Spiritual Growth Objective: Pray regularly using words from the Bible, ideas prompted by meditating on the Bible, and all four categories of prayer taught in the Bible.
Introduction to praying the Bible
The most important method
A recent survey showed that only 2% of Christians are very satisfied with their habits and experience of prayer. When asked why prayer is difficult, the most common answers usually include:
Distraction, wandering minds, inability to focus
Boredom, words that feel dry, stale, and lifeless
Loss for words, not knowing what to say
While no technique or method can overcome all the barriers to developing a regular, fulfilling experience of prayer, there is a method for prayer that can help with all of them: praying directly from the Bible or from other prayers based on biblical texts and themes.
What is this method? Simply moving verse by verse through a biblical text and praying what comes to mind. If the text is a prayer (e.g., a psalm), you can pray the text word-for-word or paraphrase it as your own prayer. If the text is not a prayer, you can use the ideas it expresses.
Why is the method a good idea, and how does it help us?
- Praying from the Bible acknowledges God’s initiative in prayer.
Prayer does not begin with us; rather, all prayer begins with God. God has already spoken to us through the written words of Scripture, and Christ and the Holy Spirit continually pray for us (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34) and in us (Romans 8:16, 26-27) to enable us to pray. Thus, all prayer is always a response to God’s speaking to us. So it makes sense to begin our prayer by first listening to God through his word and responding to him through this means he has graciously provided for us.
- Praying from the Bible combats a loss for words by giving us language to pray.
- Praying from the Bible combats distraction by focusing our minds.
- Praying from the Bible combats boredom by giving us endless variety.
A balanced diet of prayer
Just as a balanced diet of food requires consuming a range of food from all the major food groups, a balanced diet of prayer requires all the major types or categories of prayer. When we pray from the Bible, we should aim to pray all four types of prayer on a regular basis.
(1) Adoration in praise and thanksgiving
Adoration is acknowledging and honoring God for who he is and what he has done. It is voicing our joy and gratitude for the greatness of God’s glory that we experience and receive in creation and salvation.
Confessing is acknowledging and naming our particular sins before God. Genuine confession should lead us to repentance, which is rejecting and turning away from the sin with a desire to put it to death and to live in faithful, loving obedience to God.
Lament is protesting the pain, suffering, and injustice of the world to God and calling for his deliverance. Whereas confession focuses on the guilt of our personal sins, lament focuses more broadly on the impact of sin and evil in the world, the wounds and brokenness that plague our lives and the lives of others.
Petition is crying out to God for help and asking him to provide for the needs of ourselves and others.
One way to maintain a balanced diet of prayer is to learn from prayers in the Bible that contains each of the four categories of prayers in the Bible. Consider these examples:
- adoration/praise/thanksgiving: Psalm 95, 98, 100, 150; Exodus 15; Luke 1:46-55, 68-79
- confession: Psalm 51; Daniel 9
- lament: Psalm 5, 6, 7, 13, 38, 55, 74, 77, 79, 88, 102
- petition: Psalm 25, 119, the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13); Acts 4:24-30
But we are not limited to biblical texts that have the form of prayers. Any biblical text can become the basis or springboard for some or all of the four types of prayer. All that is necessary is to approach any biblical text with these questions:
(1) What does this text reveal about God for which I should be joyful and thankful?
(2) What sin, weakness, or failure does this text expose in me that I need to confess?
(3) What suffering or injustice in the world does this text reveal that I should lament?
(4) What does this text lead me to ask from God for myself and for others?
Study and learn how to pray from Scripture
The following resources provide instruction about praying from the Bible.
Donald Whitney, Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015).
A simple guide for learning to pray from the Bible is this very short book. With specific, practical examples, Whitney shows how any text in the Bible can become a guide and prompt for all types of prayer.
For more examples of praying all of the categories of prayer from biblical texts, see:
Martin Luther, “A Simple Way to Pray”
Luther, the professor who pioneered the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, wrote this short article for his barber, who asked him how he should pray. Luther offers extended examples of the prayers he prayed for his own life and times from the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. Luther offers examples of how the same text can prompt several different categories of prayer.
Mike Farley, “Tips on Praying the Psalms and Other Prayers in the Bible”
Praying from the Psalms and other prayers in the Bible can be difficult because they were written very long ago for an ancient cultural context that is quite different than the modern world. This short article provides tips on how to bridge the gap between the past and the present and use prayers in the Bible as a guide to forming Christian prayers.
(1) Check your understanding.
Why is praying from the Bible a wise method of prayer?
What are the four major categories of prayer?
How can we turn any biblical text into a way to pray the four categories of prayer?
(2) Practice these methods together with your growth group or other group of Christians.
(3) Practice by choosing one text to pray every day for a week.
Practice all four categories with just one text. For example, try using just the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23. Discover how approaching the same text on different days with different challenges makes praying the exact same text a different experience.
(4) Write down the questions that prompt the four categories of prayer and use them regularly until you can do it by heart.