Praying the Bible

When you pray, does it ever feel like you’re just saying the same old things about the same old things?

Offering us the encouragement and the practical advice we’re all looking for, Donald S. Whitney, best-selling author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, outlines an easy-to-grasp method that has the power to transform our prayer life: praying the words of Scripture. Simple, yet profound, Praying the Bible will prove invaluable as you seek to commune with your heavenly Father in prayer each and every day.

This book’s central theme is answering the problem that most Christians encounter: That prayer is difficult. “I maintain that people—truly born-again, genuinely Christian people—often do not pray simply because they do not feel like it. And the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things.” Even though we have the right intentions and motivations and even though we put it in our new year’s or monthly or weekly or daily resolution, we find some difficulty to discipline ourselves to “pray without ceasing” or “in everything by prayer… let your requests be made known unto God.”

In the words of Donald Whitney, how can talking to the most fascinating Person in the universe about the most important things in our lives bore us to death? In Praying the Bible, Whitney suggests that this is because we tend to pray the same prayers about the same issues over and over. He goes on to say there is nothing wrong about praying about the same issues over and over, because that is what the Bible says we should do, but praying the same prayers and using the same words is the problem. The repetition can lead you to believe that your prayers do not have any effect. Whitney recommends a good solution to this: pray the Bible.

Praying the Bible means “when you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm.” He says to pray the Bible is to simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text. If you don’t understand the meaning of a verse, go on to the next, of if the meaning is clear but nothing comes to mind to pray about, go on to the next verse. Just speak to the Lord about everything that occurs to you as you read, even though it is not related to the meaning or context of the verse. Knowing this could be a controversial take, he then goes on to defend this biblically, showing the difference with interpreting the Bible (which is another separate discipline) and praying the Bible.

In Chapter 7, Whitney asks his readers to try it, to stop reading and choose a psalm to pray for at least seven minutes. It was a good experience for me, and I could resonate with the evaluation in Chapter 8. Some of the benefits it listed are (a) it removes distractions, because you have a text to follow and guide you; (b) the prayer was more about God and less about you, as the Bible especially the Psalms is full of words of adoration; (c) time feels short, because you don’t run out of things to say; (d) it would seem like a real conversation with God, as you read and pray it back, among others.

The last few chapters of the Bible are some examples in the Bible and charts that could help in the practical application of praying the Bible.

As for me, I try to use this method in my prayer life, but I find myself coming back to my prayer cards which I learned from A Praying Life. This is because I wanted to cover everything in my prayer cards (family, church, friends – both believers and nonbelievers) which I find hard to integrate with Whitney’s method of solely basing it on a psalm or a chapter of the Bible. The book is short and practical, but I think the book might have benefited from a little more guidance on how to do this.

But I do agree that when we pray God’s word back to him, our prayers tend to be more biblical and frees us to generate language on our own. Whatever prayer method we use, God did not intend for the experience of prayer to be complicated or boring. “It must be possible for every Christian, including every Christian reading this book, to have a meaningful, satisfying prayer life.”

Some of the quotes I wanted to remember:

So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers.

It is as though God said to his people, “I want you to praise me, but you don’t know how to praise me. I want you to praise me not because I’m an egomaniac but because you will praise that which you prize the most, and there is nothing of greater worth to you than I. There is nothing more praiseworthy than I, and it is a blessing for you to know that. It will lead you to your eternal joy if you praise me…”

Within the breadth of 150 psalms, you can find the entire range of human emotion. You will never go through anything in life in which you cannot find the root emotions reflected in the Psalms. Exhilaration, frustration, discouragement, guilt, forgiveness, joy, gratitude, dealing with enemies, contentment, discontentment – you name it: they are al found in the book of Psalms.

…That if you have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you have all the equipment necessary to profit satisfyingly from the Word of God and to experience a meaningful life.

We should pray when we feel like praying and pray when we don’t feel like praying.

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