Monday, January 18, 2016

Talking with God, not talking to God

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who was satisfied with their prayer life. It’s one of those things we know we’re supposed to do, but we find it difficult to set apart the time to do it. Then, when we make time to pray, we find it kind of boring. I’ve never been able to pray for more than a few minutes before I start to run out of things to say.

Donald Whitney, author of the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, has a new book out called Praying the Bible. I asked the publisher for a review copy because I know that I’ve struggled with prayer, and I was hopeful Whitney would point me in a direction I hadn’t considered before. I’m happy I did.

Whitney recognizes prayer is a challenge for most people. He also recognizes that the problem cannot be solved simply by encouraging people to do better. We get a lot of encouragement to do better, but for most of us, it doesn’t have any long-term effect.  Whitney proposes the problem lies in our method. Prayer becomes boring because we keep saying the same old things about the same old things.

The solution, Whitney proposes, is to pray the Bible. The method is simple: pick a passage of Scripture (preferably the Psalms or a New Testament epistle), read a verse, and let that verse serve as inspiration for your prayer. The point is not to interpret the verse (although prolonged exposure to Scripture helps our interpretation). The point is to hear God’s word and respond to it. In this way prayer becomes a two-way conversation, with God speaking to you through his word, and you responding to him. When the Bible says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” you might praise him, ask him to bring your unsaved friends and family members into fellowship with him so they can praise him too, confess that you’ve been praising yourself out of pride, etcetera. Once your mind starts to wander or you run out of things to say, you continue on to the next verse and pray about that.

At one point in the book Whitney challenges readers to set a timer and pray for seven minutes. I did it. When the timer buzzed, I was amazed that the time had gone by so quickly. My wife tried it without even reading the book and commented that her mind didn’t wander.

Other methods may similarly work well, but this one has a lot to commend it. For one, the whole experience is centered on Scripture, and Scripture tells us who God is and what he is like. By praying Scripture, we are immersed in God’s thoughts, which shapes the way we pray and the things we pray for. It also makes the experience feel more like talking with God rather than talking to God.

You could probably pick up the method just from my description of it here, but the book will give you a more thorough treatment and actually walk you through the method. I highly recommend it.

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