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“Do you pray about it in your private devotions?” I asked Gary, who was falling into sexual temptation on his smartphone. “I don’t pray at set times because I pray all the time,” he replied.

I was taken aback and not quite sure how to respond at first. It sounded super-spiritual, and yet his life was far from super-holy. “Well, that’s great that you pray all the time, Gary,” I eventually replied. “But why would you not want to have a set time of prayer as well?”

Over the course of the next hour or so, Gary explained why he didn’t believe it was necessary or important to set aside specific time for prayer each day. Since his reasons are common objections to this practice, let’s look at them and see what the Bible says in response.

i don’t want to be legalistic

I totally understand this concern. Most of us have had times in our lives when we did daily devotions in a legalistic way. Praying because we have to is like being called to the principal’s office. It’s a miserable experience that drains all joy and profit from the paltry few minutes we can muster to salve our consciences and keep God at bay.

But set times of prayer need not be legalistic. Just as making regular appointments to meet with friends doesn’t make friendships legalistic, so making regular appointments with God does not need to make prayer legalistic. It was a practice that David, Daniel, and Jesus engaged in (Ps. 119:164; Dan. 6:10; Mark 1:35).

How safe would you feel if our top generals said, “We’ve decided to stop daily firearms training because the soldiers say it’s too legalistic”? Daily training in prayer is a vital part of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10–18). As I said to Gary about his need for prayer to beat pornography, “You can risk legalism, or you can guarantee legal trouble.”

it’s difficult to fit into my schedule

There’s no doubt that setting aside time to pray impinges on our schedule. It takes time away from other activities and people. It’s hard to fit into busy mornings when we’re rushing to work or getting others rushed to work. It’s hard to fit into the evening when we’re tired and trying to wind down.

Our problem is our upside-down priorities.

But if “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1), then surely there must be a set time for prayer. If all the other activities of life have set times (vv. 2–8), then why not prayer? Our problem is not usually our busy schedule; it’s our upside-down priorities. If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy. God calls us to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Knowing God necessitates stillness with God.

i prefer to be spontaneous

In thirty-plus years of being a Christian, I can remember only a few times when the longing for God overwhelmed me and I couldn’t wait to pray. Most of the time I forced myself to pray because if I waited for feelings of prayer, I would have prayed only a handful of times in my life.

Having said that, I can’t count the number of times I’ve forced myself to pray, and the feelings have forced themselves into my life. I started praying out of habit and it became a joy. As for the psalmist, dutiful times became delightful times (Ps. 119:25–32). I’ve also noticed that my spontaneous prayers were more common when scheduled prayer was more consistent.

When God blessed Shona and me with children, we realized that we were so busy with them that we were hardly getting any time together ourselves. We needed a plan if we were not to drift apart. So we set a time each day when we would sit down for about thirty minutes, just her and me, and through these fixed times maintained and deepened our love for one another. Scheduled love sustained love. If we don’t schedule prayer, we won’t have spontaneous prayer.

I didn’t convince Gary about set times of prayer, but maybe I’ve convinced you. If so, your next question is probably “How do I start?”

start small

If we aim too high and try to begin with thirty minutes of prayer, we won’t last thirty minutes and we won’t do any minutes tomorrow. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear says that if you want to start exercising, start with one push-up. That’s so do-able, isn’t it? But once you drop to the floor, you think, “Well, I might as well do another while I’m here,” then another, and so on.

Similarly, with prayer, aim for one minute a day to begin with. You might be surprised how long you stay once you start. After a week of one-minute set times, make it two minutes, and so on.

start with scripture

As many have noted, prayer is responding back to God in a conversation that He has started through His Word. Therefore, we should use the Scriptures when formulating our prayers. We can respond to God by internalizing the words that He has given us.

Here’s how I do this. I select five to ten verses from my daily Bible reading and copy and paste them into a Word document. Then I start breaking up the text into smaller blocks, one line per complete thought, and one line between each. I usually end up with half a page or so of five to ten truths. I then turn each line into a praise, a confession, a thanksgiving, or a petition. God starts the conversation, and I respond to His words with prayers.

Start small and start with Scripture to start a conversation with God that will last throughout the day.


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