There is a great advantage to regular prayer, whether you “need it” or not.
There are times, of course, when you “need” to pray. A loved one is sick, perhaps. Or you’re fearful or even panicked about an upcoming court date. Or you really want the job for which you just interviewed. There are great and obvious advantages to praying at such times.
But many people miss out on great blessings because they pray only when they feel a need (and, sure, some of us are constantly aware of our great need so there is no such thing as a moment when we don’t “need” prayer).
More than 20 years ago, I adopted a twice-daily prayer habit, morning and evening, that has served me well. I seldom miss those daily appointments. Most of the time, in fact, I look forward to them with longing and anticipation. And sometimes I feel a clear and compelling need to pray—often for one of those reasons mentioned above. But most of the time, my prayers are not driven by need. I still pray for myself, my wife, my family, my work, my church and my friends, but the majority of my prayers are fairly routine. And that’s a good thing.
My daily prayers typically include The Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, a psalm or two (chanted, using ancient melodies I’ve learned from the monks of The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky), the Gloria ("Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit . . . "), the general intercession ("Watch, dear Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones, bless your dying ones, soothe your suffering ones, shield your joyous ones, and all for your love's sake, amen”), and the Nunc Dimittis (“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace, as you have promised,” etc.), among others.
It may sound boring or routine to some people, but I exult in those prayers and others because through them God teaches, prepares, calms and grows me, regardless of whether I “feel” like praying or “need” to pray.
I think Eugene Peterson is right when he says,
Feelings are the scourge of prayer. To pray by feelings is to be at the mercy of glands and weather and digestion. And there is no mercy in any of them. Feelings lie. Feelings deceive. Feelings seduce. . . . If we insist on . . . praying when we feel like it according to what we feel we need, we take on a psychic burden that is too much for us. (Answering God, p. 88)
Regular prayer, even repetitive prayer, stores up in me a treasury of faith and familiarity that is available when great needs present themselves. Praying when I don’t need to pray makes me a better person, day by day, which makes my prayers better. Such prayer trains me in the language of prayer. And, perhaps most importantly and wonderfully, praying this way keeps me close not only to the God who answers prayer but also to the God who loves me and speaks to me and tells me what to pray, and why He is so much better and bigger than my need.