The best time to pray is when I feel the least inclined to do so. For instance, if I’m upset with my husband or wrangling online or over the phone with some nameless, faceless, nonhuman entity that’s after my money, then I am not thinking about my conversation with God. Also, if I’m feeling guilty, I find it difficult to glide into ceaseless prayer.
However, in the same way that Jesus said he came for those who need a doctor, not those who are already well, I believe that prayer is first of all for those who need it most. Prayer is for those very times when we avoid talking to God because we’re having a tough time and are not behaving well.
Don’t we still harbor this idea that we must be in a certain blameless and loving condition before we approach Almighty God? If I just cursed the driver who swerved into my lane, am I not disqualified somehow from having God’s ear? If I just failed utterly to love and cherish the person I vowed to love and cherish for a lifetime, isn’t the Lord too disappointed in me to be interested in what I have to say?
If God were like me, then the above would be true. God would give me the silent treatment and teach me a lesson. Or God would block out my cries until I “settled down.” But God (Thank you, God!) is not a bigger and badder version of me, or you, or anyone. God’s love and mercy do not depend on any action or non-action of mine. Thus, God waits for my prayer at every moment.
God also understands that sometimes when I need to pray, I cannot do it with words. I am too hurt or exhausted or anxious or scattered or furious. I believe that, at those very times, the Holy Spirit turns my sighs and groans and even my frustrated exclamations into some form of need and desire that reaches God at that instant. God hears us as we are, not as we think we should be.
I’m not always inclined to pray when things are going well, either. This indicates that I still think of prayer more in terms of asking for things rather than spending time with One who loves me. When I am not compelled by acute need, then my prayer can be gratitude and joy and song.
So, the time to pray is when life upsets us too much to pray. And the time to pray is when life is going so well that we are tempted to think we’ve achieved such a miracle on our own. May we pray whenever . . . and always.