I often feel like an asthmatic Christian. I’ll be struggling for air, but I won’t open my airway to breathe in. Once my lungs fill up with the cold, dry air of busyness and self-reliance, I start gasping for air. Ole Hallesby, a Norwegian theologian from the 1900s, wrote that “prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts.” When I am not praying, I’m not breathing.
When I am physically dealing with asthma, I have to slow down, find my inhaler, and catch my breath. Spiritually, though, I will often ignore the warning signs for far too long. I’m either too stressed to think straight, or I think I’ve got my life under control. I’ll either feel as though the world is caving in on me, or I’ll live as though I’m the cornerstone keeping it all together. Prayer keeps me from either extreme, and Jesus’s words in John 15:5 often reverberate through my thoughts when I’m in either place. Apart from Me you can do nothing. Despite my head knowledge of this reality, sometimes my heart just simply doesn’t keep up. More often, my lifestyle and habits crowd out time for prayer. The cares of the world grip my throat like a fierce opponent trying to keep my from taking another breath.
I want to live, and I know that through dependent, earnest, and thankful prayer I can continue to breathe and not starve my soul of its oxygen. On this journey to pray more fervently and more often, I am learning to pray through the Bible. As I reflect on the books, articles, and examples from the Christians in my life, I’ve found at least 3 helpful methods for praying through Scripture. I want to share them in hopes of helping you find more joy and life in your prayers.
Pray (nearly) the exact words of a passage.
The most straightforward way to pray the Bible is to open to a passage and pray straight through it. The benefit of this method is that we’re praying God’s words back to Him. For example, you could pray Psalm 1 back to God as you reflect on your desire to follow the blessed man, Jesus. Perhaps you could pray through Ephesians 2:1-10 in the first person, starting with, “And I was dead in my trespasses and sins…” and so on. This is a great way to talk to God using His words and His desires for us.
The Psalms are great for praying directly through a passage because many of them are actual prayers penned in Scripture for us to read, sing, and pray back to God. You may need to replace some of the circumstances with your own spiritual or physical circumstances. For example, you may not be under physical threats of violence, but you can cry out, “You are my shelter, my portion in the land of the living… listen to my cry, for I am very weak. Rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me…” (Psalm 142: 5-6). The Psalms give words to our worries and pleas for our problems.
Other written prayers throughout the Scriptures are great for this style of praying, too. We can reflect and strive to get our hearts in line with God’s Word as we pray truthful and powerful words from saints throughout biblical history from Moses to the saints rejoicing in the new heavens and earth.
Pray your own words with the Scripture as your guide.
Another way to pray through the Bible is to allow the Words of Scripture to be your guide. When Jesus gave his disciples the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), He provided a model for prayer. I learned how to pray through the Lord’s prayer from writers and preachers throughout church history. They taught me how to pray through this prayer in a way that could nourish my soul daily and bring my heart in line with God’s will. Rather than just praying through it from rote memorization and mouthing the words, they teach that we can let the various petitions guide us into themes and topics to pray for.
For example, when we start the prayer “our Father in heaven…”, we can slow down and pray about the fatherhood of God. We can thank God that He is indeed our Father in heaven, greater than any earthly father. If we’ve been living as spiritual orphans, we can pray that we would view God as the Father He is and thank the Holy Spirit for being the Spirit of adoption in us. We can thank Christ that He gave His life for us in order to be brought near to God. We can pray to be better parents in light of the fatherhood of God. We can even pray evangelistically that God would be the Father of the unsaved people we know and love. After praying through the fatherhood of God, we can continue by praying that God’s name would be hallowed. Piece-by-piece, then, we work through the prayer until we have reached the end. This can be a short 5-minute time of prayer, or it can extend much further.
Most of the words in Scripture are not prayers but narratives, wisdom, poetry, prophecies, and epistles. These passages are still useful in prayer, but they may be more useful as prayer prompts than direct prayers. We can pray through these Scriptures, letting the words of Scripture prompt us to pray in light of what we’ve just read. Donald Whitney advocates for this method of praying in his book Praying the Bible, and it has been helpful in my life as well as the lives of thousands of Christians who desire to spend more time praying and seeking the presence of God.
Pray the broad themes of a passage of Scripture.
If you’re reading through the Bible in a year or walking through narrative passages, you get to enjoy reading through larger sections of Scripture each day. Sometimes those longer sections, especially narratives, parables, or prophecies don’t lend themselves to word-for-word prayer. It might be a little odd to pray, “When the boys grew up, Esau became an expert hunter, an outdoorsman” (Gen 25:27). In the rest of this paragraph, however, we see Esau nearly starving to death, Jacob selfishly requiring a birthright in place of bread and lentil soup, and Esau’s folly in a moment of desperation. You could reflect on this passage and notice the themes of wisdom, selfishness, deceit, and desperation (Gen. 25:27-33).
After making a note of these themes, you could pray for yourself and others. In reference to Esau’s folly, you may want to pray for God to give you the wisdom to navigate this life according to His will and not the will of flesh. You might need to repent of selfishness that you’ve seen in your heart lately and thank Christ for His selflessness in going to the cross for you. You could lament the deceitfulness you’ve seen in the world, and ask God rescue a family member who has recently been deceived by false teaching. Finally, you can praise God for being self-sufficient and never desperate like Esau was. You may be drawn to then ask for Him to keep you from despairing of your life so much that you’d give up your faith or making a foolish life decision.
This method allows you to take the broad themes of the Bible and pray through them as you see their relevance in your life. This pulls more of God’s Word into your prayer life and keeps your prayers fresh.
We Don’t Have to be Bored or Distracted in our Praying
Sometimes our prayer lives are weak and boring because we’ve built a habit of praying poorly. We know how to cry out to God when things are tough. We’ve figured out how to thank God for meals. We can toss up a quick thanksgiving to God when something good happens. But when it comes to digging deeper in prayer, we just can’t seem to figure it out. Jesus’s 12 disciples felt the same way and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1)! Without direction, we can expect to feel like we’re saying the same old things all the time. Perhaps our prayers become boring, bland, and repetitive because we come to God without His Word and His purposes in mind. Donald Whitney puts it like this: “the problem is not that we pray about the same old things; rather, it’s that we say the same old things about the same old things.”
Let the Word of God refresh your prayer life. Try praying the Scriptures the next time you spend time alone with God.
What are some tips or strategies you’d share with people desiring to grow in prayer?
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-blue-dress-shirt-praying-6860411/
This article was first published at dwellwithchrist.com.