Praying the Scriptures
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Praying the Scriptures—taking the Bible’s actual words and using them to give shape to our prayers—is a habit I stumbled into more than 20 years ago, when laundry loomed large and prayer time was short. (Having four children in six years, I measured my days not in hours, but loads.)
In an effort to ward off the weariness, I used the dreary routine as a prompt: “Clothe Hillary with compassion and kindness,” I’d pray, folding the umpteenth pair of soccer shorts as I borrowed from Colossians 3:12. “Cover her with humility, gentleness and patience.”
Today, our kids are adults, but the margins of my Bible bear witness to their growing-up years. I prayed for safety,1 good friendships,2 and character traits like self-control.3 And much more. Now, as I consider my kids’ grown-up needs, I’m still mining the Scriptures, pulling promises and prayer prompts for everything from their jobs, to their marriages, to their faith.
And what I’ve learned, after all these years, is that it doesn’t matter whether we’re praying for our children, our spouse, or our coworkers and friends. When we allow the Bible to animate our thoughts—when God’s Word influences not just our prayers, but also our perspective—the more our requests align with what God wants to do. It’s like we slip our hand into His, partnering with our Heavenly Father to accomplish the good things He has planned. I don’t fully understand it, but I think this is what Jesus was getting at in John 15:7 when He said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.”
Have I gotten everything I ever asked for? No. Has that sometimes been hard? Yes. Have my kids hit some rough patches? Most definitely. But God has been faithful, teaching me to stake my trust in His vision, and not my agenda. And, time and again, His Word has not come back void.—Jodie Berndt4
Engaging the Bible and praying are the primary methods for developing a deepening relationship with God. In fact, all other spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting, study, simplicity, worship, confession, service) have their foundation in the disciplines of reading the Bible and praying. While many tend to think of prayer and Bible reading as separate spiritual practices (e.g., first I pray, then I read the Bible), they can be even more powerful when combined into one practice of “praying scripture.” Personally, nothing has been more enriching in my own spiritual life than this process of daily praying scripture.
Are you ever unsure about what you should pray? Do your prayers become dull or repetitive? Do you feel like you’re praying “wrong?” Your confidence in your prayers will be strengthened when you pray God’s Words. Praying the Scriptures allows you to use the words and emotions of the Bible to gain more confidence in your prayers. What do we mean when we say to “pray scripture?” Evan Howard writes, “To pray the Scriptures is to order one’s time of prayer around a particular text in the Bible.” This can mean either praying the prayers of the Bible word-for-word as your own prayers, personalizing portions of the Scriptures in prayer, or praying through various topics of the Bible.—Phil Collins5
[M]any parts of the Scripture are prayers. So, simply to read them is to pray, if we are awake—if you are thinking about what you are doing. Paul has got numerous prayers that he prays for the people that he is writing his letters to. … And a great portion of the Psalms are prayers, and Jesus gave us some prayers. I have used the acronym IOUS from the Psalms to guide how I pray the Scriptures:
I, Incline my heart to your testimonies.6
O, Open my eyes to see wonderful things.7
U, Unite my heart to fear your name.8
S, Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love.9
… The Scriptures either tell us something about God and Christ when we are reading so that we can praise him. Or, they tell us something about what God and Christ and the Holy Spirit have done so that we can thank him and express faith in it. Or, they tell us what God expects from us so that we can cry out for his help. Or, they tell us about something we failed to do so that we can confess our sins. So, it seems to me that virtually all the Bible is doing one or more of those four things: something about God, something about what he has done, something about what he expects, something about how we have failed, so that they naturally lead into praise to God, thanks to God, crying for help to God, and confession of sin to God.—John Piper10
Praying scriptures back to God is a powerful way to pray deep and build your prayer language. What better way to honor our majestic God than to use His own words to praise Him and pray to Him? It’s also a way to dig deeper into scripture while you pray.
While Psalms are a popular choice for prayer, you can pray from any scripture in the Bible. …
How to pray scripture:
Read the passage slowly, soak in the words and take the verses to heart. You may even want to write it out on paper.
Reflect on what the passage is saying to you. How does this passage apply to your life right now? How does it address your prayer needs? What words stand out to you and speak to your heart?
Respond to God by praying this passage back to him. Insert “I” or “me” in the passage to make it more personal. Or, insert a friend’s name if you’re praying the scripture for someone else. As you respond in prayer, consider these three responses:
- Rejoice in God’s great goodness. Praise Him through the scripture.
- Repent of your mistakes and sins. Where is this passage convicting you?
- Request prayer for your areas of need. Ask for God’s promises and blessings from this passage.
Receive God’s response to your prayer by taking a moment of silence to listen. What is He putting on your heart in response to your prayer?
Praying scripture is a beautiful way to pray. If you don’t think your prayer language is “enough,” the scriptures have it all. If you’re not sure how to put into words what’s on your heart, there will be a scripture that already says it all. Let the Spirit lead you in prayer through God’s words, build your prayer vocabulary, and use scripture as your guide for prayer.—Kathryn Shirey11
When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,”12 He didn’t say, “Well, just open your hearts and say whatever you feel like.” Nor did He say, “Just praise God and ask Him for what you need.” He gave them an exact word-for-word prayer that they could pray just the way He gave it to them: The Lord’s Prayer!—A prayer that has endured for many centuries! So I think that serves as a pretty good example to us of what the Lord thinks about already written and prepared prayers!—Maria Fontaine
Published on Anchor February 2019. Read by Jerry Paladino. Music by John Listen.
1 Psalm 121.
2 Proverbs 16:28.
3 Titus 2:5–6.
6 Psalm 119:36.
7 Psalm 119:18.
8 Psalm 86:11.
9 Psalm 90:14.
12 Luke 11:1.