Life Theology

How to Use Scripture in Prayer

In the midst of all the excitement we have for our New Year’s Bible reading plans, we often forget that our aim is not simply to read Scripture, but to have it read us. That is, we do not read the Bible to master it like we would a mechanic’s manual. We read it so that it can marinate in our soul and master us. As God’s word permeates our lives, we are mastered by him, by his authoritative word.

The supreme way to use Scripture so that we are mastered by it is to use Scripture in prayer. The Bible without prayer will lead to rigid dogmatism. Prayer without the Bible will lead to emotionalistic spirituality. Both together, however, fuel the flame of worship toward God.

John Piper has said, “It will be difficult to pray for five minutes without an open Bible.” I have found this to be true. However, if I am meditating (i.e. thinking) about how God has revealed himself and his works through Scripture, I find that I can pray for a long time! Before I hear shouts of “Quality, not quantity!” let me remind you that no man in his right mind would say to his wife, “I know our date is scheduled to last for ten minutes, but the restaurant is 5-star, after all!” That is a foolish man—one who will be sleeping on the couch in a few hours. Simple wisdom tells the husband to pursue quality and quantity. It is no less true for our relationship with God.

How then should we use Scripture to pray well? I have been greatly helped by a paradigm I learned from Martin Luther. You can read the whole thing in his little booklet A Simple Way to Pray. In the context of prayer, Luther used Scripture as

  1. a textbook: Scripture teaches us about God, ourselves, and the world. It is the revelation of the nature of reality. Use it to learn about who God is and what he has done;
  2. a hymnbook: we are to praise God for what we have seen and learned from “the textbook.” Learning with our minds should lead us to worship with our heart and truly delight in God;
  3. a confession book: Scripture shows us our sin. We fall short of what we praise God for and what he demands of us, so we should be quick to ask for mercy and grace;
  4. a petition book: Scripture tells us what to ask for. We should petition (ask) God for what we specifically need in order to honor and glorify him. We should ask God to help us clearly see truth and feel it.

When I use this model, I add a thanksgiving element at some point. Simply, I thank God for how Christ is the solution to my sin (whatever sin the passage exposed, or other related sins). I thank God that his sustaining grace through the Holy Spirit empowers me to overcome the sin I confessed.

Kevin DeYoung has also recently written about this. Luther seems to have had an impact on him as well.

Happy reading and praying in 2013!

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