What To Say When You Pray

What To Say When You Pray

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Growing up in and around the church, I spent a lot of my early childhood days singing silly songs at Sunday school. I remember a few, like that old one: “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow… Don’t read your Bible, forget to pray, and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.” What a powerful motivator for us kids: Read your Bible and pray everyday, or kiss your hopes of playing in the NBA goodbye. As an adult, I've learned to have regular devotional times without the motivation of traumatizing songs.

Daily times of devotion certainly are important, and a common frustration, particularly with prayer, is determining exactly what we should say. Should we tell God about our day? Should we really tell Him about all our frustrations? Is it OK to rattle off a long list of requests, or does God prefer some spiritual small talk first?

It seems there are about as many ways to talk to God as people, and I reject the idea there is some divine prayer formula we must figure out for our prayers to work. However, I do believe there is a place we can go to learn how God would have us pray.

I believe our prayers should be heavily inundated with the Word of God. As we come before God, there is nothing better for us to pray than God’s own Word. The Bible teaches us who God is and all that He requires, and we are prudent to let our prayers echo everything He has revealed to us in the Bible.

This idea is not my own. Many mighty Christians through history have practiced and recommended praying God’s Word. George Muller once wrote:

"Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible. But I often spent a quarter of an hour to an hour on my knees struggling to pray while my mind wandered. Now I rarely have this problem. As my heart is nourished by the truth of the Word, I am brought into true fellowship with God. I speak to my Father and to my Friend (although I am unworthy) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word."

Along the same lines, Robert Murray M'Cheyne once wrote to a friend:

"Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you are reading the 1st Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before [you] and kneel, and pray, ‘O Lord, give me the blessedness of this man’ ‘Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,’ etc. This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible and learning to pray."

I've been growing in this discipline of soaking my prayers in God’s Word, and it has proven a very great help. When I don’t know what or how to pray, I open my Bible and set my heart on a particular passage. Where I find God’s commands, I pray for strength to obey. Where I find God’s promises, I ask for faith to believe. Where I find God’s actions, I pray for reverent fear and tender love. My experience has been consistent with Herbert Lockyer who said, “The mightiest prayers are often those drenched with the Word of God.”

If you've been wrestling over a particular prayer request, perhaps you might deepen your prayers by searching the Scriptures for those with similar requests. Below are a few examples of how I have recently let the Scriptures saturate my own prayers.

Lord, as You provided for a child for Hannah, provide children for me (1 Samuel 1:20).

Lord, as You sustained Job through his great suffering, sustain me through my own trials (Job 42:10).

Lord, let the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

Lord, as You gave Solomon wisdom to rule, give me wisdom to complete my work with skill (1 Kings 4:29).

Lord, You satisfy the longing soul, and You fill the hungry soul with good things. Satisfy me (Psalm 107:9).

Lord, just as You gave up Christ for me, I give You all I have (Romans 8:32).

Lord, as Paul encouraged the early church with the promise of Your soon return, let my soul be encouraged that You are coming soon (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

Lord, strengthen me to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against my soul (1 Peter 2:11).

Lord, help me value the kingdom like treasure and fine pearls (Matthew 13:44-46).

Lord, as You gave Paul boldness to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, give me boldness to share Christ with my neighbors (Acts 9:28).

Lord, teach me how to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. I know this is Your will (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

These are just a few, and yours may look different, but my hope is that our prayer requests will increasingly flow from the Bible. As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we should also simultaneously grow in prayer. As Robert Murray M'Cheyne advised, open your Bible and ask God to make all the riches of the Scriptures a reality in your life.

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  • Amen.

    Here's my prayer for today:

    Lord, my times are in your hands, so give me the same trust in you that the psalmist had, and remind me that no weapon fashioned against me as your child can stand. Psalm 31:15, Isaiah 54:17

  • Love it. I think one of my favorite prayer disciplines I took away from college was praying through different passages of Psalms. It is really kind of crazy (but I guess, not really ;) ) how much in that book relates to how we relate to God. There are so many prayers that as I read them have just resonated with me in different situations and circumstances -- and the great thing about it is that so many of them reflect the attitude that we should bring to prayer, and is often difficult to sustain in a season of hardship -- because there are many that start with anger, or frustration or pain and then end by acknowledging that the Lord is good and merciful, and that he hears our prayers and the cries of our hearts - which is often exactly what I need to be reminded.

  • I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt traumatized as a result of how I learned about prayer as a child. I was taught to follow the “ACTS” acronym (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). During my teen years I would pray spontaneously when I became worried about something or some emergency occurred and I always felt so defeated. I wasn’t sure God could hear me because I hadn’t first said something in adoration, confessed my sin, and given thanksgiving. I’m glad I know better now and am able to come before His throne with confidence.

    I began praying the words of Scripture a few years ago. I’ve found it often helps me put words to the things I’m feeling but am unsure of how to express. It’s amazing how comprehensive Scripture is—there are verses to express my feelings, concerns, and questions regarding pretty much everything I’ve experienced.

  • I think this is a very good suggestion, and it brought to mind this verse:

    Hebrews 4:12

    For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

    God knew us before we were born, so it isn't much of a surprise that he knew what we would experience, but it is awesome that He wrote down feelings He knew we would have. Like you said, @Shannon, the Bible is comprehensive, and for me that is just one more thing I can praise God about. He is already expecting us to have those feelings, so He gave us all we needed in His word to relate to Him, and He is waiting for us to tell Him about them :)

  • I like to pray God's Word regarding marriage.  Being an "older" single who greatly desires marriage & family, I ask God to keep His Word, reminding Him that He said it's not good for man to be alone (which, by the way, was pre-sin), and that two are better than one, and that a man is to rejoice in the wife of his youth, and that he who finds a wife finds a good thing.  I tell God that I want to be found, and trust that not only does He hear me, but that He put those verses in Scripture for a reason.

  • I've recently been reading several books by George Mueller and I'm always amazed at how he prayed with such faith. In reality, I think it's because he knew God--not just a theoretical, what-the-pastor-says god, but the personal God--who reveals Himself in the Word. He could pray confidently because George knew the Word and knew God's character. It makes me want to read the Bible more.

    Paul Miller suggests making prayer cards to pray for specific people--and writing a key verse that focuses on your prayer for that friend or family member. For example, our prayer for friends or family members might be that they grow in their knowledge of God's love--Eph. 3:18-19. Or we might pray that someone have a "gentle and quiet spirit" 1 Peter 3 & 4. In addition to praying personal prayers, I really like the idea of using the Word to help us pray for others.

  • Thanks for this post, Andrew - very timely for me personally.

  • Great post- I appreciate the advice and will take it to heart.

  • Great post!  I remember a song similar to that :)  The past several months, I have been reading more about prayer and trying to grow in praying effectively.

    There are several scriptures I have memoirzed and incorporated in my prayers.  I find that when I pray God faithfully brings applicable scriptures to mind.

    One of my favorite scriptures to pray has been Psalm 16:8-9:

    "8I have set the Lord continually before me;

    Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

    9 Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

    My flesh also will dwell securely."

    I had epilepsy 27 years and many scriptures have been significant in my prayers over the years.  Up until 11 months ago, when God used  epilepsy surgery to end the seizures (I praise Him), Psalm 16:8-9 frequently came to mind as a seizure began.  I would inwardly start to quote this passage to myself as I went into the seizure, and nearly each day.  This passage was especially important to me because, at the onset of a seizure, one of my automatisms was movement in my right arm.  Also, usually other parts of my body would shake.  How appropriate a passage?!

    Each morning, I try to quote a passage I memorized as a child to help me prepare spiritually for the day- Ephesians 6:10-17.  It is not merely ritualistic either.  It helps me, "walk in the spirit" rather than according to the flesh.

    "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

    11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

    12 For our struggle is not against [e]flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

    13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

    14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

    15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

    16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

    17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

    This year, Ephesians 3:16-19 is a passage I have begun to pray for myself, my friends and family.  

    16 "that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."

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