When the topic of prayer comes up in conversation, or in sermons or studies on prayer one of the most common questions that I’m familiar with is when we should schedule prayer. In other words, should we schedule a particular time for prayer? Or do we have to have a regularly scheduled time for prayer?
In Mark 1:35, Mark wrote,
“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”
I have heard sermons, read books and articles on prayer, and often times this verse was given as the ideal that Christians should follow. Admittedly, Jesus’ pattern is a good one to follow. However, we must recognize that what Mark wrote was a historical description not a prescription that believers must follow.
What is more important to see in this passage is the priority that Jesus placed upon prayer. From the context we find that Jesus had spent the entire previous day teaching in the synagogue, casting out demons, healing the sick. It was an exhausting day of ministry. Yet, Jesus knew that speaking with His Father was a top priority regardless of how physically exhausted He may have been.
Therefore, to answer the question of when to pray we will look at several passages that describe opportunities for prayer rather than specific time of day or schedules for prayer.
Luke 5:16 offers another example of the timing of prayer from Jesus Himself.
“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.“
The word “often” is not in the Greek text but is supplied by the translators to give the gist of the original. What Luke wrote is that even though His fame was spreading and the crowds who sought Him out were continually growing, private prayer was something for which He made special effort to maintain. Thus, He would “often” withdraw into the desert to pray. As I study this passage in context, I have found several principles concerning prayer. But for our purposes we want to notice that Jesus made a habit of praying regularly and often. Therefore, we find another principle for our own practice. When should we pray? Often and regularly.
In Matthew we find the following passage.
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
We all know the setting. This passage describes the night before Jesus crucifixion, which followed an excruciating time of torture at the hands of the Roman guards. Jesus knew His need for strength and wisdom. He knew what was coming for Him and in His greatest time of despair and need He took time to once again seclude Himself and pray.
In several passages we see that Jesus often prayed when people were in need. For instance, in Luke 22:32 we find the following:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus knew Simon’s need at that moment. In fact, Jesus had been praying for him for some time because He understood that Simon needed strength to guard against the devil’s work. He also knew that Simon would need strength following his denial of Christ on the night of His arrest and trials.
In John 17, which is known as Christ’s high priestly prayer, He prayed for His disciples and also for all who would come to believe in Him by their testimony.
Having reviewed these several passages to learn from Jesus, we should also look at one passage from Paul. In First Thessalonians 5:17 Paul wrote, “pray without ceasing.” Obviously, we can’t pray without ever stopping. So, what did Paul mean? I once heard it described as having a nagging cough. It simply comes upon you at any moment. Paul told the church to continually pray. And if we take Paul at his word, we know that he is not prescribing any specific time for prayer, but that believers should always be ready to pray habitually.
These are just a few examples of what we can learn about when to pray from Jesus and from Paul. We should pray when we’re physically or spiritually exhausted and in need of strength. We should pray often and regularly. We should pray in our great times of need and when we know that others are in need. Finally, Paul summarized the best time to pray as prayer without ceasing, or habitually.
I’m reminded of a wonderful song written by Christian songwriter, Steven Curtis Chapman. The chorus of the song goes like this:
Let us pray, let us pray, everywhere in every way
Every moment of the day, it is the right time
For the Father above, He is listening with love
And He wants to answer us, so let us pray.
So, let me encourage us all today. Let us pray. Let us take advantage of each moment that we have to pray for whatever or whoever needs prayer.
 STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN
Lyrics © BMG Rights Management