Prayer is an important part of Christian life. It is our most direct means of communicating with God. It is our time to speak directly with Him and share our worries, our desires, our thanks, and our praise. By saving us and restoring us, Jesus gives each of us direct access to the Father through prayer. And as Christians, we are called to make prayer a regular part of our lives.
But how regular should our prayers be? Are there certain times each day that we must pray? How much prayer time is enough? Is God even keeping count?
Christians should pray regularly and continually. Like all good habits, we should engage in daily prayer. But our purpose is not to meet a quota or minimum standard. Our purpose in prayer is to grow in our relationship with God and walk closer with Him.
Freedom in Prayer
One of the distinctions between Christian practice and the practice of other religions is that Christian prayer is unregulated. The Bible does not mandate a daily prayer quota or assign prayers to specific times throughout the day.
Despite the lack of a mandated prayer schedule, in practice, most Christians pray at specific times, such as before a meal or before going to bed, as a matter of discipline and habit.
Similarly, scripture does not dictate the verbiage of our prayers or require a prewritten script. Some prayers from scripture, such as the Lord’s Prayer, and from early church history, like the Doxology, are regularly used liturgically in corporate worship. However, these practices are rooted in tradition, and not commanded by God.
This lack of structure does not suggest that prayer is optional for Christians, or that it should be done sparingly. Scripture has much to say about prayer, the attitudes of our prayers, and the circumstances in which we ought to pray. All of this should direct the Christian to a robust prayer life of regular communion with God throughout each day.
Biblical Commands to Pray
For the remainder of this article, we will explore some Biblical commands related to prayer, so that we can draw nearer to God through our prayers and live a more complete faith journey.
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always- 1 Chronicles 16:11
The command to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) might seem odd if we think of prayer as something that we always do with our eyes closed, heads down, and hands clasped. If we are always praying, when are we sleeping, eating, working, or talking with others?
But praying continuously has more to do with our attitudes than our actions. When we are mindful that God is always with us, and always ready to hear us, we are in a state of prayer, even as we do other things. And when we nurture this prayerful attitude, we find ourselves scattering little heartfelt prayers – some of them only a single sentence – throughout each day.
Are you stuck in traffic? Ask for patience. Are you dreading that meeting with an upset client? Pray for wisdom and peace. Do you finally get to sit down in your own space after a long day? Say a word of thanks. These prayers take only a moment, but they reinforce our awareness of God’s presence with us and center our actions in His will.
Pray in Times of Trouble
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.- James 5:13-14
Even as we pray continuously, there are times when God calls us to stop what we are doing and engage in more focused prayer. When needs arise, prayer is not our last resort, but our first defense. Any kind of trouble should prompt us to pray. Whether we are wrestling with a financial burden, a broken relationship, or an errant child, God invites us to come to Him first.
And more so, He invites us to pray for one another as a community. We should invite the church to pray for our needs, while we also take the time to pray for the needs of others.
Pray with Gratitude
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.- Philippians 4:6
Even as we bring our troubles, our requests, and our needs to God in prayer, we should do so with gratitude, knowing that God hears us. Our prayers of thanksgiving are not limited to mealtimes (though it is good that we thank God for our food). Every provision and every victory, great or small, is an occasion to pause and thank the God who answers our prayers.
Pray with Watchfulness
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.- Colossians 4:2
In addition to being grateful, our prayers should be watchful. As we commune with God, we have an enemy who seeks to break that connection. We must be wise to temptation and distraction. And we must be receptive to the Lord’s answers when we pray.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.- Matthew 6:5-8
When we pray, God invites us to be genuine with Him, to share our hearts. He doesn’t want us to follow a script, and our prayers are not meant to be a show for others. But God does want us to be intentional when we approach Him in prayer.
God delights in His time with us, and He desires to fill us and complete us. And so, we need purposeful, distraction-free prayer time alone with God. It is a good practice to seek Him daily, at whatever time works best, but God is not going to turn us away today for missing prayer time yesterday. But when we make the time for Him, we must bring our whole heart, mind, and focus to our prayer.
We’ve only scratched the surface of what God’s word teaches us about prayer. But even with these few practical steps, we can develop stronger prayer habits. And in doing so, we can experience more enriching and impactful prayer lives.
But we must remember that we are not simply fulfilling a quota or completing a checklist. There are times when we drop everything to pray, and there are times when we weave prayer into our daily routines. But in all of our prayers, we are communing with the Living God, our Creator and Redeemer, who is always with us, and always ready to hear us and answer us.