‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path’ (Psalm 119:105)
Sometimes it can be hard to know how to pray. We lack the words, or structure, or we find ourselves going through the motions and praying the same old sentences unthinkingly. At times like that, Scripture is a brilliant place to turn for fresh models of prayer.
Here are a few practical suggestions of things to try this week, which will help you use Scripture as the basis for your prayers.
Praying by Yourself
The Bible is full of ready-made prayers, which you can use and adapt in your own prayer time. Not all of the prayers in Scripture will be immediately applicable, but with some work and adaptation will provide some helpful inspiration. Here are three steps to praying Scripture:
Read the passage through slowly. Don’t rush it. Take it a line at a time. You may find it helpful to underline key words, or repeated phrases that help you understand what the passage is saying. If you don’t want to scrawl all over your Bible, why not print out a copy that you’re happy to write on.
Before you can pray a passage, you need to understand it. Reading Study Bible notes or a commentary will help you understand any difficult words or concepts, and give insights into the context in which the passage was written. Ask questions about the passage: what kind of passage is it? Is it literal, or poetic? What circumstances was the writer facing and how do they differ to yours?
Sometimes the Bible uses words as shorthand, which you may want to expand upon. When you come across terms like redeemer, father, light, deliverer, shield, holy, etc., you could look up how the Bible uses them, and use other passages to expand your understanding of the words. Reading the passage in a different translation, such as The Message, may help you understand it in a fresh way.
Many prayers of the Old Testament are ‘incomplete’ in the sense that they predate the coming of Jesus. Often the Psalms raise questions that don’t get answered until the events of Easter. So as you reflect, ask yourself whether the life, death and resurrection of Jesus changes or sheds light on any of the details of the prayer.
Once you feel you’ve understood the passage, you can recite it as a prayer of your own. You may want to change some of the words to help them fit your context, or expand upon some of the themes, drawing in other passages as you pray.
As well as praying out loud, you may want to write down these prayers, so you can come back to them on other occasions.
Praying the Psalms
The Psalms are brilliant models for prayer. They are rich and poetic, and provide model prayers for every season of life. And the Psalms are best understood when they are prayed. As N.T. Wright puts it:
‘The psalms offer us a way of joining in a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures… Sing these songs, and they will renew you from head to toe, from heart to mind. Pray these poems, and they will sustain you on the long, hard, but exhilarating road of Christian discipleship.’ (N.T. Wright, Finding God in the Psalms – p6, 35)
The Psalms are diverse and sometimes difficult, so you may want some help understanding them. Why not check out the talks from our Songs in the Key of Life series.
N.T. Wright’s Finding God in the Psalms gives some helpful guidance on how we can use the Psalms in prayer and worship. And Tim Keller’s My Rock, My Refuge is a brilliant devotional book, with a year’s worth of reflections and prayers based in the Psalms.
Praying the Prayers
As well as Psalms, Scripture is also full of prayers. Why not look at some of the prayers recorded in the Bible and use them to shape your own. As well as the prayers of Jesus, which we are looking at in our current sermon series The Lord’s Prayers, there are plenty of prayers recorded in the epistles. D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul is a great book, full of lessons from the way Paul prays for the churches he oversaw.
Praying with Others
Many of the prayers and psalms in Scripture were not designed to be prayed alone. Most of the personal pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer and Paul’s prayers are plural, indicating that they were intended to be prayed by groups of people.
So why not use some of these prayers as you pray in your Connect Groups, with housemates, or with other Christians in your workplace?
You may want to take some of the prayers that Paul prayed for believers, and pray them over each other. For example, try 1 Thess 3:9-13; Phil 1:9-11; Eph 1:15-23; Eph 3:16-19; Colossians 1:9-12. As above, take time before praying to reflect on the prayers and expand them, adapting the words to make them specific to the person you’re praying for.
Praying with Children
This week the children continued looking at the Lord’s Prayer, considering the phrase ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ We talked about the difference between things we want and things we need and encouraged the children to pray for their needs not their greeds. You can download the take home sheet to find out what they covered.
This week, as you pray together, why not try to teach your children to be thankful, whatever circumstances they find themselves in. You may want to pray together from Philippians 4:12-13:
What it is
To be full
To have too much
Or too little.
Christ gives me
To face anything.