How to quiet your mind and heart for prayer

by Emily Vanden Heuvel

Sometimes when I pray, I find it difficult to focus. I tend to have an abundance of energy, to be easily distracted, and to be overly anxious. My mind is racing: worrying about sick family members, stressing out about work projects, thinking through creative meal planning, ruminating about finances, and wondering when I am going to make time to exercise. I am pulled in lots of directions and get lost in my thoughts when I should be channeling that mental energy into intentional prayer time. Does that ever happen to you?

How do we quiet the noise in our minds and worry in our hearts so that we can pray? I am not very good at experiencing calm, and yet I am reminded that the Bible tells me, in Psalm 46, to be still and know that he is God. Quieting your mind and heart to have meaningful prayer time with God isn't always easy. I recently learned of a strategy that has helped me as I strive to be still in the presence of God. Pastor Pete Greig, in his book How to Pray, shares the acronym P.R.A.Y. (Pause, Rejoice, Ask, Yield) to guide our conversations with God.


First, Pause. Take a moment or two and a few deep breaths; be quiet and relax. Greig shares this: “The swirling sediment of life settles down quite quickly. You become more aware of your own presence in place and time and of God’s gentle subsuming presence around and within you.” This time of stillness stops the endless mental “to-do list” and creates an awareness that God is with you, right now. Remember that pausing doesn’t need to be just stillness; it can be active. Take a walk, go for a bike ride, draw a picture, or choose another activity that is relaxing for you.


Second, Rejoice. After your heart and mind are quiet, move to a time of rejoicing and praise. Thank God for his gift of grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Praise God for the work of the Holy Spirit, who enables and intercedes for you. Make a list of God’s care and provision. Sometimes I don't feel like rejoicing, especially in seasons of waiting or loss, but in moments when my prayers are mostly tears, it helps to acknowledge that the Creator of the universe knows my name.


Third, Ask. We can ask God for all sorts of things when we pray. But when we ask, we do it knowing that God knows best. Greig says this about asking for things in the name of Jesus: “Praying in the name of Jesus means wanting what God wants, aligning our wills with his will, our words with his Word, and our personal preferences with his eternal and universal purposes. It also speaks of family privilege. To ask in the name of Jesus is to approach the Father in the company of his own dear Son.” We approach God with confidence knowing that he will listen.


Lastly, Yield. As we conclude our prayers, we offer every part of ourselves to God. We yield our wants and desires. To yield is to trust. The word Amen, that is spoken at the end of prayer, means “This is true, so be it!” So when we say that little word at the conclusion of our prayers, we yield to God’s perfect timing, wisdom, and strength. Psalm 46—which tells us to be still—also speaks about who God is and why we can yield to him:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (46:1-3)

Quieting your mind and heart to pray will take some intentional practice, but giving God that focus honors him. I hope P.R.A.Y. is a helpful tool to guide your busy mind so that you can be still and know that he is God.