If our relationship with God is really important to us, we will take time to pray. It might mean we go to bed earlier in order to start the day with prayer, or taking a portion of our lunch hour for solitude. Developing a habit of prayer is like building any new habit into our life: it takes commitment, creativity, and perseverance.
Desire for God is our fuel for prayer. When we fall in love, we set aside other things in order to spend time with the one we love. It is no different with God.
I can be praying and find my mind wandering off to another matter, on to someone who has hurt me, or on a problem that is coming up. This kind of distraction indicates what is not integrated into my relationship with the Lord. I can put the matter into His hands and turn the distraction into a prayer.
Internal distractions are more difficult. There are many colorful descriptions for what the mind left to its own devices does, things like a monkey mind jumping around in the trees, or a swarm of mosquitoes. The psychological term is “free association.” It is helpful to have simple words, phrases, or images to help you focus on God’s presence. Certain kinds of prayer like thanksgiving, confession, or supplication give the mind a train of thought to hold on to, while listening prayer and contemplation tend to generate more distraction.
Be prepared for distractions and be patient with them. If you try to fight the thoughts head-on, the attention will make them stronger. Better to simply note that you have wandered from your focus, then gently return your attention to God. Persistent thoughts may require closer examination. Do they represent something you need to confess, a person you need to be reconciled to, or a situation that calls for your response? There is a Jewish tradition that “distractions in prayer are blemished deeds in our lives that push their way into prayer in expectation of the blessing that is to come,” (Douglas V. Steer, Dimensions of Prayer, 30).
The most important thing is to keep praying, even if it feels artificial at first. Have the expectation that you are going to learn something in the process. Keep a balance between thanksgiving, supplication, confession, intercession, speaking and listening, and communion. God will bless whatever offering you make from the heart with commitment and sincerity. The more you give yourself to prayer the more you will find benefit in it.