What is it about prayer that’s difficult? Maybe we don’t know what to say, or we find what we’re praying about to be trivial—something not worthy of bringing before the Creator of the universe. But maybe you’re like me and when you sit down to pray, you find your mind… wanders.
When this happens to me, my prayers wind up sounding something like this:
Lord thank you for all the blessings you’ve given us,
And thank you for—oh man, I’ve really got to get some work done on that project and—wait, no. Father, help me to not be distracted as I pray right now… but I’ve got a great idea for a book. And really, who are these people who keep acting like writing is easy? You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to get a cup of coffee. Ah crumbs, I’m out of time.
Jesus, thanks for all you do, I pray you’ll meet every need. InJesusNameAmen.
You laugh, but you’ve probably prayed something like this, too.
Admittedly one of the areas of my Christian faith where I’ve struggled most has been with prayer. It’s hard to get into a good rhythm. It’s easy to get distracted. It’s really easy to fall asleep. (Don’t judge.) I’ve tried a number of different methods to help with making a good habit of prayer. But one of the best ways is one I was introduced to—or rather reintroduced to—while reading Donald S. Whitney’s latest book, Praying the Bible.[1. Note: this review is based upon a digital edition of Praying the Bible. All quotes will be cited by chapter, rather than page number.]
That method? Praying the Bible.
I know—revolutionary, right?
A simple and effective method of prayer
The method itself is pretty simple: When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture. “You simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text,” Whitney writes.[2. Praying the Bible, chapter 4]
The psalms are ready-made for this, and, as Whitney points out, you can do this with any other passage of Scripture (especially the New Testament epistles). So, you just go through a passage line-by-line talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text. If a verse isn’t clear or nothing comes to mind in response, go on to the next one. If what comes to mind has nothing to do with the text at all, pray about that and then go back to the text. Keep doing going until you either (1) Run out of time or (2) run out of text.[3. Adapted from Praying the Bible, chapters 3 and 4]
The point, Whitney is careful to make, is that we are doing the task of interpreting the Bible in this exercise—we are using the Bible as our guide, to give shape to our prayers. To, as he writes take “words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulate them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers.”[4. Praying the Bible, chapter 3]
Easy to put into practice
The strongest element of the book really is the expectation that the reader will actually put the method into practice. The shortest and (as its title promises) most important chapter of the book is all about that. After reading about the method for several chapters, Whitney encourages us to try praying Psalm 23 for 5-7 minutes.
What did I find when I did it?
- I found I didn’t use nearly as many filler words
- My mind didn’t wander nearly as far as it sometimes does
- I found that more and more things to pray about came to mind as I went through each verse of the psalm
And surprisingly, I found that I had more to say than could make it into the seven minutes I gave myself. In fact, the first time around, I spent most of that time on the first couple of verses of the psalm, and then circled back to them again a little while later.
A short while later, I also tried an extended time of prayer using a different passage altogether, Galatians 5:16-26.[5. In fact, I actually led a prayer chapel at the ministry where I work through this.] For 15 minutes, I went through this passage, bringing before God so many things I had never prayed about before. And once my time was up, I found, again, I had more prayer than time! That in itself was a pretty fantastic experience.
(And right now, I’m sure some of you reading this are probably thinking—”15 minutes? Seriously? This guy’s probably not even saved.” Others are thinking, “Dang, I could never pray for that long…”)
Most importantly, I found that, as I prayed, my prayers were more naturally conformed to Scripture—they were more biblical than those I pray when I’m just making things up. And this is probably the greatest benefit of the method to Whitney:
I have enough confidence in the Word and the Spirit of God to believe that if people will pray this way, in the long run their prayers will be far more biblical than if they just make up their own prayers. That’s what people usually do: make up their own prayers. What’s the result? We tend to say the same old things about the same old things. And without the Scripture to shape our prayers, we are fare more likely to pray in unbiblical ways than if we pray the thoughts that occur to us as we read the Scripture.[6. Praying the Bible, chapter 4]
If there is one weakness in this book worth mentioning, it’s that it it can appear off-balance in terms of recognizing the value of the prayers we make up on our own. Certainly, Whitney is not against Christians making up our own prayers, and nowhere does he suggest there should be a prohibition on doing so (after all, that would be foolish). Some believers, in fact, find they have quite a fruitful prayer life primarily using such methods. Perhaps, then, this method would be best understood not as providing an alternative or replacement for spontaneous prayer, so much as helping us build a stronger foundation of prayer in our lives so that that those spontaneous moments are more fruitful.
A cure for the “boring” prayer life
Praying the Bible is one of the most practical and easy to apply books on prayer I’ve read possibly ever, and one I’m happy to commend to any Christian seeking to improve their prayer life. It’s short, simple, and an all around excellent cure for the “boring” prayer life. Read it for yourself. Put it into practice and let your prayers be shaped by the Word of God.
Title: Praying the Bible
Author: Donald S. Whitney
Publisher: Crossway (2015)