How long Should I Pray?
2600 word, read time: approximately 8-10 minutes.
I went on a short term missions trip to Africa with six other people from my church in April of 2004. During our stay I was assigned to room with John, a fairly new Christian in his late twenties. Each morning my alarm would go off to wake me up before the start of our busy days in order for me to have time to pray. Fortunately my alarm never perturbed John who either fell back asleep or never heard it at all. However, by the end of our trip he came to realize that prayer was a priority in my life and asked me a simple, yet daunting question; “How much time should I spend in prayer each day?” I was unprepared and surprised by the question and my best response at the time was, “It depends”, but I never gave him a more thorough or biblical answer. After some thought, prayer and study, I think the best answer to this question comes from Jesus’ teaching on prayer and the model prayer known as “The Lord’s prayer” found in Matthew 6:5-15.
Before answering the question of “how long” it’s important to ask a preliminary question of whether or not the amount of time we spend in prayer is even significant to God. This depends on one’s motivation to pray. If the reason someone sets apart time to pray is something other than simple devotion to God, than time carries no value. For example, if I was only setting my alarm each morning in order to make John feel inferior or guilty for not getting up himself or to make myself appear more spiritual, than that time was a waste and quite possibly an insult to God. Jesus disapproved of the hypocrites who simply prayed that “they may be seen by men.” (Matthew 6:5)
Our “personal prayer time” is to be a private matter between us and God. Jesus taught, “when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to the Father who is in the secret place: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6) It’s best to find a time and place that would not be a distraction to others or bring attention to yourself. When circumstances permit, try and find a place where you cannot be seen or heard and where you will not bother or wake others up. “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, It will be counted a curse to him.” (Proverbs 27:14)
A second wrong motive or belief would be to think that spending extra time in prayer would make God more inclined to hear or answer our requests. Jesus taught, “do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:7-8
Instead of stretching your prayer time in an effort to show God just how much you really desire something, make an effort to fully express your heart to Him. For example, instead of saying, “Lord, I really, really, really…..need a new job”, you might want to express to God why this request is so important to you. “God, you know that I am out of work. I want to trust you with this matter, but I have to admit that I’m nervous and feel very vulnerable. Please help me to find a job and give me the wisdom I need at this time.” Speaking to God conversationally may indeed add more time to prayer, but it will also add greater depth to your relationship with Him.
Additionally, although Jesus does not endorse the vain repetition of words in prayer, he did teach his disciples to pray persistently and not give up hope. (see Luke 18:1-8) When we repeatedly come to God with our needs we are demonstrating our dependence upon Him and faith in His power and goodness. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
“Our Father in heaven” (v.9)
When we consider the amount of time we spend in prayer, it’s important to reflect on who we are communing with and the privilege of that relationship. Jesus taught us to address God as “Father”, which implies that God is both personal and relational. We are not praying to “A Higher Power”, but to a person. Since God is a person, we need to consider the subject of time in prayer in terms of relationship. Good relationships are built by spending quality time together. God does not need time to figure us out. “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3) We on the other hand could spend eternity with God and never come to an end of our knowledge and understanding of Him. Scripture exhorts us to “Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore!” (1 Chronicles 16:11) We need to spend quality time with God to build our relationship with Him and get to know Him better.
Hallowed be Your name.” (v.9)
The scriptures describe God as being all-powerful, all-knowing, unchangeable, ever-present and holy in nature. The scriptures describe mankind as being limited in power, knowledge and understanding, fallible, and sinful in nature. Considering these facts, the opportunity for humans to even commune with Almighty God is a great privilege. It’s irreverent and even prideful to barge into God’s presence, make a few requests and bolt out the door. Can you imagine charging into the office of a president or king, giving him a wish list and asking him to hurry and get it done? Instead we are to “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” (Psalm 100:4) That takes time!
When we spend little or no time with God in prayer, we also take for granted the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Jesus died to end the war between God and man and bring peace between us. His shed blood has given each of us the opportunity to have access with God in prayer.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity…that He might reconcile [all people] to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:13-18)
Therefore, when we consider how long we should pray, we must acknowledge that it’s our privilege, not God’s, to have this opportunity which was made possible by the painful death of His Son Jesus.
Your kingdom come” (v.10)
If you ever run out of things to pray for, just watch the nightly news. This world is in desperate need of prayer! We are living in a world that has been ravaged by the effects of sin. We are surrounded by tragedy, violence, sickness, injustice, broken relationships, suffering, pain and a harvest of people who need to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Our first line of duty as Christians is to pray. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom (His reign, His peace, His glory, His dominion) to be displayed on the earth. We are to pray for all people who are in need of God whether they acknowledge it or not and whether or not we personally know them.
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
We are to beseech God to help His people spread their wings to expand His kingdom. “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:2) Our work starts, but does not stop in prayer. Once we have prayed, we are commissioned to go and do the work of God around us. “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3)
“Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.” (v.10)
If we are wise, we will devote time to seeking God’s will in prayer. David wrote, “Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” (Psalm 143:10) Seeking God’s will can come in the form of seeking guidance. “God, show me the best avenue to take.” It can also come in the form of surrendering. “God, I sense you are leading me to go on a missions trip and I’m scared to death, but let your will be done, not mine.” If we only devote time to petitioning God and do not take time to listen and hear from God, we will likely miss God’s “good and acceptable and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2b)
“Give us this day our daily bread.” (v.11)
Prayer is a daily practice. For some people, prayer is like grocery shopping. You do it once a week and then go back occasionally if you really need something. Instead, prayer should be like eating and drinking. “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.” (Psalm 55:17) We should devote time each day to be spent with God in prayer. This will include asking Him to supply those things that we need and also talking to Him and listening to Him through his “still, small voice” and his written Holy Word – the Bible. The acts of praying and listening to God have been paralleled as spiritual breathing and eating – without which one would surely die.
“And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” (v.12)
Prayer is a time to seek and grant forgiveness. Each and every day we do, say and think in ways that do not align with God’s character and will for our lives. When we continually brush these attitudes and actions aside and do not seek God’s forgiveness, our consciences grow dull and we begin to rationalize our sin. For this reason, it is always healthy to examine yourself and invite God’s Spirit to show you ways in which you have grieved Him. Some days these errors are glaringly obvious and our consciences cry out for the cleansing and purging that can only be found in the blood of Jesus. “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20) Other days, we would be wise to join the Psalmist in praying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23,24) This type of examination in prayer does not happen quickly. I find that the Lord reveals one thing at a time to me and allows me to come into agreement with Him (repent) before moving on to the next issue.
Jesus makes it imperative that we not only ask for forgiveness, but also grant it to others. (Matthew 6:14-15) In fact, the scriptures show us that holding grudges against others is a direct hindrance to receiving God’s forgiveness and having our prayers heard by God. (Matthew 6:12, 1 Peter 3:7) Taking time to forgive others is not something we should postpone to another day. We need to perpetually forgive others “lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble” (Hebrews 12:15). Going to bed angry at others gives an opportunity for the devil to cause havoc in our relationships. Therefore it’s a good practice to start and end our days by giving and receiving forgiveness. (Ephesians 4:26:27) Although forgiveness is a decision we make in a moment of time, it often includes working with God through the pain and hurt that was felt by the offense. This is time well spent.
“And do not lead us into temptation” (v.13)
God promises to never allow us to face overwhelming temptations and to always provide alternative options for us to choose. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Knowing that there will always be a “way of escape” is one of the greatest keys to overcoming temptation. Another powerful tool in triumphing over temptation is memorizing and quoting Scripture. Yet our battle with temptation cannot be done without the power of prayer for “apart from [Jesus] [we] can do nothing”. (John 15:5) It is helpful to submit our areas of vulnerability to God in prayer and ask Him for His grace and victory. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)
“But deliver us from the evil one” (v.13)
We are in a battle. If there were only one reason to spend quality time in prayer with God each day it may be this very fact. As Christians, we have a real adversary who’s mission is “to steal, to kill and to destroy” (John 10:10a). As I think back on my missions trip to Africa and the time I spent in prayer, a good portion of that time was spent praying for protection and safety not only for our trip, but also for my wife and son who stayed home. In prayer we get dressed for battle by putting on our spiritual armor that will protect us from the “wiles of the devil”. (Ephesians 6:10-18) Jesus is our commanding officer and we are His ambassadors and soldiers. We come to Him to report for a day’s duty and to report back to Him on our day’s events. (2 Corinthians 5:20, 2 Timothy 2:3,4)
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (v.13)
The time we spend in prayer must start with God, stay focused on God and be to the glory of God. Prayer is not just about getting our needs met. It’s about bringing God into the center of our lives, aligning ourselves with His eternal purposes, encountering His power and glorifying Him. If we take the time to focus on who God is, what He’s already done for us and seeking His will, we can become lost in the beauty of His presence. “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
It’s important to remember that prayer is a personal commitment. The time each person spends in prayer should be a matter of their own choice and personal relationship with God. I encourage you to examine your current prayer life in light of the relationship aspect of prayer, the privilege of prayer, the sacrifice of Jesus’ life, the neediness of this world, seeking God’s kingdom, asking for your daily needs, seeking and granting forgiveness, asking for victory over temptation and against the devil and ultimately seeking the glory of God. When you consider all of these aspects of prayer, the question of time in prayer may change from “How long should I pray?” to “Can I ever pray enough?”
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