When we read a verse like “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5.17, NIV), or hear a sermon about it, we can be overwhelmed, or even made to feel guilty about how much we pray.
We may ask ourselves: How can I pray continually if I have to drive my car, or go to sleep? If I’m not praying all the time, am I a bad Christian? Am I not spiritual enough?
These and many other questions may come to mind as we consider: How often should I pray?
The short answer is: Pray whenever you need to or want to. There’s no limit on how many times a day you can pray. You are not restricted on when you can talk to God. You can pray anywhere, any time, about anything.
Want to know more?
I invite you to continue reading further. Our purpose here is to help you grow in your relationship with God through prayer.
Let’s look at different perspectives on how often we should pray to God. I think we may discover that the question is not about how often should we pray, but rather, how much can we interweave prayer into our daily lives as part of a relationship with God, not a religious requirement.
We want to be in love with God, not reduced to checking off boxes on some spiritual superiority scorecard. We are in a relationship of love and trust and growth.
You need to know that God is not counting up how many prayers you pray and then will cut you off if you pray too many. We are not issued a prayer punch card and once we’ve prayed x amount of prayers that is all we get. We pray to an unlimited God. We are in a relationship with a personal God, not a fickle deity who acts capriciously.
Think about how many prayers have been prayed over the great expanse of time. Do you really think that your prayers are going to be so many that it would tip the scales on how many prayers God can hear? Pray often and regularly!
We’ll begin by looking at a type of prayer based on the time of day.
Praying Throughout the Day
One way to pray more often is to pray at certain times of the day. You can pray the liturgy of the hours. This practice began in Biblical times and has been continued through the early Church and modified over time.
It’s a deliberate way to stop during the day, sometimes called The Daily Office. You can stop working, stop getting distracted, or stop focusing on worldly matters and focus on God in prayer.
“Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws” (Psalm 119.164, NIV).
Typically, the seven prayer times occur at 3 am, 6 am, 9 am, noon, 3 pm, 6 pm and 9 pm. These exact times can be, and are, often modified for a particular religious tradition. The times are referred to in these common terms: Dawn (vigils), sunrise (lauds), mid-morning (terce), midday (sext), mid-afternoon (none), sunset (vespers), and retiring or bedtime (compline).
You can easily see how integrating the regular times of prayer would enable you to turn your attention to God more regularly throughout the day. Of course, for many people, this type of schedule would be difficult to do. There are the limitations of childcare, job schedules, school schedules, workplace considerations, home management, and sleep!
But, don’t just say no to this possibility by thinking it’s too difficult. You may already be doing a version of this already. If you pray before your meals, you are already praying in the morning, at midday, and in the evening. That is three out of seven–you’re halfway there already!
By weaving prayers into all those daily activities you can more easily pray throughout the day. Praying before work, before bed, or for just about any event throughout your day can be a great way to keep God in your life and on your mind. You can also pray with your family, even very young children.
The point of this practice is not to see what kind of score you get each day, but rather to weave prayer into your waking and working and eating day. You can purchase books or guides to help you or even look online.
Allow me to share a personal example. Many years ago, I made a visit to a monastery called Mepkin Abbey. I went for a weekend spiritual retreat. As part of the weekend, I was able to participate with the monks in the liturgy of hours each day.
I earnestly sought to go to each time of prayer but I found it difficult to do, even when all of my concerns and responsibilities were removed–I was on a retreat after all. But, the lesson I learned was to take notice of each day and how I could relate to God in it. For instance, when I awakened, I could utter a prayer of thanks that I was alive and breathing and had good health to get out of bed, instead of grumbling about how early it was.
I also appreciated how scripture was sung at each time of prayer, instilling God’s Word into the prayers. Even years later I have found myself singing phrases of scripture at different points in the day.
Perhaps a set time of prayer would work for you, even in a modified form. Or, perhaps it would not. Maybe something less scheduled is more for you?
Timely Biblical Examples
Some people may ask, “Well, what did Jesus do? How often did Jesus pray?” The Bible doesn’t really give us a firm answer on that question. From Luke 5.16, we know that Jesus prayed often.
How often is often? We don’t know, but we can assume it means that Jesus prayed regularly, which further could mean at least daily. We gain more insight from the Psalmist who declares:
“Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night” (Psalm 1.1-2, NIV).
We see that it’s a good habit to meditate, or pray, at least twice a day. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you want to start your day with prayer to God, and then end your day before bedtime with prayer? To help get you started, for example, there are bedtime prayers for teenagers, couples, or for forgiveness.
Further, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6.18, NIV).
All occasions can mean all kinds of things, but I think Paul’s encouragement to us was to pray whenever we could. What parts of your day can you include in prayer? Toward the end of this article, I offer several examples on integrating prayer into every facet of your waking time.
We see that Jesus prayed often, the Psalmist suggests praying in the morning and at nighttime, and Paul exhorts us to pray as much as possible. What lesson can we take from all of this?
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, “When you pray, say:” (Luke 11.1-2, NIV, emphasis added).
Jesus’ teaching of his disciples was not pray this many times, but simply the expectation that they would be praying regularly. It appears that the basis Biblical guide for us is to pray as God leads you. Pray whenever you can and often. This approach may work for you because there’s no implied minimum or maximum. You have the freedom to pray when you want to pray, or need to pray.
A Better Question: How Often CAN I Pray?
The title of this article is “How Often Should I Pray?” Using an online search engine is what likely brought you to this site. There are a lot of hits on the question.
I’d like to suggest that the better question is: “How Often CAN I Pray?” Use of the word “should” implies that there is demand or responsibility to be met. Re-framing the question around the word “can” means that we look at prayer as an opportunity rather than a religious requirement.
“Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37.4, NIV).
Our delight in God flows out of our relationship with God. One of the best ways to relate to God occurs through prayer. Prayer allows us to share our inmost concerns and worries, unburden our fears, and celebrate the joys of our life with God. Using “can” instead of “should” means we are for praying as often as we need to, or want to.
The Goal: Praying Regularly
I don’t know why you clicked on this website, or decided to look at the particular article, but I have to believe it was out of a desire to draw closer to God.
You can deepen your relationship with God through prayer. You don’t have to wear special clothes, or be in a specific place to pray. You are not required to say certain words in a certain order, or have any special knowledge of God to pray to him.
You can just say, “God,” and that’s prayer. Any time you turn your attention to God and focus on him, thinking your thoughts to him, crying your fears to him, or saying words to him all count as prayer. When you understand the openness of prayer, you can seek to pray to God regularly.
Our desire to pray regularly is based on our wanting to love God and worship God, all throughout the day and week, not just on a Sunday morning.
“ “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10.26-28, NIV).
Praying to God regularly is a form of loving God with all that we are.
We have seen that we can pray on a very regular schedule, or as often as we can. You can figure out by practicing or testing out different methods or ways of praying during the day. With that in mind, let me suggest some practical ways to include prayer in more facets of your day.
You’ll want to look for opportunities to attach times of prayer with regular parts of your day that are already happening. Here are some suggestions:
- Pray whenever you brush your teeth
- Pray each time you eat
- Pray every time you start your car
- Pray whenever put gas in your car
- Pray each time you get coffee/favorite drink
- Pray as you wash your hair
- Pray whenever you shave
- Pray whenever you change clothes.
This sample list is an prompt to get you started on finding times to pray. Depending on what activity you are doing at that time, you can pray simple prayers like, “Thank you for your provision in my life, Lord,” or “Help me serve you today, God.” You can also pray breath prayers (a simple prayer you pray as you breathe in or out) such as: “I love you Lord;” “Praise your name Jesus;” “Guide me Spirit;” “Forgive me Lord;” or “Help me Jesus.”
You are not limited by words or time and while it’s convenient to pray at certain times it’s not a requirement. Use as many words as you want, or as few. Pray silently or out loud. You could pray every minute of the day if you wanted to. As you incorporate new practices of prayer into your life, allow God’s Spirit to enrich you with his peace and grace each day.
So, keep praying to God. Keep growing in your relationship with God as you seek to pray more regularly, or more often, or with greater vulnerability. Let prayer become what you look forward to each day, and all throughout the day.