Do I need to pray 3 hours per day to be spiritually healthy?

Oct 28, 2023 | Prayer, Well-Being

When I was first asked to write something related to “caring for spiritual health in ministry”, my initial response was, “Are you sure? That's a topic I'm barely starting to come to terms with myself.”

I’ve been involved in ministry and reading – and teaching – about issues related to spiritual formation for most of the past decade, and yet I often still feel like there is a chasm between what I know and what I actually manage to live out. So I write these words not as an old master imparting his expert wisdom, but as a not-quite-30-year-old muddling through the complexities of it all.

Martin Luther famously said: “I have so much to do today that I’ll have to spend the first three hours in prayer.” It’s a catchy quote.

And I hate it.

I have friends who resonate with it though, who would say that, “days when I don’t have a long quiet time just don’t go well for me.”

That’s not me.

Well, that’s usually not me.

Actually, that’s one of the foundational truths of spiritual formation that I’ve had to learn: we’re all different. An incredibly obvious truth, but one most of us don’t actually seem to believe. We measure our spiritual health by comparing ourselves to others:

“How long is my quiet time? (Anne says she prays for an hour!)”

“How early do I get up? (Adam is reading the Bible by 6!)”

“How much does it obviously impact the rest of my day? (Yesterday I woke up late and went straight into meetings…is it ok that I still had a good day?)”

“How Instagrammable was my Bible + coffee combo? (Probably not as good as Phylicia’s)”

We’re all wired differently, and that’s OK. And we all go through different seasons.

That’s OK too.

I’ve had seasons where I did resonate with Martin Luther, where the weight of everything around me was so heavy it felt like I simply couldn’t function if I didn’t spend an hour journaling and praying the Psalms. Right now I’m in a season where most of my in-depth interaction with scripture comes from prepping sermons and Bible studies. And on days when I’m waking up with my tiny twins, I’m lucky if I manage to take 30 seconds to roll out of bed onto my knees and recite the Prayer of St. Ephrem:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me a spirit of

            sloth, despair, love of power, and idle talk.

But give to me, your servant, a spirit of

            sober-mindedness, humility, patience, and love.

Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see

            my own faults and not to judge my brother,

since you are blessed to the ages of ages.

I don’t think either of these seasons is holier or better than the other. This current season will pass too, and who knows what devotional practices will resonate with me most in the next one.

I do think it is essential to our spiritual health to intentionally incorporate spiritual disciplines into our daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms (I wish someone had emphasized to me 20 years ago that not every discipline needs to be a daily one!). This is true for everyone, and I think it’s especially necessary in ministry contexts where it’s easy to feel like there’s always something more important that needs doing. Again, this will look different for everyone, and it will look different during different seasons of your life.

For me, right now?

I try to recite certain prayers throughout the day and pause to be intentionally silent for a few minutes. I’ll use the Lectio 365 app before bed.

Sometimes I’ll light a candle and use icons to guide my prayer (shhh, don’t tell the evangelical police).

A couple of times a week, I try to make time for a more in-depth study of scripture, and have found deep life in the ancient practice of lectio divina.

I use an app to pray for others, and this often leads me to send them a message and connect.

I mentor, and am mentored.

I fast one day a week, and try to do extended fasts a few times a year.

As a family, we practice Sabbath, which has been one of our single most transformative disciplines.

Once a month I spend a morning practicing silence and solitude in an abandoned monastery or a shady spot in the woods.

It looks great when I write it down. It makes me seem spiritual and disciplined (and maybe a bit odd). But in reality, sometimes fasting is annoying.

Silence and solitude can seem boring.

Lectio divina doesn’t always lead to very concrete insights.

Sometimes I notice a detail in an icon that makes me chuckle when I probably shouldn’t.

But these disciplines are helping create space in my life for the Spirit to change me, to make my desires and my actions more like those of Jesus. The roots are going deeper, and the seed is growing, even if I don’t always feel it.

And some days (like this morning) I wake up with time, but no motivation, and a bit of a headache, and I go on Instagram when I know I should be praying, and next thing you know I’ve run out of time and I need to get to work. So I’m thankful that God’s mercies are new every morning, that his grace covers my own lack of discipline, and that every day is redeemable – even if I haven’t spent 3 hours in prayer.

Suggested resources:

Spiritual disciplines: Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster), Renovation of the Heart (Dallas Willard), The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (John Mark Comer), The Rule of Life podcast

Daily rhythms of prayer: Liturgy of the Ordinary (Tish Harrison Warren), Celtic Daily Prayer, The Divine Hours

Lectio divina, hearing from God: How to Hear God? (Pete Greig)

Silence and solitude: Out of Solitude (Henri Nouwen)

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