Does the Bible Say How Much I Should Pray?

Daniel wasn't an exception, but an example. Learn why we should literally follow the Lord's instruction to pray day and night.

You were designed to live in regular, on-going fellowship with your Creator and Lord.  Without that continuous and deepening bond, you will never fulfill the destiny God has planned for you, and you will never reach your full potential for all that He has you on earth to be and do.  The maintenance of your relationship with God takes active, purposeful thought, self-discipline, and intentionality in order to succeed.  Almost every relationship in your life takes focus and initiative if it is to succeed, and your walk with God is no different.

God loves you and wants you to succeed in your walk with Him and your life more generally.  He knows even better than you do your need for His abiding influence and presence.  So that you would know how to live, He has made plain in the Scriptures how you are to commune with Him on a daily basis.  The pattern He sets forward in the Scriptures and which has been practiced by many through the years is that of praying and reading the Bible two or three set times per day, either on your own or while gathered with fellow Christians.  Unfortunately, this is not the pattern of the vast majority of Christians in the West and the West is suffering for it.  When Christians do not have a solid, continuous walk with the Lord, all of society suffers for it.

It’s important that you are convinced from the Scriptures that two or three set times per day is what you need to thrive spiritually.  You will also find that as you put this pattern into practice, you will not only be convinced by the Scriptures, but by your experience.  Even if a person is not convinced by health experts that weight lifting and cardio exercise will change their body for the better, putting a regular exercise routine into practice will demonstrate that it does indeed benefit them enormously. 

What is clear from the Scriptures and historical analysis of the New Testament era is that both pious Jews and then Christians prayed and read or recited from memory the Bible two or three set times per day.  It seems that some practiced this discipline three times per day and some two times per day.  It is hard to know for sure which tradition was more dominant among first-century Christians and Jews.

Praying Twice Daily: Night and Day

The Scriptural evidence for night and day prayer (and Bible reading/meditating) begins early in the Old Testament and runs through the New Testament.  One of the most revered and recited passages in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 6: 4-9:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. [italics added]

Notice the admonition to talk about the commands of God when you lie down and when you get up.  Devout Jews understood this to mean to meditate on the Bible at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day at a minimum.  The next book in the Old Testament, Joshua, confirms the importance of meditating twice a day on the Scriptures.  Chapter 1, verse 8 says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” [italics added] It was not enough for Joshua to have been appointed by God and promised victory in his campaign to take the promised land.  In order to succeed, he needed to meditate on God’s word twice a day, both during the day and at night, if he was to succeed. 

There are numerous examples of godly men and women praying day and night in the Bible, fulfilling the commands to regularly seek God in this way.  For example, when Nehemiah heard the news that the walls of Jerusalem were still down, symbolizing God’s abandonment of Israel, he prayed night and day.  Nehemiah 1:4-6 says,

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you.”  [italics added] 

In the Gospels:

The twice-a-day pattern continues into the New Testament with the Gospels.  Anna, the prophetess, made it her regular practice to pray, worship, and fast night and day over the course of many years.  In the first century, young men and women often married at the age of 14.  Since her husband died after seven years and she lived until age 84, she prayed night and day for 63 years.  Luke 2:26-37 says,

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. [italics added]

Jesus emphasized the need to persevere in prayer, and by this, He meant that Christians ought to pray for at least two set times per day, during the day and at night.  Notice in the following parable what the text says in verse 1 of Luke 18.  He tells them how they should always pray.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary. For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” [italics added]

Verse 7 shows God’s desire that His chosen ones would cry out to Him day and night, but the real question, the question that the parable ends on, is the question of whether faith exists among God’s people.  That is, whether His chosen ones have the faith to believe Him that their prayers are effectual and that they ought to indeed persevere by praying day and night.  In this powerful passage, Jesus plainly states His desire that Christians should persevere in prayer by praying every day and every night.

In the Epistles:

Paul, Silas and Timothy are listed in chapter 1, verse 1 as the authors of the book of 1 Thessalonians, so when the text says, “we” it must refer to at least the three of them if not more people.  1 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” [italics added]  Therefore, it was at least the practice of Paul, Silas, and Timothy to pray a minimum of twice daily at set times.

In the context of instructing Timothy about the circumstances in which the church should extend material support to widows, Paul provides a fascinating insight as to what it means to be godly.  Toward the middle of chapter 5, starting in verse 9, Paul instructs Timothy that the church should financially help only those widows who are over 60, having been faithful to their husbands, and well known for their good deeds.  However, a few verses earlier he makes plain the expectations of how a godly person should live.  1 Timothy 5: 5-6 says “The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.”  [italics added].  Notice the contrast between verses 5 and 6.  On the one hand is the godly woman who prays night and day; and on the other hand is a woman who lives for pleasure and is dead even while she lives.  The strong implication from this passage is that those who do not pray night and day are lovers of pleasure and dead even while alive. To avoid doing one’s duty of praying night and day, putting one’s hope in God, and asking Him for help is to live for one’s own sake, one’s own pleasure.  

Paul was also the author of 2 Timothy and again affirms what was most likely his normal pattern of praying at least twice per day.  2 Timothy 1:3 says, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” [italics added]

Other New Testament Books:

During the first century, persecution against Christians periodically intensified, prompting some Jewish Christians to consider returning to Judaism, which was not a persecuted religion like Christianity.  The Book of Hebrews was written to such a group of Christians, urging them to stay faithful to Christ, explaining the reasons why it made no sense for them to return to Judaism.  In the last chapter of the book, the author draws several comparisons between the Old Covenant and New Covenant.  In Hebrews 13:9-14, the author makes a comparison between the twice-daily burnt offerings of the old covenant and the “sacrifices” that the readers are now to make as Christians.  The twice-daily animal sacrifices administered by the priest were a type of what was to come in Christ.  Instead of these animal sacrifices, the Christian is to come before God twice a day and praise Him with his lips.  The ministry of animal sacrifice is to be replaced with the ministry of praise.  Interestingly, the Greek words and phraseology used to talk about the “sacrifice of praise” are the same as those used to explain the continual (twice-daily) burnt offerings recorded in Exodus 29:38-43.   Hebrews 13:9-17 is below:

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. [italics added]

Notice that Hebrews 13:15 is a command of the Scriptures.  We must “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise,” and in the context of the daily burnt offerings, this meant twice daily--in the morning and at twilight.

The last example in this study of day and night prayer is found in the book of Revelation.  In this context “day and night” probably means literally continuously.  It is extraordinary that God has created living creatures so that they minister to Him around the clock praising His glorious name.  Revelation 4:8 says, “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’”

Jewish Pattern in the First Century A.D.

It is tempting to view the Biblical commands to pray day and night hyperbolically and not literally.  Many casually read the passages enjoining night and day prayer assuming that the passages mean simply, “you should pray a lot” and leaving to each person in their own context to determine how much that should be.  However, it is important to interpret Scripture within its historical context.  The question to be answered is, “What would the original hearers/readers have understood from these passages?” Given the historical context and practices, they would have definitely understood the passages to mean that every Christian should pray at two set times per day, at a minimum. 

We know from the Mishnah (oral tradition of the Jews compiled into written form in 200 A.D.) and the Talmud (commentary on the Old Testament by the Jews compiled in 500 A.D.) that the pattern of devout Jews was to pray two or three set times per day during the first century A.D.  Professor of Liturgy at Notre Dame University, Paul F. Bradshaw, provides historical context in his book, Daily Prayer in the Early Church: A Study of the Origin and Early Development of the Divine Office:

Although it is not strictly a prayer but rather a creed, the recitation of the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41) is well attested as the fundamental daily devotion of Jews in the first century, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora.  The custom of reciting it twice a day, ‘when you lie down and when you rise’ (Deut. 6:7; 11:19), according to the Mishnah in the morning between dawn and sunrise and in the evening after sunset, is first mentioned in the Letter of Aristeas (145-100 B.C.)… (Bradshaw, p.1)

The twice-daily recitation of the Shema was accompanied by prayer in the form of fixed benedictions as well as free-flowing prayer:

According to the Mishnah the Shema was to be accompanied by a series of fixed benedictions: ‘In the morning two benedictions are said before and one after; and in the evening two benedictions are said before and two after, the one long and the other short’. (Bradshaw, pp.1-2)

Prayer Three Times a Day

There is also ample evidence for patterns of praying at three set times per day, which is corroborated in the New Testament as a pattern picked up by first-century Christians. 

Alongside the twofold recitation of the Shema we find in Rabbinic Judaism the quite different custom of praying three times a day – morning, afternoon, and evening, the first and last being in practice combined with the saying of the Shema.  The observance of the afternoon time of prayer is mentioned in the New Testament: Peter and John go up to the Temple ‘at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour’ (Acts 3:1), and Cornelius the centurion keeps the night hour of prayer in his house (Acts 10.3, 30).  The ninth hour, 3p.m., appears to have been chose for the afternoon prayer in order that it might coincide with the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice in the Herodian Temple. (Bradshaw, p.2)

It is believed that the practice of threefold daily prayer came about because of the influence of two passages in the Old Testament.  Psalm 57:17 says, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.”

Additionally, Daniel’s godly lifestyle confirms the significance of drawing close to God in prayer three times per day.  He believed it was so important that even under the threat of death he would not stop praying three times per day.  Daniel 6:10 records his mindset and practice: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”  You may know the story of how he was arrested for this and thrown into the lion’s den, and yet was delivered by God and restored to his place at the side of the king.  If Daniel felt it was worthy to risk death to keep praying three times per day, it’s worth considering that this should be the modern Christian’s practice as well.

Two or three daily prayer times became the practice of Christians as well as Jews. Robert Taft, Professor of Oriental Liturgy and Languages at Pontifical Oriental Institute, summarizes the historical evidence in The Liturgy of the Hours in the East and West:  “Morning and evening prayer seem to have been the most constant and important hours of Jewish prayer.  This will become true for Christians as well.” (Taft, p. 3)  He further explains: “Christians, like Jews, adopted the custom of praying at fixed times, and that the most important times for public liturgical prayer in common in both traditions were the beginning and end of the day.” (Taft, p.11) 

Praying Continually

In addition to the Scriptural injunctions and examples of praying two or three set times per day, there are numerous examples and admonitions to pray all during the day at all sorts of times for all sorts of occasions.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to “pray continually,” and the Bible is full of examples of godly men and women practicing this sort of prayer.  Praying at several set times per day does not take away the need to pray at other times during the day as needed.

As can be seen, the Scriptural and historical evidence for praying two or three set times per day is very strong, and because it is shockingly different from the typical practice and mindset of the 21st American Christian, can seem extremely radical.  It is always radical when we encounter God’s divine truth in a way that shows us that our mindset and lifestyle need to significantly change.  If you became a Christian later in life, no doubt the Scriptures were shocking to you in their expectation that you practice sexual integrity and that you forgive from the heart all who may have hurt you in the past.  It is important that this new knowledge about what your daily devotional life should look like not remain an intellectual curiosity for you, but that you apply it and make all the necessary adjustments in your life.  You will find that although there will be difficulty in getting your life to reflect the Biblical pattern, the reward will be incredible.  You will experience God’s presence and fellowship like never before and you will be in a much better place to fulfill God’s purpose and destiny for your life.