A Primer on Mormon Prayer: Duration

July 22, 2011 | 6 comments
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Say that you want to pray. Say that you want to make prayer the center of your life rather than just an aid to it. Say that you want to take up prayer as an end in itself. Say that you understand prayer to be the formal practice of submitting your will to God’s. And say that you think prayer should be at least as much about listening as talking. How long should you pray?

With respect to duration, you have three choices when it comes to the formal practice of prayer: (1) you can pray for less than twenty minutes at a time, (2) you can pray for twenty minutes at a time, or (3) you can pray for more than twenty minutes a time.

More than twenty uninterrupted minutes per day is excellent and definitely do-able, but is probably not the best place to start.

Less than twenty minutes is fine – anything at all is good – but if you don’t pray for at least ten minutes or so, you’ll probably have a hard time settling down enough to actually listen.

As a place to start, I think twenty minutes is about right. It’s enough time to say a few things, let your pulse rate drop, and let your thoughts settle. It’s also just enough time to feel like you’re making a genuine effort to make prayer central to your life.

Try not to make your prayer content-driven. I previously recommended a 10-1 ratio of listening to talking. Do what you’d like, but I don’t think it’s wild to claim that what God has to say is at least as important as what you have to say.

God can talk to you in lots of ways – through the scriptures, through other people, etc. But he can also just plain talk to you. Don’t be afraid of this.

Try to give God at least half the time. It’s important to express your will (by talking), but it’s at least as important to submit your will (by listening).

Try to make this a daily practice. Be serious and don’t skip. It may only take a handful of days to begin to hear again that stillness in God’s famously still small voice.

God may say something specific or he may not. Either way, to hear your smallness echoed in his stillness is to hear his voice.

Don’t stop with just a couple days. That stillness is a bottomless ocean, a well of life, and there is a lot to see and hear.

[Note: This is the latest in a series of posts on prayer. Links to the others are herehereherehere, and here.]

6 Responses to A Primer on Mormon Prayer: Duration

  1. Jeff on July 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    This is awesome. I remember someone once telling me that when he was called to be a bishop, the individual setting him apart counseled him to pray for at least 30 minutes, each morning. He encouraged us to do the same, counsel I followed throughout my full-time mission. It’s really quite sad how often I consider getting back into that habit, without ever actually doing so. :-[

  2. chris on July 22, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    If a righteous song can be called scripture, I think the same can be said of a prayer. I often thing stating scriptural truths that I’ve learned and applying them in my lives to specific circumstances and requests is a great way for a personally productive prayer. And it takes a lot of thought and even preparation.

    For instance, I can imagine these words flashing through young Smith’s mind, “It’s been said that he who lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men liberally, and it shall be given to him, and with that in mind, I come unto thee in prayer to seek wisdom…”

    Combining my thoughts and desires with scriptures as a part of my prayer is one way I’ve found I can achieve one of the stated aims that I can bring my will in line with God’s. For myself it’s also leads to a greater conviction and quality of answer.

    Of course this is an exception and I am probably more guilty of common place prayers where I just rattle off blessings and think about how I would like to be better. Not belittling that, but I often get the feeling like I can do better..Thanks for the moment to think about this!

  3. Paul on July 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I must admit, at first I was intrigued and a little annoyed by your 20-minute proposal (and honestly wondering at what minute I would fall asleep). But by the time I finished your post, you had me thinking. I do remember periods of time in which I have consistently said longer prayers. They do require practice and effort.

    Best advice: “Be serious.”

  4. Jacob B. on July 22, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    “To hear your smallness echoed in his stillness is to hear his voice.”

    Perfect.

  5. Cameron N. on July 22, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Excellent post, maybe the best yet in this series. I might add that such experiences will be extra meaningful if they occur at the beginning of your day so they can influence it within the same stream of consciousness.

  6. Chris on August 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Great post. I love it when something makes me stop and consider something in a way entirely different than I previously had. This has really made me think about what I actually consider prayer to be. I especially loved the idea of a more meditative, 10:1 listening to speaking ratio, kind of prayer. I’m curious though, how are we to think of Matthew 6:9-13? As beautiful as it might be, this is certainly far short of 20 minutes, and doesn’t seem to include any kind of “listening” in it. Is there still a place for short, said-and-done prayers?

WELCOME

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