Praying the Bible

If you had to rate the quality of your prayer life on a scale from 0-10, with 0 being "my prayer life is non-existent" and 10 being "my prayer life is as powerful as Jesus' prayer life", what would it be?

Armando Alemdar Ara,  Transfiguration of Jesus , 2004.

Armando Alemdar Ara, Transfiguration of Jesus, 2004.

I talk to people just about every week in our church who are at a 5 or below. So if that's where you are, you're not alone. But what if you could immediately raise that quality to at least a 7? I'm convinced you can do so, simply by starting to pray the Bible every day.

Here's how:

  • Start today. I know you're busy. I know your schedule is already overloaded. But no more excuses. If you can't make time today, you're not likely to make time tomorrow or the next day.
  • Create unhurried, uninterrupted time. Put away your phone. Hide from your family or job. You want time to breathe, to think, to listen, to pray, to let your heart realize it's in God's presence. There's no exact right length of time. A minute or two is good, but probably not nearly as much as you need. Try for 20 or 30 minutes if you can—it'll be worth it.
  • Pick the passage you're going to pray through. More thoughts on how to do this below.
  • Read the passage a verse at a time. (Depending on the genre, it might be a phrase at a time, a verse at a time, or a sentence at a time. I say "verse" for simplicity, but you get the point.)
  • After each verse, pause and pray that verse back to God by putting it in your own words.
    • Some verses are very straightforward. If I'm praying through Psalm 136 where it says "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good" I say something like "Thank you LORD. You are so good." And then I might elaborate a few ways where I've recently seen His goodness.
    • Other verses might not make sense for you to pray exactly as they're written—so tweak it to make it work. For example, if I'm praying Psalm 63 where it says "earnestly I seek you", I confess and say something like "God, I want to seek you. I'm trying to seek you. But I'm not sure how earnest or regular I've been in that. Sometimes I don't even know how to seek you. This prayer right now is an attempt to seek you, so would you help me? I'm often distracted. I feel far from you and honestly don't feel much of anything at all this week. I need you."
    • Pray anything else that the verse brings to mind in the moment.
    • Go slow. There's no rush. You don't have to complete the whole passage today. There's no right number of verses or chapters to do in a day.
  • Whenever you've prayed what you have to pray for the verse, go to the next. Read it. Rephrase it, and pray it back to God.
  • When your protected, unhurried time is up, you're done! Come back and do the same thing tomorrow and the next day.
  • Every couple of hours throughout the day, think about what you prayed through. Pray again. Ask again. Worship again. Let that chunk of time you fought to protect infuse the rest of your day with an awareness of God's nearness and presence.

So that's it. Pick a passage. Read a verse at a time. Rephrase that verse in your own words, and use it to prompt a prayer from you to God. Then go to the next verse and do the same thing.

You'll read. You'll pray. You'll speak to God. And He'll speak to you. The Bible will start to read you. And your spiritual life will start to look a whole lot more like Jesus'.

If you're having trouble, here are a few other pointers. Take them or leave them, but they help me:

  • It's ok if your first try doesn't feel miraculous. Our numbness means we don't always feel what we're supposed to, even when everything else is done just right.
  • Try doing this every day for two weeks straight. Your first day might be rough, just like your first day at the gym might. But you'll be shocked at the transformation you can see even in just a couple of weeks.
  • Do it out loud. Read the passage out loud. Pray out loud. Sometimes I fully speak; other times I mutter under my breath. But for some reason talking to God like I talk to everyone else, with an actual voice, makes me more aware of His reality and presence. This isn't just wishful thinking. It's me and God talking. I'm in the presence of the living God, having a conversation.
  • Pray through the same passage several days in a row. Doing the same passage every day for a week will help you internalize it. You may not know it word for word, but you'll know it. And your heart will know it, which means it'll start to work on you, changing you into who God wants you to be.
  • Reach out. If you're giving this a sincere try and getting nowhere, tell someone. Tell a member of your hub group. Or grab a pastor on Sunday. We're in this together.

Finally, you can pray through any passage. But here are a few I might start with.

  • Psalms:
    • Psalm 63: in need of worship
    • Psalm 46: in need of trust
    • Psalm 51: in need of forgiveness
    • Psalm 32: in need of confession
    • Psalm 16: in need of joy
    • Psalm 145: to remember what God does
    • Psalm 136: in need of thanksgiving
    • Psalm 13: in doubt
    • Psalm 22: to remember Jesus' cross
  • New Testament:
    • Hymns to Jesus:
      • Colossians 1:15-23
      • Philippians 2:1-11
      • Hebrews 1:1-14
      • John 1:1-18
      • Revelation 4-5
    • Prayers of Jesus and Paul:
      • John 17:1-26
      • Matthew 6:9-15
      • Ephesians 1:15-23
      • Ephesians 3:14-21
      • Philippians 1:3-11
      • Colossians 1:3-14
    • Other poetic fragments:
      • Matthew 5:3-11
      • Romans 11:33-36
      • Jude 1:24-25
      • 1 Timothy 1:17, 6:15-16
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