In my recent class on the Psalms, we made a practice of praying the Psalms together at the beginning of each class session. The following is an excerpt from my lecture notes for that class where I introduce the concept of praying the words of Scripture.
Don Whitney has recently written a book titled Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015) which compiles a lot of the things he’s learned about praying using Scripture over several years of thinking and teaching about this topic.
I haven’t seen the book itself—I’m sure it’s helpful, but I also think that I may not need the book itself to grow in my own prayer life. Fortunately for us, Crossway has released a number of helpful, free online resources to promote the book. I’ve listed some of these resources at the end of this post in the “For Further Study” section. In this interview below, Don Whitney shares a number of ideas about praying the Bible:
HT: Justin Taylor
In an excerpt from the book available online, Whitney makes a helpful observation about how we can use the text of Scripture in our prayers. He sees a distinction between studying the Bible, where the primary goal is to understand the meaning of the text, and praying the Bible, where we use the text of Scripture to speak about the normal things of daily life. There are some practical benefits to this way of thinking, as he explains below:
Let me use a ridiculous illustration to make the point. Suppose you are praying through Psalm 130, and you come to verse 3: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” And when you see that verb “mark,” your friend Mark comes to mind. What should you do? Pray for Mark! You know that verse is not about Mark, but it’s certainly not wrong to pray for Mark just because he popped into your head as you were reading Psalm 130:3.
Here’s a more realistic illustration. Let’s turn to Psalm 23:3. “He restores my soul.” One of the things this verse might prompt you to pray for is the salvation of a person with whom you are trying to share the gospel, to pray that God would restore that person’s soul from darkness to light, from death to life. If I were to preach on Psalm 23 and say, “This verse is about evangelism; about God restoring the souls of those in spiritual darkness,” I would be sinning. That verse is not about evangelism, and I know it. It’s about a believer’s soul being restored to the joy of God’s salvation. Were I to declare to others that God’s Word here means one thing when I know it means another would be, at best, to misuse the text. We never have the right to claim that the Bible says something it does not.
But if, while you are praying through Psalm 23:3, your non-Christian friend comes to mind, and you use the language of this verse—“Lord restore my friend’s soul; restore him from darkness to light, from death to life”—that’s fine. This isn’t reading something into the text; it’s merely using the language of the text to speak to God about what has come into your mind.
So, again, simply turn every thought Godward as you read the passage. At some points you will pray exactly what the text is about, as when you pray, “Lord, restore my soul to the joy of your salvation.” At other times you will use biblical language to pray thoughts unrelated to the text that come to you while reading the text, as in, “Lord restore my non-Christian friend’s soul from death to life.”
For Further Study
- You can download an excerpt from the Praying the Bible book here (with permission from the publisher).
- A few different versions of the “Psalms of the Day” list:
- You can sign up for a five day email course on praying the Bible from Don Whitney (or just view all five videos here).
- Blog post, “Praying the Bible vs. Interpreting the Bible”.
- Written interview with Don Whitney in SBTS Towers magazine.
Header image copyright Mathieu Jarry, some rights reserved.