Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hear Jesus pray? What if you could hear David or Paul pray? What if God himself would teach you to pray? This is the delight of praying Scripture.
Unfortunately, the subject of prayer is often discouraging. We all realize we could “pray more” or “pray better.” I have found, however, that when you learn how to pray by praying Scripture, prayer extends from duty to delight.
Several years ago, a friend of mine made a casual comment to me that changed the way I thought about prayer. He mentioned that alongside his study of First Corinthians, he was praying through the book. I was curious. How can you pray through a letter? Isn’t Scripture reading supposed to be separate from prayer?
He proceeded to tell me how he prayed through the book, adjusting the text into a prayer. The first verses of prayer would sound something like this:
Father, it was your will to communicate to Corinth by Paul, Christ’s apostle, and Sosthenes, this Christian brother. Thank you for not only sending this word, but for preserving it. This church of God in Corinth, although not perfect, was a testimony to the sanctification Christ Jesus works in those who are called to be saints.
I have found that the marriage of prayer and Scripture makes a mighty team, simultaneously enriching and exposing, strengthening and shaping, correcting and comforting.
Now, I am not suggesting that
- Your prayers should merely include occasional phrases from Scripture
- You should merely pray Scripturally-informed prayers
- You should exclusively pray the Scripture text
- The only form of genuine prayer is praying the text of Scripture
In short, I’m simply arguing that if we are truly to offer up desires that are 1) agreeable to his will, 2) in the name of Christ, 3) with confession of our sins and 4) with thankful acknowledgment of his mercies, we should habitually pray the text of Scripture.
Allow me to offer four reasons.
1) Praying the text of Scripture follows a biblical pattern
Just a brief sampling will reveal that the Bible regularly patterns the praying of other Scripture. One of the most notable examples is the prayer of John and Peter in Acts 4. When the disciples are released from custody, they gather with their Christian friends and pray Psalm 2.
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said,
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
2) Praying the text of Scripture aligns your will with God’s
Prayer changes you. Or as one writer puts it, “The praying process functions as a spiritual discipline transforming us from the inside out. Our disobedient desires melt away and are replaced by God’s righteous desires as we pray.”
This “melting away” isn’t magic. Disobedient desires are replaced with God’s desires as we pray according to his revealed will. Where is his will revealed? In the Scriptures, of course. And so, it seems that Scripture should drive our prayers. What you think about God’s will shapes what you pray and what you pray shapes what you think about God’s will. I know of no better way to let Scripture shape my thinking about God’s will than to pray Scripture itself.
3) Praying the text of Scripture instructs you about God
Listening to and repeating the prayers in Scripture also helps shape our understanding of God himself—his character and his desires.
In a very direct way, biblical prayers often teach about God by describing his character. For instance, prayers in Scripture declare God’s goodness and love (Psalm 86:5), his greatness and holiness (Ex 34:10), and his care and infinite knowledge (Ps 139:1–3).
As we hear inspired prayers, we also learn what our Father desires. And so Don Carson writes,
One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer—spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer.
4) Praying the text of Scripture diversifies your prayers
Any Christian will find that certain kinds of prayer come easier than others. Are your prayers almost entirely petition? Or are they mostly praise? Do you ever appropriately share grievances with God? Do you ever cry out for God’s justice?
A healthy prayer life must give appropriate weight to the different kinds of prayers. One of the best ways to rightly diversify your prayers is to pray Scripture.
All that is important about prayers can be found in the prayers of Scripture: appropriate petitions, the ground for approaching God, the kind of reasoning that is used, the mix of petition, praise, intercession, adoration, the variety of human contexts and postures, the range of emotions, the nature of fervency, the connection between prayer and faith, and much more.
The Psalms in particular are rich with this diversity. They present the full range of experiences and emotions present in a real relationship with God—praise and complaint, thanksgiving and petition, confession and fellowship.
Immersing ourselves in the Psalms and turning them into prayers teaches our hearts the “grammar” of prayer and gives us the most formative instruction in how to pray in accord with God’s character and will.
Thankfully, we do not often need to “turn” Psalms into prayers, as the majority of Psalms are themselves prayers or contain them.
Take Heart and Pray
Scripture is a tender guide, not a harsh master. If you come wanting to learn to pray, you will find no better teacher. If you want to grow your prayer life, begin with the Word.
So take heart and pray. Pray the Word.
 These marks of prayer come from the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of prayer: “Prayer is the offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”
 David Crump, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, 129.
 D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 16.
 D. A. Carson, Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World, 13.
 Timothy Keller, Prayer, 255.