Praying the Bible
STRUGGLING WITH PRAYER
Christians are called to be devoted to prayer (Col. 4:2, Acts 2:42, Acts 6:4). For many years though, I struggled to have a devoted prayer life. I understood that prayer was simply talking to God, communing with him, and spending time with my loving Lord. I knew that, through Jesus Christ, I was adopted as a child of God with unrestricted access to my Father in heaven, and he loved me and would listen to my prayers and respond according to his wisom. The problem was that I just didn’t know what to talk about; I didn’t know what to pray.
I would pray throughout the day at various times, or in moments of crisis if I encountered something difficult, but I would never have called my prayer life “devoted.” It was inconsistent and largely directionless. If I tried sitting down for a devoted time of prayer, I wouldn’t make it more than a few minutes before my mind drifted into to-do lists or I would reach for my phone to check for texts. I tried praying in my closet by myself, without my phone, but would end up falling asleep (it was so warm and dark in there, with soft clothes lying all over the ground).
PRAYING THE BIBLE
What has helped me the most over the years in becoming someone more devoted to prayer is the practice of praying the Bible. By “praying the Bible,” I mean reading the Bible and turning its words into personal prayers from the heart, rather than just trying to come up with things to pray on our own. An example would be reading Psalm 23:1, which says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” and then praying those very words as your own. Or expanding on them and personalizing them, praying, “Father, thank you for sending Jesus to save me and lead my life as the Good Shepherd that he is. Help me remember that in him I lack nothing, I shall never be in want, since in Christ I have all that my soul truly needs.”
This simple method of turning Biblical verses to prayers gives direction to our prayers, and helps us pray according to the truth and the will of God. Not only that, it helps us to broaden our prayer life beyond our own needs and include others in our prayers. For instance, if your daily Bible reading brought you to Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” you can turn that into a time of prayer for people in your life that might be mourning. Perhaps a family member who is heart-broken from a relationship gone wrong, or someone in your church who recently lost a loved one. Pray that they would be comforted by the presence of God now, and remember the promise eternal life in the new creation where God will wipe every tear away forever.
TURNING THEOLOGY INTO EXPERIENCE
Praying the Bible helps us avoid reading the Bible as merely an intellectual exercise because we’re turning the words we read back to God in prayer from our hearts. As Tim Keller says,
“Prayer turns theology into experience.”
Praying the words of God in Scripture helps turn our Bible reading into a spiritual experience as well as helps keep us focused in our prayers, giving us words to pray and helping us pray in light of God’s will and purposes for us and others in the world. This doesn’t replace spontaneous, free-form prayer, but rather it helps inform, shape, and guide it. Devoting ourselves to praying the Bible helps us become people who are better equipped to worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23) all throughout the day.
This doesn't have to be complicated or overwhelming; this is something all of us can do, with God's help, and a little intentionality. Here are two simple ways to pray the Bible in your ordinary rhythms and routines each day, to grow as someone who is devoted to prayer.
1. Turn all of your daily Bible reading into prayer.
You can use a Bible reading plan like this one, and just pick a consistent time to read and pray each day (i.e. 6:30 am when you wake up, or 9:00 pm before bed, or both). If you are reading Exodus 12 one day about the Passover in Egypt, pause and meditate on how Jesus is our Passover lamb who was slain for us to free us from slavery to sin and offer forgiveness. Then pray and thank God for the salvation we have in Jesus, and pray for others who need his forgiveness and grace. All Scripture ultimately points to Jesus, and we can turn every verse into a prayer for ourselves and others. I recommend reading and praying with a list of people to pray for next to your Bible; family members, friends, church members, and neighbors that you can lift up and pray for.
2. Memorize some Scriptural prayers to pray on a daily basis.
Throughout history, the people of God have prayed Scripture, looking particularly to the Psalms (which were written as a prayer guide for us, to give us words to pray in all of life’s circumstances). Pick a few Psalms to commit to memory, and pray them at regular times in the day (like waking up, before a meal, putting kids down for naps, or before going to bed). Psalm 23, that was referenced above, is a wonderful Psalm to start with, as it is only 6 verses and full of comforting truths about God and his care for us. In addition to the Psalms, passages like “the Shema” (Deut. 6:4-5), or “the Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13) have been prayed daily by God’s people throughout history as a way of orienting the heart toward loving God, desiring his kingdom, and trusting in his provision and care.
One helpful resource on this is a short book by Donald Whitney entitled, Praying the Bible, which goes into more detail about this practice from the basis of Scripture and church history, with other practical and helpful advice.