Praying scripture is a way to be in scripture and prayer at the same time. John Piper says, "If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.”
The early church prayed the Scriptures in Acts 4 and following. In fact, they explicitly quote Scriptures as they lift prayers to God. Also worth noting is that many parts of the Scripture areprayers. So, simply to read them is to pray! Paul has numerous prayers he prays for the people that he is writing his letters to. And every time we read these, we can pray along with Paul. A great portion of the Psalms are prayers, and Jesus gave us some prayers - including the Lord’s prayer which Pastor Adam mentioned this past week and will speak more about this coming week.
Some people use the acronym “IOUs” (like an IOU for money owed) from the Psalms to guide how they pray the Scriptures. To me this complicates things, but I know other types of temperaments like this kind of structure. Pray as you CAN; not as you can’t:
I = Incline my heart to your testimonies (Psalm 119:36)
O= Open by eyes to see wonderful things (Psalm 119:18)
U= Unite my heart to fear your name (Psalm 86:11)
S= Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love (Psalm 90:14)
I love engaging with the Bible as a way of cultivating relationship with God. Also, it is a way that helps me maintain focused attention during my times with God. I know I am not alone when confessing that distraction can be a deterrent to prayer. Sometimes it also helps to read the scriptures out loud or write them. When I begin to “talk back” to Scripture, it comes alive and interactive…..it becomes prayer! My critical thinking skills seem to engage with my heart and my “feeler,” strengthening my faith and involving ALL of me. It is more like praying with my entire body.
At its most basic level, you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text. See how easy that is? Anyone can pray Scripture!
Here is a recent journal entry in which the first few verses of Philippians guided my prayer one morning. The verse has to do with prayer which seems appropriate since we are in a series about being “connected.”
Phil. 1:4: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” My prayer: Pray with joy. I have sometimes prayed with boredom. I have sometimes prayed half-asleep. I do this when I forget what I’m doing and with whom I am speaking. Forgive me, Father. I am in partnership with other sons and daughters of yours from around the globe and it inspires me in prayer and encourages me on this journey. I am living this day in community and “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” Help me to know that and live into that today. Thank you for the honor of having direct access to you. Thank you that you even care to know me and my comings and goings.
Some other passages you might try praying with are listed below. They are already in a sort of “prayer language” but you might put in your own name, or the names of people in your life you wish to pray for using scripture as a guide. 1) Colossians 1:9-12; 2) Philippians 1:9-11; 3) Ephesians 3:16-19; 4) The Psalms and Proverbs
What better scripture to pray than the very model prayer that Jesus left us with? Perhaps you can take Matthew 6:9-13and try making it personal and praying it back to Jesus, inserting your name and your desires and requests, as well as your gratefulness for what Jesus has done for you.
Another way to pray with scripture in a more meditative way is called Lectio-Divina. These are just fancy Latin words for “sacred reading.” Its been said this is a way for Scripture to read you, rather than you reading Scripture. Some might categorize this as a more listening or contemplative type of prayer, but many of these prayer forms spill over into each other. The point is trying some ways to spend time at the feet of Jesus that is a good fit for YOU - at this time and this place in your life and journey. Don’t learn to pray the way you imagine the saints practiced their devotion. God is making something beautiful out of YOU; don’t short-circuit that by trying to mimic someone else’s beauty. God is making something beautiful out of ALL of us in different ways and for different purposes. That is the body of Christ!
Did you know the Bible talks about meditating on Scripture in over 30 places? In some circles, the word “meditation” has gotten a bad rap, but it all depends upon WHAT you are meditating on. We are discussing meditating on Scripture - God’s inspired Word - The Bread of Life! When I was first introduced to this way of spending time with God in prayer, it truly revolutionized my spiritual life on all levels. I think prior, I had only been exposed to ways that tended to keep me in my head and minimize my heart involvement. What about you? Has your Bible reading/study and prayer life been mostly cognitive in nature? Maybe you would even say it feels dry. Perhaps this meditative way of being in Scripture can be a starting place for you to experience God in a new and more personal way? There are no rules. The steps below are a SUGGESTION. You may form fit it to yourself. Enjoy a leisurely pace and don’t force anything. Allow the word, phrase, sound or image to come to you in due time. You might even remain with a certain text for a series of days….or months. God and I “hashed out” a particular scripture passage for almost a year one time! Remember, pray as you CAN; not as you can’t.
There are classically 4 phases or movements and it is typically practiced using only a short section of Scripture (some suggestions are below):
1) Slow reading of the text - attentive reading. Then read the text slowly once again.
2) What word or what phrase stands out? Who do you see yourself as? What shimmers? Give the Spirit a chance to speak to you. Rest. Give this a “long, loving look.” What do you think God might be inviting you to do, see, feel, etc? Maybe a word of comfort, instruction, challenge, or perhaps an invitation?
3) Respond to God - Pray and respond to God based upon what the Spirit seemed to show you and say to you.
4) Rest, worship, soaking, contemplate (like digesting). Just "sit on park bench" with God.
INVITATION: Some suggested passages to pray/meditate with: Mark 2:13-17; I John 4:16-21.
Open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into a prayer. John Piper
In our meditation we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day and for our Christian life. Bonhoffer
Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney
The Daily Light by Bagster/Lotz (morning and evening compilation of scripture)
Meeting God in Scripture by Jan Johnson
Too Deep for Words by Thelma Hall, r.c.
Live Prayerfully by Daniel Ethan Harris (Adam’s brother) which goes into 3 prayer types these devotions will cover.
Pray As You Go (One of my personal all time favorites)