I began my Master of Divinity degree in 2000 before continuing on to earn a two-year MA in Biblical Exegesis and, ultimately, my PhD in Theological Studies. When it was all said and done, I’d spent about 12 years as a student in theological education. I must admit, I enjoyed being a student. The study of God’s word and theology has always come more naturally to me than prayer. It has only been in the past several years that I’ve begun to take prayer more seriously both as a topic of study and as a practice.
One of the ways I’ve chosen to practice prayer is to pray the scriptures. There are times when I find myself utterly incapable of focusing during my prayer times. For me, that is a frustrating experience. My mind tends to run in a thousand different directions, and I end up doing more thinking than praying. When I pray the scriptures, however, I find that it gives me focus and guides my prayer life in a way that praying in a more impromptu fashion simply does not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that praying the scriptures is the only way to go. Yet, at times, I have truly valued the practice and been pleased to combine my “first love” of study with my new practice of prayer.
So, how is it done? First, I would suggest picking a psalm. Psalms are prayers and praises written down by God’s people, so they lend themselves to the practice of praying the scriptures.
Second, read the psalm through several times, study it, and try to understand its general flow. There are a number of great resources on Psalms, but I would also recommend that you avoid major rabbit trails into scholarship when seeking to pray the scriptures. The point, after all, is not to write an academic paper, but to pray. So, do as much study as you need to clarify any confusing aspects of the Psalm, but don’t get distracted from actually moving toward prayer.
Third, I have found it helpful to write out my thoughts about a particular text and to think about how I might go about praying it. The act of writing keeps me honest. I tend to catch connections that might get lost and to avoid jumping from one topic to another.
Finally, spend time in prayer. After I write out the prayer, I sit back and pray through it several times. I focus on one line before moving to another. I don’t just read the prayer I’ve written. I use it to guide a full conversation with God.
Praying the scriptures is a practice I would certainly encourage, and it is a good discipline to include during a fast. To help you along, I’ve included a prayer I wrote based on the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew. I hope it will give you an idea of what praying the scriptures might look like. You can also find an additional example entitled “Praying Psalm 1” in the special Moody Center-sponsored issues of Worthwhile Theology Magazine at https://moodycenter.org/worthwhile-theology-magazine/.
Praying Matthew 6:9-13
Lord, thank you for teaching us to pray. We are grateful for your guidance and wisdom. Father, we look ahead to a time when your name will be glorified in all the earth. Your name is holy, and we desire to see a time when the world recognizes that you alone are God. We yearn to see your Kingdom come so that the pain and troubles of the world and the sin that corrupts your people and your creation is no more. We desire to see your will be done in the world and in our lives. Help us to obey you and to order our lives according to your wisdom as we look ahead to the time when the heavens and the earth will follow after you.
Father, we thank you for your provision. Each day, you bless us with what we need. Help us, Lord, not to depend on the abundance you have provided. Do not let our hearts be deceived into thinking that we need more than your daily provision. Teach us to be content with your daily gifts.
Lord, we pray for forgiveness. We know that we are broken people saved through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of your son. We know that we are still plagued by sin and too often succumb to temptation. We are grateful that you are a God who forgives. As such, Lord, allow us to be a forgiving people. We know that you are sufficient, that you are our provider, and that we have no need for us to withhold forgiveness from our neighbors. We also ask that you keep temptation far from us. Our desire is to serve you and give you glory, yet we know we are weak and in need of deliverance from evil. Protect us. Be our shield. Guide us in righteous paths that we may proclaim your name faithfully to all the ends of the earth.
JAMES SPENCER, PHD is Vice President and COO of Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization based in Northfield, MA, and author of Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind. He also writes a regular blog at nextgenchristians.com.