WORTH THE READ
As we begin a new year, it’s an appropriate time to consider where we are in our relationship with God. Two important practices that help us stay close to God are regular times of prayer and reading Scripture. I want to recommend a recent book that combines both of those practices and might help you grow in both of them: Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney, published by Crossway.
Prayer is talking with God, and as Christians, we have the unimaginable privilege of talking with God whenever we want to because Jesus Christ has granted us access to the Father. The Holy Spirit continually moves us to pray and grants us the assurance that our Heavenly Father wants to hear from us. As those in Christ, our Father wants us to experience the joy, peace, and glory that come with prayer. He wants us to know the grace of answered prayer and what it’s like for him to work in us and around us as we communicate with him.
Yet almost all of us struggle to pray consistently. We don’t always feel like praying, and even when we do feel like it, it’s easy to bore ourselves after a few minutes, find our mind wandering, or just not know what to say after a while. Then we get discouraged about feeling this way, begin to wonder if God really wants to hear from us, and start to think there must be something wrong in our relationship with God.
Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, maintains that the reason so many Christians get bored or discouraged when they pray is not because there is something wrong with them, but because there is something wrong with their method. We tend to pray the most about the most important things in our lives, such as our families, future, finances, work, Christians concerns such as our church or ministry involvement, and current crises in our lives. According to Whitney that is normal and good, we are called to pray about our lives, and our lives are made up of those things. The problem is not that we pray for the same old things, but that we pray for the same old things in the same old way. We pray the same things over and over, leaving us bored or even frustrated.
His solution to praying the same prayers over and over is instead to pray through the Bible. You choose a passage of Scripture and “simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text” (33). If you don’t understand a particular verse, or nothing comes to mind when you read it, you simply move on to the next one. As you read the Word, you talk to God about everything and anything that comes to mind. Whitney explains that this works particularly well with the Psalms, which were designed to be prayed, but can work with any passage of Scripture.
The most helpful thing for me about this book is that it doesn’t just explain and defend this method of prayer, but actually helps you do it. Chapter Seven is entitled “The Most Important Part of This Book.” In this chapter, Whitney tells you to stop reading the book, pick up a Bible, and pray through a psalm, because this book won’t be of any help unless you actually apply its teachings to your life. The next chapter then helps you to evaluate your experience once you have actually done it.
One of the most helpful things in my relationship with God over the last few years has been a renewed emphasis on praying through Scripture, allowing Scripture to shape and form my prayers explicitly. Whitney’s method will help you do that.