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Making Time to Pray

Posted April 22, 2024

Somewhere along the way, many Christians started to equate disciplined prayer with rote or powerless prayer. We think, How could something as intimate as prayer be scheduled? I was shocked the first time I visited a church where someone prayed using a pad of paper. For me, the idea of prewritten prayers, or scheduled prayer, just seemed unspiritual. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, many of us wouldn’t pray unless we forced ourselves to. From the earliest days, God’s people have been taught that healthy prayer lives must be cultivated through hard work. It takes time, often set-apart time, to ensure that prayer is prioritized like Jesus modeled in his own life (see Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28).

Setting apart time to pray is biblical. In Jesus’s day, Jewish people were known to recite daily the words of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This confession of faith in the one true God (offered when the worshipper rose from sleep and when they prepared for bed) was accompanied by prayers that magnified God by recognizing his provision and mighty works. The pattern of individual morning and evening prayer reflected the corporate worship of the tabernacle, where sacrifices were offered to God each morning and evening (Exodus 29:38–46). Consider what the psalmist said, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:17). Or think about the example of Daniel: “He went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10).

It was this “prayer pattern” which Jesus’s first disciples adopted. The early community of faith gathered in anticipation of Pentecost “with one accord devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). This same phrase is used in Acts 2:42 to describe the rhythms of the early church: “[they] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The apostle Paul encouraged this kind of prayer in the churches he ministered to (Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2). One scholar observes, “The suggestion that this activity in a Christian context involves a different attitude and manner of prayer from those customary in contemporary Judaism, which had fixed hours and patterns of prayer has no real evidence to substantiate it . . . ” In other words, Jesus’s disciples didn’t abandon the pattern of disciplined prayer, but they embraced it!

Consider some examples from the early church that indicate there were common times set apart for prayer:

  • In Acts 2:15 we’re told that the disciples encountered the power of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost at the third hour of the day, the time for morning prayer (9 a.m.).
  • In Acts 3:1 we read, “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” This would have coincided with the time of the evening sacrifice (3 p.m.). It’s also when the angel appeared to Cornelius while he prayed (Acts 10:2–3).
  • In Acts 10:9, we’re told that Peter went alone on a housetop at about the sixth hour to pray (12 p.m.).

These examples show us that the Spirit of God moves powerfully in and through disciplined prayer. As we read the New Testament, we can’t help but notice that the followers of Jesus were serious about praying to God throughout the day, and they set apart time to do so. This is further confirmed by an admonition given in one of the earliest books on Christian living ever discovered, the Didache. The Didache is believed by many scholars to have been written around the same time as some of our New Testament books. In a brief section on prayer, it speaks of praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (perhaps in line with the Jewish hours of prayer). The biblical evidence in the Old and New Testaments, together with the practice of the early church, points to a pattern of disciplined prayer, often marked by prayer in the morning and in the evening (note also the repetition of “night and day” with reference to prayer in Luke 18:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; and 1 Timothy 5:5).

Excerpted from Praying with Jesus: Getting to the Heart of the Lord’s Prayer © 2024 by Adriel Sanchez. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.

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  • Paul F. Bradshaw, Daily Prayer in the Early Church (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), see 1 and 12–15 for the various kinds of prayer that became normative in the Jewish synagogue.

  • Bradshaw, 23.

  • Craig Keener, Acts, Volume II (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 1044: “At some point during the Hellenistic period, the time of the near-dusk offering shifted toward the middle of the afternoon (as in Acts 3:1), perhaps to avoid the risk of running late.”

Photo of Adriel Sanchez
Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.