While many of us have good intentions regarding spending time in prayer, life gets in the way. There's always something competing for our attention. Without a plan, the spiritual aspects of our lives quickly get relegated to the back burner, often to be completely forgotten.
When to pray is the main question of planning time in prayer. Without a plan, most of us wander from task to task and pretty soon the day is done and we've neglected to devote any meaningful time with the Lord in prayer.
Jesus teaches us not only how to pray, but when to pray:
1. In the morning. "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed" (Mark 1:35). In the mornings our minds are fresh, the busyness of the day is still at a distance, and we can commit ourselves to His service for all that lies ahead.
2. All night long. Jesus sometimes spent the entire night in prayer, "Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God" (Luke 6:12). The disciples, when asked to stay away and pray him on another occasion, didn't even last an hour. Most of us can relate: "the spirit is willing but the body is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Staying awake all night to pray seems like the stuff of spiritual superheroes. Torrey advises us to dedicate the whole night to prayer in especially extreme circumstances, trusting that God may answer you well before the night is through and you will go to sleep refreshed and renewed by His assurance. "Nights of prayer with God are followed by days of power with men" (Torrey).
3. Before big things. Jesus met both the great crises and great achievements by praying first. Before being tempted, was "full of the Spirit.. and was led by the Spirit in the desert" (Luke 4:1). Such filling and leading only come from direct communication with God. Before He fed the 5000, Jesus "looked up to heaven and gave thanks" (Matthew 14:19). Meeting both our challenges and triumphs with prayer changes the outcome and gives us the strength needed to carry on.
4. After big things. The parable of the ten lepers teaches us that it's just as important to pray after something big happens as well. After only one of the men healed of leprosy "came back praising God in a loud voice," Jesus bemoaned the others' lack of thankfulness, "was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:17).
5. When life is particularly busy. This seems counter-intuitive: when you've got more to do, you've got less time to pray. But that's not the way Jesus handled pressure. When his ministry got bigger, his prayers increased too, "Yet the news about him spread all the more, so crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:15-16). Martin Luther followed the Lord's lead and became one of the most prolific writers, preachers, and reformers the world has ever known. When his to-do list got extra long, he said, "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer."
6. When temptation comes. Jesus, being faced with his final hour, prayed for the strength to do His Father's will. He was tempted to find another way out, so he prayed three times that he would withstand the temptation of his way over God's will. God provides a way out when temptation comes if we turn to Him, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so you can endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
7. Always. I once heard it said that to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is to live a praying life, rather than a life of prayer. The latter is the wonderful discipline of monasteries, the former can be attained by most of us as we go about our days, living in constant communication with the One who loves us and hears us.
"When we feel least like praying is the time when we most need to pray" (Torrey).