Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

Praying-the-BibleHaving read the book Praying the BibleΒ earlier this month, and having attended a conference last weekend at my church on the subject led by the book’s author, Dr. Don Whitney, and having practiced this method of Bible meditation and prayer since the beginning of the year, I’m eager to share this post which will be more than just a book review. It will be a personal testimony as well.

First, some background…

There are a number of spiritual disciplines which Christians encourage in the practice of their faith. (Dr. Whitney has a book on that subject as well.) Prayer and Bible study are among the most practiced and encouraged. While no day goes by without me engaging in some degree of prayer and Bible study, I sensed in 2015 that of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer was where I was most lacking. I prayed daily, but I knew I needed more both in quality and quantity.

When my church in Louisville, Kentucky – Walnut Street Baptist Church – announced late in 2015 that Dr. Whitney would be leading a weekend conference on praying the Bible at our church in mid January, I was immediately interested. It was also good timing because I finished my latest reading of the Bible and was interested in choosing a different method for my next reading of it. So I purchased Dr. Whitney’s book and read it over a couple of evenings at the beginning of the year and immediately put its teachings into practice. Two weeks later was the conference led by Dr. Whitney which greatly reinforced the teaching and provided a shared experience with many others on the practice.

Dr. Don Whitney is a Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. He travels nearly every weekend speaking and holding conferences on praying the bible, scripture meditation and biblical spirituality. He is a godly man, a great communicator, and a person whose obvious passion is for the people of God to more closely experience God in their daily lives. His writing and teaching clearly demonstrate that passion.

The bookΒ Praying the BibleΒ is a small, 106-page book easily digested in a few hours. The concept is simple, but the impact of practicing what it teaches is quite profound.

Dr. Whitney begins the book by stating the problem many Christians have with prayer – that they don’t enjoy prayer as much as they wish they did, and that this leads to not praying as much as they think they should or as they really wish they would. Numerous times in the book and during the conference he reiterated that we tend to pray the same old things about the same old things, so we get bored and we just don’t choose to spend much time doing what we think is going to bore us.

Assuming, though, that the person really does have the Spirit of God living inside, Dr. Whitney proposes that the problem may not be the person, but the method of prayer that is boring and unsatisfying, and that a different method – praying the Bible – can be a solution to the problem. The problem isn’t so much that we pray about the same old things because our lives are made up of pretty much the same old concerns from one year to the next. The problem is more in our pattern of how and what we pray about those same old things that bores us.

If there is to be a solution to this problem, Dr. Whitney explains that it must be very simple because it must work for all Christians of all cultures and backgrounds worldwide. What is the solution? “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm” (p. 27). How do you do that? Simply go through a Scripture passage line by line and stop whenever a word or phrase stands out or a thought comes to mind that you can turn into a prayer to God. Take God’s word and turn it back to Him as a prayer. When you’ve prayed all that comes to mind about a line or verse or passage, read some more and then stop to pray again whenever a thought comes to mind that can be expressed to God as a prayer. Keep doing that until you run out of Biblical text or out of time.

The purpose of praying the Bible is not to study the Bible and intake its meaning as intended for the original hearers or readers. The purpose is not to concentrate on biblical interpretation. This practice is intended to focus on prayer, but uses God’s Word as the starting point to keep us focused on what God has already said to us. It enables us to keep from going off on tangents that surely all of us have done many times praying. It provides a biblical vocabulary and basis for what God’s Spirit will then bring to mind for us to pray back to Him. It doesn’t matter how many verses or passages you get through in a session. You just keep going until you run out of passage or you run out of time. Then you stop.

It is a remarkably simple and profound process.

Dr. Whitney highly encourages praying through one psalm daily and he provides a simple method of determining which psalm that should be in a way that exposes you over time to all 150 of the psalms. You can read a recent article he wrote on five benefits of praying the psalms here. The psalms are especially suited to use in prayers, but all of Scripture can be used this way because it is all God’s Word that can be turned Godward in prayer by any of His children anytime. In fact, I’m going through the latest edition of the Reformation Study Bible using this method and simply started at the beginning of Genesis with a goal of averaging one chapter per day praying my way through the whole Bible. It’s January 23 and I’m on Genesis 23. At this rate it will take me about 3.5 years to work my way through, but that’s OK. My desire is for the experience and not to force a condensed time frame on the experience as I have in previous annual or biennial readings that were focused more on learning the Bible.

Dr. Whitney’s book contains plenty of samples of what one might pray while reading various passages of Scripture – both from the psalms and from other types of Scripture. The chapter called “The Most Important Part of This Book” forces the reader to stop and actually do it rather than just keep reading (as much as a book can force someone to do anything). This was the practice in the conference as well when Dr. Whitney pleaded with us to be present for the first 10 minutes after a break because it would be the most important part of the conference. It was during this time that we paused to choose a psalm and privately pray through it. Our shared experience in the conference mimicked the testimonies discussed in the book. Dr. Whitney could have told us what our many reactions would be before we practiced it at the conference because he hears the same reactions everywhere he teaches the method. He shares these common reactions in the book.

One of the key takeaways from the book, the conference, and the experience of praying the Bible the past few weeks is stated succinctly in the book when it says “if you have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you have all the equipment necessary to profit satisfyingly from the Word of God and to experience a meaningful prayer life” (pp. 72-73).

The book contains other informative teachings about people who have prayed the Bible with tremendous spiritual results and even explains how Jesus must have prayed the Bible. It gives suggestions for praying the Bible with a group as well as alone.

In my personal practice of this discipline since the first of the year, I have learned and experienced several things:

  • I find myself praying about so many more topics, situations and concerns than ever would have made it to a prayer list I would otherwise go by in praying.
  • Some passages require a lot of time in prayer, meaning I may only pray through a partial chapter in a full hour, while other times a narrative story may not provoke many prayers at all and I’ll keep reading perhaps through multiple chapters in an hour.
  • The void I felt in 2015 regarding my prayer life has vanished. This is a wonderfully satisfying time of communion and conversation with God daily.
  • I still want to pray about the same old things and it’s OK to do so because they are the concerns of my heart and my loving God cares about them.
  • Remembering my usual prayer concerns through a fresh method that is never the same from one day to the next is exciting and different and satisfies meΒ far more than my previous habit of “saying the same old things about the same old things.”

I guess I’ve read through the Bible 30+ times in my life, but I’ve never prayed through it until now. This may be the most meaningful pass through God’s Word of my life to date. I am eager to continue the practice and to cherish those times daily of communication back and forth with God. He is talking to me through His Word and I am turning those words back to Him in prayers of the heart. What could be more meaningful?

If you have never read Whitney’s short, little bookΒ Praying the Bible, I plead with you to do so. You can finish it in an evening. Then practice what it says. You may just discover that your prayer life has elevated to a deeper, more meaningful level that you ever imagined.

While you’re at it, check out Whitney’s website and follow him on Twitter. If you have the chance, attend his conference or take his seminary class on the subject. This is the kind of teaching where afterward you’ll wonder “How is it that I’ve been a Christian ___ years and this is the first time I’m hearing of this?”

May God bless you in your path of following and daily communicating with Him in prayer.

LentIf any of you want to give up something for Lent, by all means go ahead and do so. I won’t think less or more of you for observing the practice. And I highly suspect few if any of you reading this really care whether I give up anything for Lent or not. That’s fine, too. Still, I’m going to explain why I won’t be doing anything different for the 40-day period know as Lent.

First, for those unfamiliar with the tradition, Lent is the period in the Christian liturgical calendar which commemorates Jesus’ 40-day period in the wilderness when he fasted and was tempted by Satan. Some church traditions (although not all and usually not churches in my Southern Baptist tradition) celebrate Lent by having individuals give up something or spend more time in prayer and fasting or performing good works for others in ways not normally a part of the person’s daily life. What is sacrificed for Lent runs the gamut if my Facebook news feed is any indication – caffeine, meat, chocolate, coffee, soft drinks, even Facebook or the Internet. Some churches have Ash Wednesday services to begin the observance, and participants in those services may leave with a cross of ashes on their foreheads.

I have nothing against liturgical calendars or centuries-old traditions. I value fasting (but rarely do it) and prayer (which I do throughout every day) and doing good works for the benefit of others (which I hope I do often, though probably not often enough). I don’t care, however, for the thought of walking around with a cross of ashes on my forehead because it seems like a giant “look at me” sign that would make me too self-conscious, but if others choose to do so and their motives are pure, then more power to them.

I haven’t felt the need to sacrifice anything for this 40-day Lenten period.Β Why? A few thoughts come to mind:

  • First, if giving up “X” brings you closer to God for 40 days, then you probably ought to give it up permanently. If caffeine or chocolate or Facebook or anything else seems to come between you and God the other 325 days of the year, then why would you not give it up permanently instead of just for 40 days? The Christian life of sanctification – growing in holiness – is one of perpetual growth this side of heaven, and doing something for such a short term that presumably helps your walk with God seems antithetical to a desire for continuous growth. “Well, God, I’m going to draw close to you for these 40 days, but after that you’ll just have to wait until Ash Wednesday next year to get my serious attention.” Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? And if you believe as I do that we don’t impress or earn favor with God by mere acts of temporary sacrifice, then a change in behavior for only 40 days doesn’t have much lasting effect personally or eternally.
  • Second, I don’t need to re-live an annual liturgical calendar to experience my faith. Christianity at its heart is a personal relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is a relationship that defines who one is every moment of his/her life. It is the basis for how I see and interpret and respond to the world around me. It is who I am at the core of my very being even though I fail to live up to the example of my Lord (see previous point on sanctification). If my faith was aboutΒ religion – external things I do related to what I believe – then observing Lent would make more sense (maybe), but if my faith is about aΒ relationship with the living Lord, then it’s primarily about the heart and an ongoing surrender to the lordship of Christ which plays out in a changed life. That is of far greater significance than can ever be expressed by doing without something I enjoy for 40 days, and it is something that needs to happen every day of the year.
  • Lastly, I know how the story ends. I know that Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. I know He was crucified, dead and buried. I know He was raised from the dead and reigns forever and will come again one day to bring judgment to all the earth and to usher in His eternal kingdom. And I know I’m one of His children who will be with Him in that kingdom. I don’t need to mourn because He has saved me. I don’t need to temporarily sacrifice because the ultimate sacrifice has already been made by Him on my behalf. I choose not to re-live the part of history or church calendars pretending the end is unknown because His word declares His victory as accomplished and available to be shared by all who repent of their sins and surrender their lives to Him. I can rejoice and enjoy all that He provides in this life because, as one song says, “We win, we win, hallelujah we win; I’ve looked at the back of The Book and we win!”

Yes, there are times when I hide away for a few days in a quiet place for extended times of prayer, study and reflection. Yes, I am all for living life simply as evidenced by one of my goals for 2015 to end the year withΒ less than I started it with in terms of material possessions. Yes, I support the practice of fasting if one chooses to do so to spend more time in prayer and communing with God. But this Lenten season I’ll just continue the path that is for me an unending one of daily spending time in His word, in praying throughout the day as a way of life talking with the One who is closer than a brother to me, and in pursuit of a life of obedience and growth that won’t end this side of heaven – certainly not in 40 days.

The point of this post is not to criticize those who treat Lent differently than I do. You have my respect and support if it draws you closer to God. My point is to promote the idea of celebrating life in Christ and continually growing in relationship and obedience to Him regardless of the season. I choose to focus on the victory already won and the grace given through that victory.

May this be a meaningful Lenten season for you – not because you give up something, but because whether you give up something or not you draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up everything on the cross so that you might experience eternal life in Him.

_________________________________________________

A few other related articles: