Book Review: Praying the Bible

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This review is long overdue. But I like to share what I learned from it. I got this for free from Crossway. The book is Donald Whitney’s Praying the Bible. ‌This book has been used by God for two months now to improve my prayer life practically. I taught parts of this to our church and it’s encouraging to see other brethren benefit from it as well. Truly, this short book can help the church to pray like Jesus Christ. 

Here’s the teaching that I draw from the book. 

Teaching: Praying through the Psalms is a practical and simple way to have a meaningful and satisfying prayer. 

Here’s my outline of the book: The problem, solution, method (chapters 1-3), & benefits. 

THE PROBLEM 

“If I try to pray for people or events without having the word in front of me guiding my prayers, then several negative things happen. One is that I tend to be very repetitive. . . . I just pray the same things all the time. Another negative thing is that my mind tends to wander.”

~ John Piper 

Have you experienced the same thing? 

Since prayer is talking with God, why don’t people pray more? Why don’t the people of God enjoy prayer more? I maintain that people—truly born-again, genuinely Christian people—often do not pray simply because they do not feel like it. And the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things. 

Something Must Be Wrong with Me –  

…our experience says, “But when I pray, frankly, it’s boring.” And when prayer is boring, we don’t feel like praying. And when we don’t feel like praying, it’s hard to make ourselves pray. Even five or six minutes of prayer can feel like an eternity. Our mind wanders half the time. We’ll suddenly come to ourselves and think, “Now where was I? I haven’t been thinking of God for the last several minutes.” And we’ll return to that mental script we’ve repeated countless times. But almost immediately our minds begin to wander again because we’ve said the same old things about the same old things so many times. 

 “It must be me,” we conclude. “Prayer isn’t supposed to be like this. I guess I’m just a second-rate Christian.” “It must be me. Something’s wrong with me. I must be just a second-rate Christian.” “Then stop it! Quit praying. Why do this to yourself? If prayer is so boring and leaves you so frustrated and disheartened, then don’t pray anymore.” 

Praying about “the Same Old Things” Is Normal 

Saying “the Same Old Things” Is Boring – “Prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning.” “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matt. 6:7). 

The tragedy is that too often that’s the way it is with our own prayers. We believe in prayer, and the Spirit of God prompts us to pray, but because we always say the same old things about the same old things, it can seem as though all we do in prayer is simply “heap up empty phrases.” 

We should pray when we are in a praying mood, for it would be sinful to neglect so fair an opportunity. We should pray when we are not in a proper mood, for it would be dangerous to remain in so unhealthy a condition.” 

~ Spurgeon  

And he’s right. We should pray when we feel like praying and pray when we don’t feel like praying. But the reality, as I’ve argued throughout this book, is that most of the time when we go to prayer, we don’t feel like praying. 

THE SOLUTION  

Nothing has brought more vigor, satisfaction, and consistency to my own prayers as this single discipline. 

– T. M. Moore 

Every Christian Can Have a Meaningful, Satisfying Prayer Life 

For if you with all your Christian resources—presumably a Bible, a church family, the availability of Christian books, access to Christian teaching via radio and the Internet, and more—if you can’t have a fulfilling prayer life in spite of all these helps, then what hope is there for our brothers and sisters in isolated locations, lands where non-Christian religions dominate, or places of persecution where few, if any, of these Christian resources are available? 

Despite his love for his people, a love demonstrated by the incarnation and crucifixion of his Son for them, a love made evident by providing the Holy Spirit and the Bible and the church, would he then devise a means of communion between himself and his children that most would find to be a frustrating, boring monotony? 

The Simple, Permanent, Biblical Solution 

So what is the simple solution to the boring routine of saying the same old things about the same old things? Here it is: when you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm. The best place, however, for learning to pray through a passage of Scripture is in the book of Psalms. 

The Psalms: they are designed to be prayed. – Gordon Wenham 

THE METHOD 

Why the Psalms?  (Eph. 5:18–19 and Col. 3:16) If singing psalms benefits our soul, how much more when we pray through these?  

Acts 4:23-26 – In some translations, the last half of verse 24 is punctuated to indicate that it is a quotation, for many scholars believe that these words were taken from Psalm 146:6. 

What does it look like? Here’s an example from Whitney’s book:

Psalm 23. You read the first verse—“The LORD is my shepherd”—and you pray something like this: 

Lord, I thank you that you are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, great Shepherd, please shepherd my family today: guard them against the ways of the world; guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil. O, Great Shepherd, I pray for my children; cause them to be your sheep. May they love you as their shepherd, as I do. And, Lord, please shepherd me in the decision that’s before me about my future. Do I make that move, that change, or not? I also pray for our under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us. 

And you continue praying for anything else that comes to mind as you consider the words, “The LORD is my shepherd.” Then when nothing else comes to mind, you go to the next line: “I shall not want.” And perhaps you pray: 

Lord, I thank you that I’ve never really been in want. I haven’t missed too many meals. All that I am and all that I have has come from you. But I know it pleases you that I bring my desires to you, so would you provide the finances that we need for those bills, for school, for that car? 

What’s the best thing about it? 

You can continue praying in this way until either (1) you run out of time, or (2) you run out of psalm. And if you run out of psalm before you run out of time, you simply turn the page and go to another psalm. By so doing, you never run out of anything to say, and, best of all, you never again say the same old things about the same old things. 

So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers. 

Open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into a prayer. 

– John Piper 

THE BENEFITS

  1. It avoids wandering minds- It’s much easier to remain focused in prayer when you pray your way through a passage. With the text to hold your attention and guide you in prayer, your thoughts are less likely to dissolve into the almost mindless repetition of the same old things about the same old things. 
  2. It makes our prayer more about God – Praying through a passage of Scripture—especially a psalm—tends to be a more God-centered way of praying. People report that they find themselves praising God more than usual. Instead of prayer being mostly a time of saying, in effect, “Lord, here I am again with my usual list of the things I want you to do for me,” it becomes more about God—his attributes, his ways, and his will. And more God-centered prayer is a good thing, isn’t it? 
    • The good news is that you don’t have to come up with new ways to adore the Lord. The Lord has given us 150 chapters of divinely inspired praises (that is, the Psalms) for us to use in adoration.   
  3. It leads to a longer time with the LORD – I get excited when I hear this comment, and so do the pastors who hear their people say such things after the exercise. “That was seven minutes?” people will ask. “It felt like two or three!” Some will admit, “I’m ashamed to say it, but I can’t remember the last time I prayed for seven full minutes. And yet I could have kept going a lot longer.” “Some people wonder how you can pray longer than five minutes,” says John Piper, “because they would lose things to pray for. But I say that if you open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into a prayer, then you can pray all day that way.” 
  4. It makes our prayer a conversion with a real person – That’s what prayer is, remember? Prayer is talking with a person, the person of God himself. So prayer shouldn’t be considered a one-way conversation. And yet, somehow, many people assume that when they meet with God, they must do all the talking. When we pray the Bible, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with God. 
  5. It speaks directly to our present life situation – If you will quickly scan five psalms, it is indeed amazing how often at least one of them applies to the major concern of your life at the moment. The psalms were written by men of flesh and blood who were also men of God. They experienced real struggles and hard trials, just as we do. You don’t have to read very far before you find their words becoming your words and their hearts expressing your heart. 
  6. It promotes deep thought about God’s message – it is also a method of meditation on Scripture. You read the verse, think about it for a moment, talk to God about it, then perhaps you look at it again and go through the process once more. By so doing, you are not only praying the Bible; you are absorbing it. 
  7. It gives assurance that we are praying God’s will – what better way to discern God’s will and to conform our prayers to God’s will than to pray God’s Word? 
  8. It enables us to pray things we don’t normally pray – God’s mind and God’s Word are so much broader than our own perspective, and he will prompt you through the Bible to pray with awareness for things far beyond the same old things. 
  9. It allows us to pray old things differently. Here’s an example of how a simple prayer “Lord, please bless us today” is more meaningful with Psalm 23.
  • Psalm 23 – “Lord, please shepherd us today.”  
  • Psalm 139, “Lord, we acknowledge your presence here in our house today; you are the all-seeing God, and we ask you that we may have a greater awareness of your presence.” 
  • It’s basically the same prayer (“please bless us today”) on each occasion, and yet, because that prayer is prayed through a different psalm every day, it’s a different prayer in every class. 

Application: How is your prayer life? What practical methods are you applying to help you grow in prayer?  

The Psalms are given us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ. 

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

To God be the glory!

Reference: Whitney, D. S. (2015). Praying the Bible. Crossway.

This article was published by Jeff Chavez for Herald of Grace Covenant Bible Church of Cavite.

Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez is a servant of the LORD Jesus Christ, husband of Gloryben, and father of Myrhh Abigail. One of the preachers and teachers at Herald of Grace Covenant Bible Church of Cavite.
Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez is a servant of the LORD Jesus Christ, husband of Gloryben, and father of Myrhh Abigail. One of the preachers and teachers at Herald of Grace Covenant Bible Church of Cavite.

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