One of the problems that people seem to have is finding a place and time for prayer. Peter shows us in Acts 10 how we can do it. The last verse of Acts 9 tells us he chose a place where he would not be disturbed – the house of a tanner, a place that many would stay away from because of the work of the owner. The time he chose to pray was six o’clock in the morning, at dawn, and he made prayer his priority for the day. It was even more important to him than his breakfast. Luke is not saying that all of us should pray before breakfast, but he is saying to us that our lives have to be arranged so that we will have a regular, daily time of prayer.
When we think of prayer, there are two inadequate responses. The first is that it will happen automatically and the second is that it will happen spontaneously. Both these suppositions seem spiritual but in reality each is an expression of spiritual laziness. Obviously there is a sense in which a Christian automatically prays, such as when he speaks to God when driving a car or walking along a road; there is also a sense in which he will pray spontaneously when matters come to mind suddenly without any prior hint. But neither of these responses is a substitute for real prayer. The only adequate alternative is organised time for prayer.
This raises the next question, which is, when should we pray? The answer to this question is that each of us has to find the answer personally. There is not a verse in the Bible that specifies a particular time, although there are examples of regular prayer. Daniel prayed regularly three times a day (Dan. 6:10), as did David in Psalm 55:17, whereas one of the other psalmists prayed seven times a day (Ps. 119:164). But here Peter prays first thing in the morning. I realise that some cannot set aside time to pray in the morning – those who work nightshifts, young mothers, and sick people, for example. Yet we should think about Peter’s method because he must have found it helpful.
Are there any compelling reasons why he prayed in the morning? I can think of five at least. (1) There could be the common sense argument that in the morning we are the freshest we will be on that day. (2) There is the likelihood that the early morning is the time of day that we will face fewer distractions. (3) There is the deduction from the petition in the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray for our daily bread, which suggests that it is a prayer offered at the beginning of the day for sufficient food to eat during that day. (4) There is the example of Jesus who used to pray before the dawn. (5) There is the method of the psalmist in Psalm 5:3: ‘O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.’
Another important question is, Why should we pray? The answers are many, but again here are five selected reasons. First, prayer is a statement that we have confidence in God. Second, prayer is a confession that we need God’s help. Third, prayer is the evidence that we have matured to the spiritual state which realises that without God’s input nothing of spiritual value will happen to us or through us. Fourth, prayer is the glad admittance that we are not self-sufficient, but have discovered that our sufficiency is found in God alone. Fifth, prayer is the realisation that we should not take a step without asking for God’s guidance, not even if one is an apostle.
Adolph Saphir summed up the importance of early morning prayer in this way: ‘Each day we rise, let us bless God. As every morning is a renewal of our natural life, let it be also a renewal of our true life, which is hid with Christ in God. Jesus speaks of our taking up our cross daily; does not this imply a daily dedication of ourselves unto God? It is good to see the face of God ere we see the face of man, and to breathe the atmosphere of eternity, before we commence our earthly and transitory occupations. It is good to commend ourselves to that love and care which condescends to our smallest troubles and duties, and to be reminded that we are called to eternal blessedness, and to glorify God in our daily work. He who has sought divine light and peace is prepared for the day’s work and trial; he is not afraid of evil tidings; while he remembers that we know not what a day may bring forth, he is assured that all things work together for good unto them that love God. And some divine promise, some spiritual truth, having been most probably impressed on his mind during prayer and the reading of Scripture, his soul has a nourishment “that the world knows not of.”’
Peter says to us from this incident, ‘Is your current arrangements helping you to pray?’ He says, ‘I arranged my location in Joppa and ensured that I would have a time and a place for prayer.’ If our lifestyle makes it difficult to find time to pray, we need to reconsider how we live.