When I read Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing, I usually read it with a healthy dose of guilt and discouragement. I surely desire to pray without ceasing, but how can that be done? If you are like me (and many others), you have made commitments to do this only to fail pretty quickly. Sometimes it is from lack of effort, but other times it may be from the lack of a good plan. If I don’t lift weights, what would happen if I tried to bench press 300 pounds on the first try? It would crush my pride and my chest. While (hopefully) a poor prayer plan won’t result in physical pain, it may bring frustration and discouragement that can crush our desire to pray.
Over the past several weeks we have looked at some of the attitudes and suggestions that will help us grow in our life of prayer. In this final article, we will look at how we can pray throughout the day. When it comes to frequency of prayer, we should set challenging but attainable goals. Before you set the goal to pray always, set a goal to pray hourly. But we’ll start even simpler today. As a good, realistic starting point, let’s set the goal to pray in each part of the day. For the sake of simplicity, we will look at the day in five basic segments.
Right After Waking Up
Seventeenth century Puritan Lewis Bayley says, “As soon as ever thou awakest in the morning, keep the door of thy heart fast shut, that no earthly thought may enter, before that God come in first; and let him, before all others, have the first place there.”1 While the old English itself makes the statement seem pious, there is also great truth in the words. Right after we wake up, the thoughts and cares of the day assault us. Before arising, close off your mind to the day (it will still be there later on) and turn your mind to your heavenly Father. He is the one who gives you strength to arise from bed and breath to go about your day. Fix your mind on Him early, and it will not easily depart from Him later.
Morning Time of Prayer
Seek to have a more extended time of prayer after getting up but before the tasks of the day. This can be after breakfast or coffee but before you check your email, turn on the tv, read the newspaper, etc. Regardless of when you have your daily devotional time, I still encourage you to set aside time before getting into the day. There are two main reasons for this.
First, it was the example set by Jesus Christ. In Mark 1:35, Jesus arose early and went to pray. This is not a prescriptive passage (you certainly do not to leave your house as He did), but the example set by Christ shows the priority of prayer in His life.
Second, it’s just kinda common sense. Most of the challenges we face are during the day, not during the night. Does it not make sense, then, to pray before these things are upon us? As you look into the day, surrender things to God and ask for His provision.
Throughout the Day
The goal for this portion is to have times of prayer before and after noon amidst the activities of the day. This time of day is when we often forget to pray. It is more than a 10 second prayer before lunch, but it does not have to be long. Try to pray at least a few minutes in a quiet place. Even three minutes of undistracted, meaningful prayer can change an attitude or the course of the day.
Since it is difficult to remember to pray in these times, set up a reminder on your phone (don’t snooze it!) or use an event as a memory jogger.2 For example, when you are getting dressed, think of how we have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness. When driving, think of how we are pilgrims in this life. At the gym, think of how we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. Don’t over-spiritualize everything, but recognize how your activities or surroundings can remind you to pray and guide your prayer.
In the Evening
As evening approaches, activities change. Families come back together and have dinner. You get home from work and look to relax. You return from school and have homework. Regardless of the activity, evenings bring opportunities for not only relaxation and fellowship but also idleness and temptation. Thus, the transition to the evening must be preceded by prayer.
Pause and think about what your evening will contain. Think of the good things and ask for God’s blessing. Think of the possible temptations and ask for God’s preservation. Do not let your evening dictate what you will do, but dedicate the evening to God and think of how you can glorify Him with it.
Lastly, pray right before you lie down to sleep. Bayley lists several considerations of what to pray before bed,3 but I summarize them as Reflection, Confession, and Expectation.
First, reflect on the day. Give thanks for all of it– both the good and the bad. Consider what things arose that you can now take to God in prayer.
Second, confess sin. Every day there are things we do that we shouldn’t, and there are things we don’t do that we should. Don’t let the repetition of sin prevent you from confessing it. As you confess, pray that tomorrow God will convict you before you sin and keep you from it.
Third, expect the end.
“What? That took a morbid turn!”
Perhaps, but perhaps not. It would indeed be morbid if death were a bad thing. But if we acknowledge that Paul is speaking the truth when he says that to die is gain (Phil. 1:21), then we must also acknowledge that death is not ultimately evil.
We look forward not to death itself but to the resurrection from the dead and the life that follows. How immense the wisdom and power of God, that He should take that which this world fears the most and make it the gateway to everlasting peace, joy, and glory! Death does not end our hope; it ushers in the consummation of our true hope. It does not enshroud us in darkness, but it removes the veil through which we now see God. It is not the failure of God’s goodness, but it is the passageway from the realm of faith to the realm of sight.
Sleep reminds us of the frailty of this life. One day this world will fade like a dream, and we will awaken to eternal life and light with Christ. As you dwell on this before bed, let it be an admonishment and reminder to not love this fleeting life but to look to the eternal peace and rest of the next.
Encouragement and Exhortation
In 1 John 3:1a, the Apostle John says, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.” Brothers and sisters, how different would our lives look if we truly lived in the light of just this one verse? How pale and lifeless the world seems when we contemplate the truth that we are children of God! How easily and eagerly we should slip into times of communion with God when we dwell on this reality! Do you struggle to pray? Do not first and foremost think of what you must do. Rather, think first of who it is we pray to. Think of how we can run to the arms of our Father and rest in Him. He is the purifier of our sin. He is our shelter in this world. He is our joy and peace. Pray, therefore, that God will reveal Himself more to you and that your prayer will flow from the true revelation of our Great God.
Second, set goals and guards to keep life from diminishing this divine communication. When we love a person on earth, we will change our schedule to spend time with them. So it should be with God. A prayer plan acknowledges that we believe in the need and joy of prayer. Seek to grow in your desire for prayer while also setting deliberate goals to grow in it.
As a final note, the Apostle John shows earlier in His letter that there are some who say they have fellowship with God but who actually do not (1 John 1:5-10). Is this you? Do your lips say one thing but your life another? Those who walk in darkness are separated from God. But it does not have to be this way! Yes, the light of God will expose you– your faults, your ignorance, your weakness– but it is also in this light that you will be purified and will find life. Open your life to the light of God’s Word. When it shows your sin, repent of it. When it tells you of the coming judgment, believe it. When it shows the beauty and glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, trust in Him and submit to Him alone!
A year from now, may we look back on the choices we make today and glorify God for the growth He has given us in our lives.
Oh Lord, teach us to pray!
1. Lewis Bayley, The Practice of Piety: Directing a Christian How to Walk, That He May Please God. Benediction Classics, 2009, 106. 2. This concept and some of the examples are from Bayley, 106–108. 3. Bayley, 131–138.
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.