Recently I finished reading a book on prayer called The Hidden Life of Prayer, by David McIntyre, an excellent book on stirring up affections for God in prayer, something no doubt we all need more of. Tim Challies previously (June, ’12) read through this book with his blog audience (you can get caught up with them here: http://www.challies.com/writings/reading-classics-together) and he is largely the reason I found out about this book and decided to give it a read.
I’d noticed recently that my prayer times seemed to be comprised mainly of petitions and while this is certainly important, I was leaving out an even more important part of prayer, worship. I decided to take the Kindle version of this book with me while on vacation a couple weeks ago and read through most all of it. Early on, one particular statement stuck with me as McIntyre was making reference to George Muller. He said that Muller “confessed that often he could not pray until he had steadied his mind upon a text.” McIntyre then followed up with a rhetorical of his own, “Is it not the prerogative of God to break the silence?” and he quoted Psalm 27:8, “When Thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face Lord, will I seek.” This little reference to Muller along with McIntyre’s own comment and use of the Psalm caused me to immediately rethink my prayer life. Instead of not always knowing what to say, other than petitions, it seemed clear that I should focus on a particular passage before entering into prayer with the Lord.
Like me, you may have heard before about praying Scripture back to God and while this may be beneficial to some, it always seemed impersonal to me. So to blend the thought of focusing on a passage of Scripture first, praying Scripture back to God, but also maintaining the personal communication of a son to his Heavenly Father, I began reading through Psalm 1 with the purpose of looking for 1) Something the psalmist declares or affirms about God 2) a general statement that could be applied in my own life through prayer. I say general here because there are some things that the psalmists, particularly David, pray to God that I don’t feel apply to me personally. While each word in the Bible is important and necessary to understand in its context, application, etc. remember this isn’t for Bible study or even Bible reading, it’s for prayer. My purpose was not exegetical, but to focus on communing with God. Keep it simple, otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to figure out nuances of the passage and skip right over prayer with God. Save the commentaries and study Bibles for a separate time of study or reflection on the passage you are praying through.
Here’s an example of how this might work:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Applied to one’s own prayer:
Father guide my steps to walk not according to the counsel of the wicked, but the way of the righteous. Surround me with godly influences and relationships that will encourage, edify and rebuke me when necessary. Lord move my heart such that I take delight in your law. Help me to live knowing that Christ is the fulfillment of that law for me and that instead of being under its curse I can now delight in it. How righteous and holy are your ways Father. Cause my mind to meditate on Your word day and night. May it be the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. Help me to be like the tree that David speaks of, planted by the streams of water, so that I may bear fruit in season….
A Psalm a day, to focus your mind upon the things of God and serve as introduction into prayer with Him. If you move on from the Psalms, maybe a good follow up would be the prayers of the Bible using the same practice.