Ways to Pray: Praying the Bible
As we pray to the Father, Jesus leads us in prayer and the Holy Spirit helps us pray. So our prayer involves the Word (because Jesus is the Word) and the Spirit. We can never separate the Spirit from the Word, because we can't divide the Trinity. So, if we know that we need the Holy Spirit in prayer (which I'm sure Pentecostals do know), then we need to know as well that we can't divide the Spirit from the Word. Our prayers rely on Jesus — the Living Word — and He leads us in prayer through the Spirit-inspired Scriptures — the Written Word. The Holy Spirit works by the Word, even in prayer.
So, one of the reasons the Scriptures have been given is to lead us in prayer. I've already written about the importance of rooting our prayer in Scripture when I wrote about the Daily Office and about praying all the Psalms. There we were thinking particularly about praying the very words of Scriptural prayers. But today I want to think a bit more widely about being led in prayer by Scripture, or as Robert Murray M'Cheyne put it, turning the Bible into prayer.
For M'Cheyne, to 'turn the Bible into prayer' was 'the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray.' John Piper sees praying the Bible as a great help in guarding us from repetitively just praying for exactly the same things in exactly the same ways every day and also from getting distracted. He says:
If I try to pray for people or events without having the word in front of me guiding my prayers, then several negative things happen. One is that I tend to be very repetitive. … I just pray the same things all the time. Another negative thing is that my mind tends to wander.
These are very real problems that we easily recognise, and so Piper's solution of praying the Bible is something that can be a help for all of us.
So, how do we do it? It's really very simple. Just open up your Bible read a verse, stop, and then pray about things related to that verse. Then read the next verse and do the same.
You can either do it with a Bible open in front of you, or use passages of Scripture which you've memorised as a basis for prayer. (Before coming to teach at the theological college, I used to go swimming for an hour every night, and would use a memorised portion of Scripture to pray through while I was swimming lengths of the pool.)
This works really well with Psalms and other biblical prayers, as well as the epistles, but you can use this method to pray through narrative portions of Scripture too. I'll give you an example below to give you some ideas for how you can pray from a familiar Scripture, but first let me just give you some tips for when you get stuck or for passages that seem harder to pray from.
First, if you get stuck, that's fine. It's not a bounden duty to have something amazing to pray from every verse of the Bible. If there's a verse you're stuck with, you can simply pray 'Lord, what does this mean?' or 'Please show me, Lord, how I can pray from this Scripture,' or you can just move on to the next verse. Don't panic. And don't give up.
What about if you get distracted? Well, don't think of distractions as distractions — think of them as prompts to prayer!
And what about narrative portions of Scripture? Well here (just as in preaching) it might often be more helpful to pray based on larger chunks, rather than single verses. Get the big picture of the passage, and you can pray from the theme of that whole section.
Now, let me take Psalm 23 as an example (because lots of people already know it off by heart), and give you some ideas of how you could pray based on this Scripture. (This isn't an exhaustive list, but just really what comes immediately into my mind today — on another day I might pray for some quite different things from the same passage.)
Verse 1: The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
Give thanks to the Lord for His tender care, for His leading, for His protection. Give thanks to the Lord for His provision for your needs in the past. Come to Him in faith now and ask Him to provide for any pressing needs, trusting in His promise that you will not lack. Pray for those who've wandered off and got lost and need the Good Shepherd to bring them home rejoicing on His shoulders.
Verse 2: He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
Give Him thanks that He feeds you with your daily bread and your spiritual bread. Pray to be fed by His Word and to know the joy and peace of the waters of the well of salvation. If there's anything that's not peaceful going on in your life or your church or the world around you, you can bring it to the Lord and pray to know the stillness of God's peace in the situation. If you've been struggling in reading the Bible or listening to sermons, and so don't really feel like you've been getting fed, acknowledge it to the Lord and ask for His help and His provision.
Verse 3: He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Pray for your soul. If there are things in your heart you've been struggling about, speak to the Lord about them. If your soul is dry or weary, pray for His refreshing. Give thanks for the ways He has refreshed you in the past. Give thanks for how He has carried the burdens of your heart before. Give thanks for the ways He has led you in His paths. Pray for guidance to walk in righteous ways. Pray for any areas where you're struggling to walk in the way the Lord is directing you. Pray your paths and choices would bring glory to His name.
Verse 4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Pray about the difficult and even frightening situations you are facing, or those around you are facing. Pray for the difficulties in your church, or your town, or the country, or the world. Give thanks to the Lord for His faithfulness in past trials. Give thanks that He has overcome the evil one. Give thanks for the promise of His presence in the most difficult of times. Give thanks that Jesus has gone through the valley of the shadow of death for us on Calvary and prepared a way to take us safely through death and out the other side into resurrection life. Give thanks for His rod and staff — for God's Fatherly correction, for His commandments which serve as a light to our feet and a lamp for our path, for the authorities He has placed over us for the common good.
Verse 5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Give thanks for the Lord's Supper and for the great heavenly banquet to which it points us. Give thanks for the outpouring of the Holy and Spirit and pray for a fresh anointing. Seek the gifts of the Spirit. Pray for the enjoyment of the fullness of the cup of salvation. Give thanks that Jesus has drunk the cup of God's wrath for you so that you can lift to your lips the cup of salvation. Pray for others to accept the invitation to come and drink of salvation's cup and feast at the Lord's Table.
Verse 6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Give thanks for all the evidences you've seen of the Lord's goodness and mercy in your life. Give thanks for His promised future mercies. If there are any situations where you need His mercy now, ask Him for it. Pray for those who are in need of experiencing His goodness. Give thanks for that future promise of dwelling in the presence of the Lord for all eternity, and pray for a greater desire to dwell in His presence even now. Give thanks for the church, which is His house, and pray to see more of His mercy and goodness, and the glory of His presence in the church. Pray that you would be built up together in unity and love with the other members of the church, to be built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Those are just a few ideas. It's not an exhaustive list, but hopefully they'll help you think of some ways you can pray from other Scriptures.
The method is simple, In John Piper's words: 'Open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into prayer.'
If you want some more help with this, Donald Whitney has written a great little book called Praying the Bible. But you don't need a book to get started. (Beware of putting off praying by waiting to read books about praying. Books about prayer are very good and helpful alongside praying, but never instead of it.)
Some other posts in this series so far: