“Look, prayer is spilling your guts. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be tidy. It doesn’t have to be particularly eloquent or even particularly intelligent. But the Bible is how God speaks to us and prayer is how we speak to God. These two rhythms form the dynamic of our friendship with the God of the universe. You can’t be good friends with someone you don’t listen to, and you can’t be good friends with someone you don’t talk to. So we go about our personal devotions by studying the Bible to hear what God would say to us and then praying to God that he would forgive us for our hard-heartedness against his Word and empower us to understand it better and make it resonate more deeply in our hearts. Spilling our guts in prayer is how we process God’s words to us. Prayer is how we interact with our friend Jesus.” Jared Wilson
“Perhaps all the good that ever has come here has come because people prayed it into the world.” Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Few topics bring on the steady rise of low-grade Christian guilt like prayer (at least we’re not talking about tithing, right?!). If prayer is such a normal part of the Christian life, and something most Christians do on a regular basis, why do we get that deer in headlights feeling when taught or talked about? Why do we brace ourselves in a defensive stance for why we can’t or don’t pray more?
Prayer shouldn’t be another weight on the spiritual shoulders. I don’t, and you probably shouldn’t, attempt changing our prayer life with grandiose visions of it making a 180-degree turn overnight so you suddenly rise with the birds every morning to pray. A good baby step for us might simply be changing our perspective on prayer and trying a couple of “new things” so that it’s more simple, more natural, and more enjoyable.
Most of us aren’t happy with the frequency and depth of our prayers. Prayer can be a hard thing, which usually results in us neglecting it or doing just enough to feel like we performed our Christian duty. And yet, I would bet that many of you have also had sweet times of prayer. This is the paradox of prayer. We might have experienced God’s nearness in prayer. We know it’s important. We’ve seen God work through it and we desire to grow in it. But at the same time, it feels difficult, we’re unsure how to move forward in it, and we settle for tacking it on to our routines. Why is there such a gulf between our experience of prayer and what we want for our prayer life? While we won’t bridge the divide completely, the goal of this study is to help us inch forward in our prayer life. This happens less by learning about prayer and more by praying, but taking time to learn about prayer can be the thing that motivates us to get started.
There’s much that can be said about prayer, but one way I think we can grow in it is by praying Scripture. This one simple thing could revive many of our prayers and help what’s often a mundane thing become a meaningful thing. By praying Scripture, I don’t mean simply closing your eyes and reciting Scripture word for word as your prayer—though one could certainly do this—but instead, I mean letting Scripture structure, guide, inform, and motivate your praying. Consider the following benefits of praying Scripture.
- Praying the Bible lessens the pressure of figuring out what to pray about.
- Praying the Bible helps our prayers not become repetitive or monotonous.
- Praying the Bible leads us to pray God’s will rather than trying to twist his arm.
- Praying the Bible tilts our prayers towards being God-centered rather than self-centered.
- Praying the Bible clears out some of the uncertainty by teaching us what to pray for.
- Praying the Bible seals Bible reading and meditation in our hearts.
- Praying the Bible disarms our fears about using right or wrong words.
- Praying the Bible allows us to pray through the various emotions and circumstances of life, since the Bible includes a spectrum of emotions and responses (lament, joy, grief, indignation at sin, hopefulness, need, etc.).
Biblical meditation and prayer are inseparable. As we slow down and read the Bible with “unhurried delight” we allow God to speak to us, and we then talk back and commune with him by responding in prayer. “Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace.” To meditate on God’s Word but not pray is muting the phone from our end, but to pray without meditation is to have a one-way conversation where God’s voice has been silenced. Prayer without meditation tends to sound less like a conversation and more like venting.
Decide now that all the shadowy figures of guilt, legalism, and frustration that tend to follow you when prayer comes up will not cause you to run away this time. Set a goal of taking one baby-step in praying Scripture. I’m not wanting to throw you in the deep-end and say, “swim,” but I’m simply standing in the shallow end inviting you to start by dipping your toe in the water. Hopefully, the warm, refreshing waters will invite you to then wade in, and just maybe, eventually you’ll find yourself diving in headfirst without hesitation.
Practice praying, don’t just read and talk about it. Even now, let the reminders of the amazing privileges we have in prayer change your posture away from dread and towards delight. The Father bends his ear to us, soaring in delight as his children open their hearts up to him. The Holy Spirit comes alongside of you and takes your weak prayers—even your words and groans groping for words—and he intercedes for you so that your prayers are heard. Jesus Christ, our sympathetic high priest, knows and understands our struggles because he’s walked in our shoes (Heb. 4:14). He invites us to pray and approach the Father through him. Rather than letting your weakness and weariness discourage you from praying, take these moments as opportunities to go to God and open your soul to him. You might find that these moments of going to God in prayer when you feel weak, empty, alone, pained, or worn-out end up being the moments where your heart is knit to God in a powerful way. Listen to God in the Word, and talk to God in prayer. It’s as simple as that.
For recommended resources, see this related blog. Both of these posts connect to a group-oriented Spiritual Disciplines Guide I wrote for College Park Church.
 Tim Keller, Prayer (New York: Dutton, 2014), 48.