Are you bad at praying? I’m guessing most Christians think they are. There is another question we are afraid to answer. Do you find prayer boring? I have read books on prayer that were encouraging, inspiring, but mostly convicting. I have heard sermons that reinforced in my heart how central prayer is to the life of the Christian. They often remind me that I am not very good at praying and I don’t enjoy prayer like I ought to.
Donald Whitney summarizes the common feeling of failure found in Christians when it comes to prayer, “It must be me. Something’s wrong with me. If I get bored in something as important as prayer, then I must be a second-rate Christian. (12)”
Praying the Bible is the first book on prayer I have read which puts the blame for lackluster praying not on “the pray-er”, but on “the pray-er’s method”. Can our prayer deficiencies be chalked to poor methodology? Whitney thinks so. He argues that boredom in prayer is the inevitable result when we “say the same old things about the same old things. (20)”.
What is his proposed solution to meaningless monotony in prayer? The title of the book gives away the answer. The answer is to pray through the Bible–– particularly the psalms. The meat of the book provides practical instruction and insight to help Christians pick up their Bibles and pray in a way that is new, fresh, invigorating, and biblical. This happens by reading God’s words and then using those words to launch into our personal prayers with God.
Dr. Whitney gives helpful clarification about how the process works. Praying the Bible is not a book on hermeneutics (the study of interpreting the Bible). Whitney notes the need of practicing faithful hermeneutics. He says, “The text of the Bible means what God inspired it to mean, not ‘what it means to me. (34)’” But this book is not about biblical interpretation. This book is about praying. So the author encourages the reader to pray about whatever the Scriptures brings to mind, regardless if it was the original intent of the author.
An important section of the book covers the significance of praying through the psalms. The reason for prioritizing the psalms in prayer lies in their inspiration. “The Psalms were inspired by God for the purpose of being sung to God. (45).” God understood that as sinful beings we would struggle to worship him properly. To meet that need, God gave us the psalms to lead us into right worship. The author provides a “Psalms of the day” model to follow, encouraging a systematic approach to praying through all the psalms. The idea is to skim through five psalms a day, and pray through ones that you would deem most helpful for prayer that given day. Having a systematic plan gives momentum and direction to our prayers. This keeps prayer from becoming listless and wandering. “An unordered approach tends to pour sludge into the soul. (51)” Of course, we are not limited to only the psalms. There are instructions given for praying through other portions of Scripture, including New Testament letters and narrative sections.
The self-proclaimed “most important part” of the book is a small two page chapter which calls the reader to put down the book and to pray, using this method for seven minutes.
Moving from practice to evaluation, Whitney provides ten common reactions people have when they try to pray the Scriptures:
- “My mind did not wander”
- “My prayer was more about God and less about me”
- “The time was too short!”
- “It seemed like a real conversation with a real person”
- “The Psalm spoke directly to the life situation I am in right now”
- “I thought more deeply about what the Bible says”
- “I had greater assurance that I was praying God’s will”
- “I prayed about things I normally don’t pray about”
- “I prayed about the things I normally do pray about but in new and different ways”
- “I didn’t say the same old things about the same old things”
A cursory look at these ten reactions, offers a glimpse at the many advantages of following this method of prayer.
Whitney concludes by giving some important examples of people who utilized the practice of praying the Bible. These include: hero of the faith George Mueller, the Christians in the book of Acts, and Jesus himself.
This book is truly beneficial for several reasons. First of all, it is short and accessible. It will not take long to read this book. This I count as a great strength, hoping that more Christians would pick it up without feeling intimidated–– even non-readers. Also, it is written in an accessible way for just about anyone to pick it up and benefit immediately. For a more thorough treatment on this concept and on the other spiritual disciplines, Whitney’s valuable work, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a great place to start.
Another great asset of this book is its practicality. These are not abstract principles. The method laid out is to be applied immediately. There are many helpful pointers leading the reader to start praying through the Bible right now. In reality, it is not a complicated theory. God has provided a way for his people, regardless of their setting and educational background to pray to him in an effective way.
If there is a shortcoming of the book, it would be its depth. There are some places I would have appreciated further elaboration, especially in the area of connecting our prayers from the psalms to the finished work of Jesus.
This book has potential to be a game-changer for how Christians pray. I realized through reading the book, I had occasionally, quite on accident, practiced the method detailed in the book. Anyone who tries what Dr. Whitney is prescribing will immediately see benefits to their prayer life. As a pastor, I will be encouraging the members of my church read through this work and to reap the benefits of praying God’s words. This is the cure for boredom or monotony in prayer. If you are bad at prayer, maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s your method. Try Praying the Bible
Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney, Published by Crossway can be purchased here at wtsbooks.com