How long/often should we pray?
Every believer should attempt to have a prayer life that is “without ceasing” as the scripture commands us. The Bible never tells Christians how long or how often we are to pray each day, but it does give examples from men and women of God that we would be wise to follow.
Often, throughout the Bible, people of God had two aspects of their prayer life. First, they had a time where they were alone with God. This was a time of focused prayer, without distractions. Second, they had a time where they went throughout their day and took care of their responsibilities, but they did it all while living in communion with God.
Jesus is a perfect example of this. He would wake up early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35), He would withdraw often to pray throughout His day (Luke 5:16), and He would spend some time at night in prayer (Luke 6:12).
But although He spent these certain times in prayer, He still said “the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19)
For Jesus to say that He can do nothing and that He only does what the Father does, shows me that He was in constant communion with His Father and that He put a much higher priority than we do on living in continual fellowship with Him. (Related article: Dwelling in the Secret Place: What it is and How to do it)
The apostle Paul is another great example of this. It is clear from the book of Acts that he would have times throughout his day where he would find a secret place to go and pray, most of the time it was in the nighttime (Acts 16:25, 23:11).
But he would also pray throughout his day; thanking the Father for everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18), praying for the brethren whenever he would remember them (Phillipians 1:3), as well as “praying in the spirit at all times” (Ephesians 6:18). Paul the apostle was a man who devoted himself to prayer, both when he was alone and when he was going about his business and he taught others to do the same. (Related article: The Prayer Life of the Apostle Paul & How to Pray Like Him)
So in short, our lives should be one continual prayer. Sure we should have times of being alone with God daily and spending time in focused prayer, but we should also have our whole day be a continual fellowship with Him.
If we spend 2 hours every day in prayer but then we don’t talk to God at all throughout the day, is that praying without ceasing? Abiding in Christ? Walking in the Spirit? Or Dwelling in the Secret Place? I don’t think so.
So for all practical purposes, pick a time that works best for you where you can spend secret alone time with God, and then be sure that when you leave that location you remain in continual fellowship with Him as if you never left. Believe me, it takes practice, but it’s what God’s Word has called us to. (Related article: Pray Without Ceasing: What it is and How to do it)
Praying for hours a day: Is it Biblical?
Although the Bible never commands us to pray for hours a day, it is not an anti-biblical concept. There are multiple examples of men and women of God in the scriptures who prayed for hours on end.
Once again Jesus is the perfect example of this. It is very obvious from the Gospels that Jesus probably spent 3+ hours in secret prayer every day. Let’s look at some scripture that reveals this.
“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
Notice, Jesus woke up a long while before daylight. The sun probably rose at 6:30-7:00. So that means Jesus woke up maybe anywhere from 4-4:30, maybe earlier. Then He didn’t stop praying until Peter and the others found Him, which was until 7:30-8 maybe? Cause they must have woken up when the sun rose and then they had to search for Him as verse 36 says.
I know I’m getting pretty technical here, but I’m trying to break it down so that we can see how long Jesus must have been praying. When we do the math we see that He was probably praying for about 4 hours give or take a few.
And this wasn’t an uncommon thing, this would happen every morning. At least that’s what the prophecy said in Isaiah.
“The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God has opened My ear; And I was not rebellious, Nor did I turn away. (Isaiah 50:4-5)
This prophecy reveals that the Father would wake up Jesus morning by morning to teach and instruct Him.
“And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land.” (Mark 6:46-47)
“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)
We can see from these scriptures that Jesus spent long hours in prayer at night as well. Of course, this instance of Jesus praying all night happened only this once, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are multiple mentions of Him praying well into the late evening.
Another instance where we see Jesus pray for hours at one time is at the mount of transfiguration.
“He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
“But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.” (Luke 9:28-32)
We see from this passage that as Jesus was praying, Peter, James, and John began to get tired and eventually fell asleep. This is an important detail because it reveals that Jesus must have been praying for quite some time.
I can imagine the disciples attempting to stay awake and pray with their teacher, but they just weren’t use to praying for that long, no matter how exciting the circumstances were around them.
Another detail that reveals that Jesus was praying for a fairly long time is revealed to us in the very next scene.
“Now it happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met Him.” (Luke 9:37)
Think about that. Jesus and these three disciples went up on this mountain to pray and didn’t come down from the mountain until the very next day. That is a lot of praying!
Hopefully, after these few examples from the life of Jesus you can see that praying for long hours is completely biblical, and not only biblical but necessary. [Related article: How to Spend an Hour in Prayer (8 Helpful Tips)]
How many hours should a pastor pray?
Pastors, as well as all believers, should strive to “pray without ceasing,” however, a good discipline would be to pray at least one hour per day. It is important to mention though that there should be no distinction between a pastor’s spiritual life and the life of an ordinary believer.
All believers are called to have a vibrant relationship with God and to spend much time in prayer. The Bible tells us that every Christian is an ambassador of Christ and everything Jesus taught the apostles was meant to be handed down to every Christian.
However, I do understand that pastors/elders of the church are often put in trying situations, and they are often required to act in wisdom or to give Godly advice. All of this would be very difficult to do if the elder is not in close fellowship with God.
So, as mentioned before, there is technically no biblical command that tells us, “Laymen should pray for one hour a day and leaders should pray for at least two hours a day.”
However, the Bible does command us to “abide in Christ”, “dwell in the secret place”, “walk in the Spirit”, and to “pray without ceasing.” And it’s important to mention that these commands are given to everyone; pastor and non-pastor. (Related article: How to Walk in the Spirit)
So, it really doesn’t matter how long or how often you pray, just as long as you are praying long enough and often enough to “abide in Christ” and to “dwell in the secret place.”
Which, if we’re being honest, if we truly attempt to live a life of communion with God then we will be praying a lot longer and a lot more often than we would otherwise.
Does the length of prayer matter?
As mentioned before, the length of prayer doesn’t necessarily matter from God’s perspective, but it does matter from ours. God won’t love us more if we pray longer, but if we pray more God will be able to use, transform, and have a deeper relationship with us.
God isn’t sitting up in heaven recording how long each person is praying for and if they reach a certain amount of hours each week they finally receive their answer to prayer. That isn’t how that works. God answers our prayer when we pray in faith in the name of Jesus, not because we exerted all our energy.
Prayer is a time with God to meet with Him, connect with Him, and have fellowship with Him. The more we spend time in prayer, the more we are in the presence of the Spirit of God, and the more He changes us and the more we will become like Christ.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
So, in short, the length of prayer matters only because of relationship. Just like any relationship, it requires time. We don’t get to know everything about someone simply because we said “hello.” And we don’t get to know everything about God simply because we said, “I repent.”
We get to know a person by spending time with them and it is no different with God. So let’s spend our days communing with Him and reading His Word so that we can look like Christ in everyday situations.
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