Once people have started praying, the most common barrier to prayer is wandering
thoughts, even amongst people who pray a great deal. In a global survey of prayer run by
the PrayerGuide.org.uk in 1998, over 80% of respondents found this at least "sometimes a
problem". Two thirds also found noise or other distractions a problem. A
similar survey by the Evangelical Alliance found that "keeping concentration"
was also an issue, with 40% of respondents mentioning this as a barrier to prayer.
Don't worry about your mind getting distracted, but gently bring it
back to focus on God, and the area you were praying about. Just as when we are in
conversation with others, our minds do have some apparently irrelevant thoughts, and need
to be returned to the topic at hand. St Francis of Sales said
"Even if you did nothing in your meditation but bring your heart back, and place
it again in our Lord's presence, though it went away again every time you brought it back,
your hour would be very well employed."
Many Christians lead busy lives, with our
minds working in overdrive to cover all of the things that we need to think about in our
various roles. When we stop to pray, it takes time for our mind to change track and to
focus in on God. Therefore it can be good to ease into prayer gently, perhaps by
listening to a praise and worship CD, or by reading a psalm or another passage from the
Bible, or simply by reflecting on what we have to be thankful for. Then we can enter
into a conversation with God with our minds properly prepared.