Prayer is an essential part of a Christians life. I recently decided to dig into what the Bible says about when Christians should pray.
When can Christians pray? We can pray at any time. God makes Himself available at all times. The Bible says to be constant in prayer. In the Old and New Testament, they had three daily special times of prayer at 9 am, 12:00 pm, and 3 pm. Praying at these times is not a command.
I think modern-day Christians forget the immense importance of prayer in our daily lives. We do not take it seriously enough. When we look back at the Old Testament and early Christians, prayer was a way of life and taken seriously.
In this blog post, I’ll talk more about prayer in the Israelite lives, and how the early Church and Jesus prayed.
Old Testament Prayer Times
We see both individual and corporate prayers in the Old Testament, and we see God answering those prayers. God would hear the cries of his people and respond according to His will.
In Jewish Law, prayers were said three times daily: in the morning, in the afternoon, and at nightfall. Prayers were said on a daily basis as tradition and to express one’s devotion to God. Sacrifices were also made daily to be able to stay in communication with God.
In Jewish law, it is believed the custom of praying three times daily was introduced by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham introduced prayer in the morning, Isaac in the afternoon, and Jacob added one at night.
And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord.Genesis 19:27
Isaac went to meditate in the field, thus establishing the afternoon prayer. And Jacob had an “inaugurated prayer at evening” establishing the evening prayer.
It was not until the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, that God’s clear instructions and guidance for life were given to the Jewish people. The Torah means teaching and instruction. The Torah contains 613 commandments and the Israelites were required to obey every one of them.
During the first one thousand years, or so, since the time of Moses, there was no set order of prayer. Like Abraham, some would rise early to pray, and individuals were to pray to God every day.
But the form of prayer and how many times a day to pray was left to the individual.
Daily Sacrifices for Breaking the Law
An Old Testament believer had to continually offer sacrifices for breaking the law God had given them. They were not able to draw near to God because of the sin they have committed.
In Isaiah, it says God will not hear your prayers because of your sin.
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.Isaiah 59:2
People had to offer burnt offerings for the forgiveness of their sins so that they could come before God, and so that God would hear their prayers.
The Holy Temple in Jerusalem
There was a set order of service in The Holy Temple in Jerusalem, known as the Beit Hamikdosh. They had daily sacrifices, morning and evening for the forgiveness of sins. There were also occasions when additional sacrifices were made.
If one had broken one of the laws given, they had to be forgiven before praying to God. Because there were so many laws commanded to keep, daily sacrifices had to be made to stay pure enough to come to holy God.
During the time of the Old Covenant, the Messiah hadn’t come yet, only prophesies of his coming were given.
In Proverbs it says,
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.Proverbs 28:9
The law was given to point out our sin compared to God’s holiness and our need for Him. When the Israelites messed up, God still gave them away to come to him.
King David declared that he prayed three times daily, and Daniel (in Babylon) prayed three times daily facing in the direction of Jerusalem. The public places of prayer were called Beit Ha’am during this time. Later on, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
After the Holy Temple was torn down and the Jews were led into captivity in Babylon, Jews continued to congregate together in small groups to pray. The places of prayer became like “small sanctuaries” – Beit Mikdash Me’at, during the years of exile.
Once the Jews returned to their homeland after the seventy years’ exile was over, Ezra the Scribe and the Men of the Great Assembly (consisting of prophets and sages, 120 members in all) fixed the text of the daily prayer (Shemone Esrei – the “Eighteen Benedictions”), and made it a permanent institution and duty in Jewish life to recite prayers three times daily.
Ever since then it became part of Jewish Law (Halachah) for each and every Jew to pray this ordained prayer three times daily. They were also required to bring daily sacrifices in the Holy Temple, with additional (musaf) prayers on Shabbat, Rosh-Chodesh and Festivals, and a special “closing” prayer (Neilah) on Yom Kippur.
The Most Influential Jewish Prayer
The Shema is considered the most influential prayer in Jewish history and prayed twice a day. It functioned both as the Jewish pledge of allegiance and a hymn of praise.
For thousands of years in Ancient Israelite tradition, these words were said morning and evening.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Deuteronomy 6:4
The first words, “hear” or “listen” translates to the Hebrew word Shema. That is where the prayer gets its name. The word Shema is used many times in Hebrew Scripture, but in this passage, it is used more than just a representation of sound waves entering in the ear.
In Hebrew, Shema also can mean “pay attention to” or “focus in on.” It means to hear, to pay attention to, and can also mean responding to what you hear.
In Psalm 27:7 Shema was used to ask God to act.
Shema, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!Psalm 27:7
God uses the word, Shema to tell the Israelites to listen and obey.
Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice (Shema me fully) and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;Exodus 19:5
In Hebrew, Shema was used twice in the verse to give it emphasis. Listening, and keeping the covenant.
In traditional Jewish prayer practice, these lines from Deuteronomy 6:4 were combined with other passages from the Torah in Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. The prayer continues and says,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.Deuteronomy 6:5
It was also widely practiced in the second-temple period, and Jesus himself grew up praying this. This prayer had a profound and lasting influence. Jesus used it in his teachings. He was once asked which command in the Torah was the greatest and this is what Jesus said:
Jesus answered, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Listen, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:29-31
Another part of the Shema prayer was found in Deuteronomy 6:8 saying this is to be with us as a guide for every moment of life.
This prayer was said to be You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.Deuteronomy 6:8
The physical location “on your hands” and “between your eyes” is a symbol. Your eyes are the place where you see and you use your hands for almost everything you do.
Even though this was done in the Old Testament and in Hebrew tradition, it was carried out to the New Testament through Jesus’ teaching.
New Testament Prayer Times
Let’s look at when Jesus prayed in the Bible. He tells us how to pray by giving us his model prayer (the Lord’s Prayer).
Jesus’ Prayer Life
Jesus shows how we are to pray. Through His example, we see how often He was in prayer with the Father.
Jesus prayed with others and Jesus prayed alone (Mark 1:35, Luke 9:18, Luke 22:39-41).
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.Matthews 14:23
Jesus also prayed in public places (John 11:41-42, John 12:27-30).
Let’s look at the specific times when Jesus prayed. While researching I came across this website where they listed all the times Jesus prayed recorded in Scripture. You can check it out here.
When Did Jesus Pray?
We can see that Jesus rose up early to pray, he prayed before important decisions, prayed before and after healings, and would stay up into the night to pray.
- Jesus rose up early to pray. In the morning before heading to Galilee. (Mark 1:35-36)
- Jesus prayed before healings and after healings (Luke 5:16)
- Jesus prayed all night before choosing his 12 disciples (Luke 6:12-13)
- While speaking to Jewish Leaders (Mark 11:25-26)
- At His Baptism (Luke 3:21-22)
- In the morning before heading to Galilee (Mark 1:35-36)
- To give thanks to the Father before feeding the 5,000 (John 6:11)
- Before walking on water (Matthew 14:23)
- While healing a deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37)
- At the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-29)
- At the return of the seventy (Luke 10:21)
- Before teaching his disciples the Lord’s prayer
- Before raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41-42)
- When praying for the little children (Matthew 19:13-15)
- Asking the Father to glorify his name (John 27-28)
- At the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26)
- Prayed for Peter’s faith when Satan asked to “sift” him (Luke 22:31-32)
- Prayed for himself, his disciples, and all believers just before heading to Gethsemane (John 17:1-26)
- In Gethsemane before hi betrayal praying three separate times (Matthew 26:36-46)
- Right after being nailed to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)
- While dying on the cross, Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
- In his dying breath, Jesus prayed, “Father into thy hands I commend my Spirit.”
- Prayed a blessing on the bread before he ate with others after his resurrection (Luke 24:30)
- He blessed the disciples before his ascension (Luke 24:50-53)
Jesus prayed anywhere. He didn’t just go to the synagogue or temple to pray, he prayed wherever he was.
In fact, when he wanted to get away, it was more common we see that he would go to the mountains or isolated places to pray.
Luke 6:12 says,
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.Luke 6:12
From reading all of this, why do you think Jesus prayed? Jesus prayed to do the will of the Father and be in communication with Him, throughout his life on earth.
Jesus could have gone to a home, a synagogue, or if he were near Jerusalem he could have gone to the temple to pray. But there were times when Jesus made the decision to pray where he was. When he did want to be completely alone with the Father, he would often go into nature.
Now from looking at when Jesus prayed, when did his disciples & early Christians pray?
The Three Fold Daily Prayers
From looking at Scripture, many Protestant Monks and believers believe that the Apostles and Early Christians would pray at certain times, three times daily.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.Acts 2:41-42
This is the ESV translation and in the original Greek it also says “...and the prayers.”
What does this phrase, “the prayers” refer to? There is really only one prayer that Christians were given to pray, the Lord’s Prayer.
Could it refer to the Psalms? (these are prayers prayed by the Apostles and early Christians, though they are referred to elsewhere in the New Testament simply as the Psalms). Or does it refer to the three times of prayer that is believed the Apostles and early Christians observed?
It is believed the three daily prayer-times of the Apostles in the New Testament, consisted of praying first the Lord’s Prayer at the three daily times of 9 am, noon, and 3 pm; which might be followed according to individual choice with Psalms, Hymns, spiritual songs, and personal prayer.
So maybe “the prayers” can refer to all of the above.
In the Old Testament, they definitely prayed, three times daily, and it seems to continue on into the New Testament. In the book of Daniel, Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because he was faithful in prayer, praying three times daily. We can also look at the Psalms when it says that…
Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud, and he shall hear my voice.Psalms 55:17
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.Daniel 6:10
Because prayer times were done both the Old and New Testament, how come we don’t pray three times a day? Well, maybe we are already doing so.
Christ approved of us “saying grace” or giving thanks before meals, in the New Testament. A common practice for most people several times a day is giving thanks before meals. This can be a time we take a step back, and focus on reconnecting with God thanking him.
Significance of 3 Times of Daily Prayer
In the New Testament, we see the Lord offering prayer before meals. He did not instruct or command us anywhere to do this; to “say grace” – like the Threefold Daily Prayers, it was a Jewish custom – not a part of the Law of Moses, and therefore its observance was not required.
Let’s look at the significance of praying three times a day.
9 a.m. (the third hour)
It could have taken place at any time of day or night, but God chose to send the Holy Spirit for the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost at the time of the Morning Prayer (9 am, the Jewish “third hour”):
For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the dayActs 2:15
Noon (the sixth hour)
God chose to give Peter a vision that would result in the acceptance of Gentiles into the Church at the time of the noon prayer (the Jewish “sixth hour”).
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.Acts 10:9
3 p.m. (the ninth hour)
God chose the time of the evening prayer (3 pm; the Jewish ninth hour) to send an Angel to the Centurion Cornelius:
At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day, he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”Acts 10:1-3
And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing”Acts 10:30
God also chose the time of the evening prayer (3 pm) to heal the lame man through Peter and John:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.Acts 3:1-2
The Crucifixion of Christ
Christ was crucified at the third hour (9 am). Darkness came over the land at the sixth hour (noon) and lasted until the ninth hour (3 pm), when our Lord gave up His Spirit.
Christ, our Passover, gave up his spirit at the time of the evening sacrifice in fulfillment of his being: “…the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.” -John 1:29
9 a.m. (The Third hour) “And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the superscription of His accusation was written over, The King of the Jews.”
Noon (The Sixth hour) “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
3 p.m. (The Ninth Hour)
And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?”
“And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, He calls Elijah. And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let him alone; let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the spirit. And the veil of the Temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.Mark 15:25, 26, 33-38
The Apostle Paul instructed us concerning our observance of Communion:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.1 Corinthian 11:26
The observance of the three times of prayer of The Threefold Daily Prayers is done in Jewish custom, but I believe can serve as a reminder of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of himself on our behalf, one that is brought to mind daily.
God desires that we pray to him, and praying three times daily even at our meals, I believe is a good place to start. The significance of praying three times daily is seen throughout all of Scripture.
God desires our hearts. The more we come to Him, the more He can transform us for His kingdom.
If you are a believer in Jesus, I encourage you to start today. Start by rising up early and spending some time in prayer with the Lord. Then thank the Lord throughout your day, whether that be at your meals, at 9 am, noon, and 3 pm, or anytime the Lord lays on your heart to pray.