledge Him at all times. 1 Thessalonians tells us to “pray always.” That said, I definitely agree that prayer is an area we grow in. Anyway, thank you for this 🙂

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Thank you Melissa! We’re agreed that “quiet time” can be always and everywhere!

      Reply

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