Getting Serious About Daily Prayer

Charles Spurgeon was right. He once said, “He who prays much will pray more and he who prays little will pray less.” In fact, a new survey finds that the Americans who want to pray more are the people who already pray.

Kie Bowman

Since the poll was taken in December 2023 and related to “New Year’s Resolutions,” and since we know resolutions have about the same shelf life as a carton of yogurt, we can be simultaneously hopeful and skeptical about the potential results. 

It’s true a majority of Americans pray, which is good, but a deeper analysis demonstrates a shallowness in our approach to prayer. More than 60 percent of people who pray daily report their prayer time is primarily in their car. In fact, more people pray in their car than in church.

Obviously, we can pray everywhere — but the survey implies that many people’s devotional life consists of the prayers they utter while driving, an activity which demands our attention. That isn’t what Jesus meant when He said, “But when you pray, go into your room, and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Isn’t it time we got serious about daily prayer? The Lord Himself provides the framework for a powerful daily prayer life. 

Jesus expects you to pray

The Sermon on the Mount is comprised of only about 2,000 English words. At the center of the sermon is the first teaching on prayer in the New Testament. Aptly, the first teacher of prayer is Jesus. The Lord doesn’t simply encourage us to pray — He expects us to pray! Here are timeless principles for success in prayer. 

A matter of time

Why does the amount of time we spend in prayer matter? For one thing, you have a finite amount of time in this life. How you spend it says a lot about what matters to you. E.M. Bounds once wrote, “Much time spent with God is the secret of all successful praying.” More time spent in prayer should be a priority for every believer. (How to spend more time in prayer | Baptist Press)

In the first lesson on prayer in Matthew 6:6, Jesus made reference to time. He said, “When you pray… .” There are at least three issues related to time to consider: First, how often should we pray? In the most famous prayer in the world, Jesus instructed us to pray “this day” for our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Obviously, He expects us to pray every day. 

Next, there is the issue of how long we should pray. The example of Jesus Himself in prayer incriminates us: He spent 40 days in prayer and fasting (Matthew 4:1-11), He spent entire nights in prayer (Luke 6:12), He prayed so early in the morning that it seemed like the middle of the night (Mark 1:35), He prayed for hours until his sweat became “like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). These examples are so frequent in the life of Christ, they paint the portrait of a lifestyle of unceasing prayer. 

How can we hurriedly read a few paragraphs of a popular devotional, whisper a prayer at a red light, monotonously utter a blessing over a meal, and honestly expect to be recognized as a follower of Jesus in the matter of prayer? It doesn’t add up. Prayers can be quick. A prayer life takes time. 

Finally, there’s the question of when you pray — because the time of day you pray may make a difference. Again, E.M. Bounds once wrote, “The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees.”

Biblical characters often prayed early in the morning. Moses, Hannah, Hezekiah, and, of course, Jesus all prayed in the early morning hours (Exodus 24:4; 1 Samuel 1:19; 2 Chronicles 29:20; Mark 1:35). 

Naturally, there are other times to pray, so why is morning prayer so important? For one thing, praying earlier provides a margin in your life. Every day will be filled with opportunities, challenges, temptations, and promptings from the Holy Spirit. If you start your day seeking God, you will be better prepared for the events of life. Think about your life as a basketball game where you are a player and God is your coach. Do you want the game plan before the game begins, or after it’s over? Praying early makes the most sense. 

Name the place

You have a place for everything that matters to you. You make room in your garage for your new motorcycle. You furnish a baby’s room if you are expecting. You hang diplomas on office walls. Some people even have a man cave! If it matters, you have a place for it. Where is your prayer room? 

Jesus said, “Go into your room and shut the door and pray …” (Matthew 6:6). The word translated “room” is a technical term for a specific room in the first century Jewish home. It was essentially an all-purpose closet. It was the only room inside the house with a door. Jesus urged prayer “behind closed doors” for a reason. Your “prayer room” requires solitude. The greatest loves always deepen in private. 

Why is privacy important in prayer? For one thing, Jesus warned that we shouldn’t be like the “hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5). Samuel Chadwick once said, “Hypocrites never pray in secret.” 

Jesus also instructed us to “shut the door” on the prayer room. Why? A private room allows for undistracted prayer. God deserves your undivided attention. Where can you find that undistracted prayer room? You’ve got multiple options. Your prayer life depends upon it. Choose your place for prayer. 

Work the plan

Taking your prayer life seriously involves at least two things: time and space! Both time and space require something only you can give. You need the commitment to make it happen. If you don’t have a set time for prayer and a designated place for prayer, chances are you don’t have a consistent prayer life. You can change that. 

Imagine what could happen if thousands of Christians made a commitment to increase their time and effectiveness in prayer. You cannot control what others do, but you can get serious about what you do. Now is the time to begin.

— Kie Bowman is senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas, and the SBC National Director of Prayer.