The word “prayer” can make one person think of dark rooms with flickering candles, another person might envision a child kneeling at a bedside, and another might think of a loud session of crying, shouting, and singing. With so many diverse views of prayer, people need clarification to get a Biblical understanding of prayer. Questions include, “When should I pray?” “What should I pray about?” and “How long do I pray to be effective?”
When is the best time to pray?
Jesus got away to pray early in the morning. At times, He would pray late at night and even pray all night long. He got away from His disciples and from the needy crowds to have time alone in prayer (Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:34-35; Luke 6:12). You need to find the best time for you to pray undistracted and wide awake.
Tony Bailey teaches the best time of the day to pray is the Nautical Hour. This is the time of day, just before sunrise, when sailors can still see the stars yet also see the horizon as the sun comes close to appearing. The stars give a sailor his bearings at night so he can track where he is going. The sunlight gives him awareness of where he has been. The nautical hour is the one time of day when the sailor can see both where he has been and where he is going. Early morning prayer is all about seeing where you have been and getting a sense of where you are going.
No matter where the sun is when you pray, you need a place where you can focus and be yourself before the Lord. When I pray, I need a place where I can be loud if I need to or just listen to the Lord without distraction. Often I pray in the living room first thing in the morning, where I can cry out to God without waking anyone, pace the floor, sing, or read the Scriptures. I believe prayer should be a creative expression of the personality God gave you. If you are a quiet person, don’t feel like you have to be loud. If you are a loud person in life, be the same in prayer. Don’t muzzle yourself into someone else’s mold.
How long should I pray?
To be effective, you need to be sincere, not just a long time at prayer. That said, it is hard to be deep in prayer without being before the Lord for a considerable time. I do not think you can have a powerful walk with God on 15-20 minutes of prayer each day, although that is a good place to start. Here is the story of one young man learning how to pray deeply:
When Ralph arrived in Chicago, his sister, Adelade, and her friend, Ethel Mulloy, had arranged for him a room with a hard-of-hearing landlady. “You can room here, Ralph. Pray as long and as loud as you like. You won’t disturb anyone,” Sister Mulloy explained. So Ralph began to preach in Chicago at a black church on State Street.
One morning Sister Mulloy asked him, “Brother Cook, do you ever pray?”
“Oh, yes,” Ralph answered. “I pray.” And he did. Many times he had quite a good prayer experience.
“I want to tell you something, Brother Cook,” Sister Mulloy continued. “There is another experience that you need to have. It is called ‘waiting on the Lord.’ Tomorrow morning before you come down for breakfast, when you get through with your prayer, I want you to stay on that floor for one hour. Don’t come down for breakfast until you have spent one hour on that floor. When you run out of things to say, just sit there and wait on the Lord.”
Well, that was a very trying experience for Ralph. He really did not see the need for it. But every time he started to get up and go down for breakfast, he remembered Sister Mulloy’s admonition.
“Sister Mulloy is a very godly woman. After all, she had been a call girl in Sacramento, California, but God has forgiven her and filled her with the Holy Ghost. I had better finish the hour. O Lord, You know I do want to do Your will in my life!”
Every second dragged. The minutes crept by. All sorts of thoughts passed through his mind. But he stayed the full hour. He kept praying for the will of God for his life.
Every morning he went through the same ritual. He spent ten or fifteen minutes in anointed, fervent prayer and the rest of the hour was almost torture. But he sat on the floor faithfully waiting until the hour was over. After two weeks of this hour-long morning prayer and wait, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He lay on the floor, he praised the Lord, he sang, he spoke in tongues. He was bathed in floods of the joy of the Lord. Thus began a lifelong habit of an hour of prayer each morning in the life of Ralph Cook. “I believe God wants me to pray at least an hour a day,” Ralph thought. And as the years passed, he knew that this daily prayer time was God’s will for him.
So, how long should you pray? I would reserve at least an hour each day for the Lord. Many servants of God do much more than this, though prayer is not like a job where you clock in and out. This is not time served, but a Savior served. Early morning hours of prayer prepare your heart for a state of worship and communication with the Lord all day long.
What should I pray about?
Jesus did not just pray to be our role model. He prayed because He needed it. He had to pray to keep His human will in submission to the divine will. Do you pray until your desires die and you only want the same things God desires? Too many of us are guilty of praying to try to change God’s will to fit ours!
Prayer is the expression of your inner soul. If you love Jesus, then worship and tell Him how great He is. If you are fearful, then let Him know and ask for His help. If you need wisdom, then ask for it. Tell Him about the lost souls you are trying to reach. Ask Him to soften hearts of your loved ones so they will accept His favor. Repent of your sins and let God cleanse you as you overcome temptation and learn to live holy, blameless, and pure in spite of a wicked world. Ask Him for what you need and thank Him for providing before He even answers.
The most important thing to learn in prayer is how to worship. Perfect this and your life will fill with joy and an overwhelming sense of purpose.
 Mary Wallace, He Stands Tall: The Story of Ralph G. Cook, A Pioneer Pentecostal Preacher, (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame, 1980), 80-81.