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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Praying with the Word of God

God, I want a new car, good health, a secure retirement plan, and . . .

Many of us take this laundry-list approach to prayer. We have a strategic session with God where we generously give Him suggestions on how to fulfill our desires. With a mile-long list employing the constant refrain of “I want,” we often lose sight of the One to whom we are praying.

It is not wrong to pray for specific petitions, but many of us tend to approach God as a magic fix-all solution instead of the omnipotent, omniscient God that He is. We have a natural tendency to offer up petitionary monologues when, in fact, prayer should be a dialogue between us and the all-wise God who wants to reveal Himself to us.

Prayer as Reorientation

Prayer is an aligning of our wills with God’s will. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), we realize that prayer is not about me, my will, or my kingdom. Instead, it is about God, His will, and His kingdom. Our petitionary laundry lists have it all backwards: we are not the center of attention in prayer.

Recognizing this radical reorientation in prayer frees us to exalt God and praise Him for His attributes. Prayer is not a matter of subjective feeling. After all, there will be times when we feel God’s presence and other times when we don’t. What matters is showing up and continuing to persist in prayer. This involves both speaking to God and surrendering ourselves to what He has to say. But how do we do this?

Praying through Scripture

One way to avoid falling into the trap of long wish lists and quick-fix solution requests of God is by praying through Scripture. This prayer method doesn’t need to involve long passages; it can focus on short verses or phrases. What stands out to us as we read is an invitation to prayer and meditation.

Christian meditation is not the same concept as the meditation encouraged by Eastern religions. Meditating on God’s Word is not an emptying of the mind. Instead, we fill our minds with revealed truth so that we can respond in our hearts to God. We do not need to suppress our personality in doing so; we have a personal encounter with our personal God. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Word of God, will speak to us through that Word.

Our Response in Prayer

Praying through Scripture may sound like a rigid practice that would elicit the same response over and over again in us. This is not the case at all. Because God’s Word is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB), it will work in us differently at different times. The Word remains the same, but the Spirit living in us causes its truths to have a new and deeper effect in us as we progress in our walk with the Lord.

Take Psalm 51:1, for example. It reads, “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions” (NASB). As we pray through such a verse, on one occasion we might be struck with the holiness of God and our utter sinfulness. The Spirit may lead us to remember our own transgressions, peeling back our tough outer layers and revealing our selfishness and stubbornness so that we will come out of our comfortable complacency.

Later on, however, we may find ourselves in a place of discouragement or even depression. On that occasion, the Spirit might use the text to encourage us with a reminder of God’s compassion and lovingkindness. These attributes of God are also present in the verse, and they may prompt us to praise God for His love, faithfulness, and forgiveness of our sin.

All of life is gift and grace, pointing back to God. Prayer is no exception. Therefore, let us leave behind our laundry lists and begin praying with the Word—yes, bringing our petitions (as He encourages us to do), but also bringing our confession and thanksgiving, our joy and adoration, and most of all our silence, as we listen to the God who speaks to us.

Copyright © 2020 Ken Boa, used with permission.

Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer: Praying Scripture Back to God is a great resource for learning to pray in the way this article discusses.

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