Private Prayer in an Age of Distraction

Speaking about prayer in Matthew 6:6, the Lord Jesus tells us,

“But you, when you pray, enter into your private room, and shut your door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

These words seem simple enough, and we don’t have much problem understanding what they mean. It’s in the practice that we find the difficulty. If we stop to consider, when was the last time we had private, secret time with the Lord of any sort?

Daily we spend significant time with our devices, catching up on emails, texts, and news. Or we gaze into these brightly lit screens for amusement, distraction, or information. Our electronic “companions” are with us everywhere, from our night stands to our work desks. The trouble is, this constant electronic connection to the world around us, whether we like it or not, has a corrosive affect on our spiritual life. Our Christian lives are actually in a kind of “digital danger.”

This age of connectedness seems to make it impossible for us to have private times of undisturbed fellowship with the Lord.

Our time is eaten up and our minds are preoccupied. Yet the Lord’s word in Matthew 6 is clear. Enter into your private room. Shut your door. Pray.

The Lord Jesus as a pattern

It’s instructive for us to see that Jesus Christ Himself lived this way. The Gospels tell us of numerous occasions when Jesus went away to be alone to pray. Matthew 14:23 says,

“And after He sent the crowds away, He went up to the mountain privately to pray. And when night fell, He was there alone.

Mark 1:35 tells us that Jesus, rising very early in the morning, while it was still night, went out to a deserted place to pray. He was not with His disciples. He was alone with the Father, praying in secret.

What a pattern! The Lord Jesus needed time to fellowship with the Father. He went away from the bustling crowds, from the matters of daily life around Him, even from His disciples, to be in a place without distraction where He could pray in private.

How much more do we need this! Our relationship with Christ deteriorates when we don’t spend daily time alone with Him to be shined on by Him, to confess our sins to Him, to be spiritually nourished in His Word, and to fellowship with Him. Eventually, our spiritual life simply withers and dries up. It’s impossible for us to live for the Lord, love Him, or overcome temptation without this regular, hidden time with Him.

Distractions of the modern world

Nowadays we can conveniently race around a world that fits snugly in the palm of our hand. But though technology marches on and life speeds up, one thing never changes—our need for daily fellowship with God.

Perhaps we’ve given up and think we simply can’t have private, personal time with the Lord in this busy world; we must somehow bear the tumult around us and do our best to live the Christian life. Perhaps we hope for that “someday” when our lives are less busy and more peaceful, then we’ll be able to go apart and spend time alone with the Lord.

But realistically speaking, that “someday” will probably never come. Busyness and distractions don’t decrease. On the contrary, in this age of connectedness we’re increasingly besieged with something to read, something to watch, a person to catch up with, a notification to respond to. It’s all just a click or a tap away.

We jeopardize our Christian walk by thinking we can wait until we’re less busy. The Christian life is for living now, today. It isn’t something we can put off for the future. So what do we do? How can we maintain a private prayer life in an age of such distraction?

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Recognize the danger and pray for the Lord to help you

First, we must be aware of the danger that present-day distractions pose to our spiritual life. We can’t deal with the problem if we aren’t aware that a problem exists.

Certainly modern technology makes life and work much easier and more efficient. But our computers, tablets, smart phones, and televisions, convenient as they are, can easily take up all our time and attention. As a result, we lose the opportunity to spend time with the Lord in secret. We may tell ourselves we don’t have time to be with the Lord in private prayer, but it’s more that our time, our heart, and our attention have been consumed by other things.

Second, we must also be fully convinced that we simply can’t live a meaningful Christian life without having a hidden life with the Lord Jesus. Getting away from life’s hustle and bustle to spend private time with the Lord isn’t optional. Our spiritual lives depend on it.

Once we see both the hazard of modern distractions and our need to be with the Lord alone in prayer, we can ask the Lord to help us maintain our private prayer life. Surely He would be happy to hear us pray this way! And He will be faithful to answer our prayer. Such prayers give the Lord the way to speak to us about how we spend our time and to remind us to cooperate with Him. Through such prayers, we allow Him to convict us when we waste our time and to urge us to put away our devices when it’s time to be with Him. If we ask Him, the Lord Jesus can save us from succumbing to a life without prayer.

4 practical points for praying in private

Because the Lord is the Spirit in our spirit, He is always with us and available to us. We can have fellowship with Him at any time by calling on His name, talking with Him throughout the day, and staying open to His leading. But in addition to that, these points can help us establish and maintain a private prayer life.

  1. Set a fixed time—Choose a time of day when you can step away from everything and spend quality time with Christ. Set this time for private prayer with the Lord and don’t miss it! The best time for this is early in the morning, when we’re quiet and rested, before our busy day begins.
  2. Find a “private room”—Find a place apart from people and distracting things, your own little “mountain.” This could be your car, a room, a park, your backyard—anywhere you can pray undisturbed. Remember the Lord’s word? Enter into your private room. Shut the door. Pray.
  3. Turn everything off—To focus entirely on the Lord whom we love, we need to silence our phones, or even put them away from us. It’s hard to have a deep conversation or develop a relationship with another person if we’re constantly glancing at our phones or watching a screen. It sends them the message that what we’re looking at is more important to us than they are. The same is true with the Lord. Turn everything off and focus on Him. Listen to Him. Talk with Him. Gaze at Him. Love Him.
  4. Pray with the Bible—To begin your time, you can start by praying to open your heart to the Lord. Praying is the best way to exercise our spirit to contact and fellowship with the Lord. He may shine on some sin. If so, simply confess that sin to Him, and the Lord will forgive and cleanse you. Then, open your Bible. Sometimes we’re not sure what to pray or what to say to the Lord, and our minds often wander. But we can use the words of the Bible to pray. The Bible provides the best words to compose our prayers. By praying with His Word, we can speak to the Lord and the Lord can speak to us.

With the Lord’s supplying grace, it’s possible to maintain our private prayer life today. But to cooperate with the Lord’s help, we must choose to spend time with Him, enter our private room, and shut the door. When we shut out the world, we will enjoy His sweet presence, His speaking, and His life-imparting Spirit in our spirit as we fellowship with Him in prayer and in the Word. These private times with the Lord will supply us and sustain us each day to live healthy, joyful Christian lives.