Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book Review: Praying the Bible

Praying the Bible. Donald S. Whitney. 2015. Crossway. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Since prayer is talking with God, why don’t people pray more?

Donald S. Whitney argues that Christians struggle with praying because prayer is boring. Why is prayer boring? Because Christians tend to pray for the same old things in the same old way--in other words, their prayers use the same words, same patterns, day after day, week after week, etc. He writes, "Prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning."

Christians tend to treat prayer not as a two-way conversation but as a one-way conversation.

Of course, another reason people struggle--and Whitney acknowledges as well--is distraction.

He has a solution for both 'problems'. That solution is praying the Bible. In this little book, he teaches readers how to pray through the Psalms and passages of the New Testament. Though any passage can be prayed--Genesis through Revelation. His goal is to get you started and the easiest--the best--place to start is the book of Psalms.
To pray the Bible, you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text. See how easy that is? Anyone can do that. Just speak to the Lord about everything that occurs to you as you slowly read his Word. What does the text of Scripture tell us to pray about? Everything, right?  Every person, every object, every issue, every circumstance, every fear, every situation—everything in the universe is something we may bring before God. So every thought that enters your mind as you are reading a passage of Scripture—even if that thought has nothing to do with the text before you at the moment—is something you may bring to God...
If you are praying through a psalm, you simply read that psalm line by line, talking to God about whatever thoughts are prompted by the inspired words you read. If your mind wanders from the subject of the text, take those wandering thoughts Godward, then return to the text. If you come to a verse you don’t understand, just skip it and go to the next verse. If you don’t understand that one, move on. If you do understand it but nothing comes to mind to pray about, go to the next verse. If sinful thoughts enter in, pray about them and go on.
You may read twenty or thirty verses in that psalm, and yet on a given day have only five or six things come to mind. No problem. Nothing says you have to pray over every verse. Nothing says you have to finish the psalm...
Talk to God about the words you read in the Bible, and you’ll never again pray the same old things about the same old things. 

He makes distinctions between reading the Bible, praying the Bible, and studying the Bible. The methods you use for praying the Bible are not necessarily sound methods for teaching or preaching through the Bible.  

Correctly handling the Word of God does not permit making the text say what we want. To understand the Bible accurately—which is essential for right belief and living, for truthful sharing with others, and for authoritative teaching and preaching—we must do whatever is necessary to discover (or “exegete”) the single, God-inspired meaning of every verse before us. The text of the Bible means what God inspired it to mean, not “what it means to me.”
Bible reading is secondary in this process [of praying the Bible]. Our focus is on God through prayer; our glance is at the Bible. And we turn Godward and pray about every matter that occurs to us as we read. Do you see the distinction?
I have enough confidence in the Word and the Spirit of God to believe that if people will pray in this way, in the long run their prayers will be far more biblical than if they just make up their own prayers.
Without the Scripture to shape our prayers, we are far more likely to pray in unbiblical ways than if we pray the thoughts that occur to us as we read the Scripture.
The book is practical. He has a plan in mind for you to put this into practice.
With the Psalms of the Day you take thirty seconds or so to quickly scan five specific psalms and pick the one that best leads you to prayer on that occasion. While reading five psalms a day is a great practice that many enjoy, that’s not what I’m advocating here. What I’m suggesting is that you take half a minute to quickly scan five psalms and pick one of those five to pray through. Here’s how it works. The first psalm is the one that corresponds with the day of the month. 

Day of the MonthPsalms to Skim
11, 31, 61, 91, 121
22, 32, 62, 92, 122
33, 33, 63, 93, 123
44, 34, 64, 94, 124
55, 35, 65, 95, 125
66, 36, 66, 96, 126
77, 37, 67, 97, 127
88, 38, 68, 98, 128
99, 39, 69, 99, 129
1010, 40, 70, 100, 130
1111, 41, 71, 101, 131
1212, 42, 72, 102, 132, 
1313, 43, 73, 103, 133
1414, 44, 74, 104, 134
1515, 45, 75, 105, 135
1616, 46, 76, 106, 136
1717, 47, 77, 107, 137
1818, 48, 78, 108, 138
1919, 49, 79, 109, 139
2020, 50, 80, 110, 140
2121, 51, 81, 111, 141
2222, 52, 82, 112, 142,
2323, 53, 83, 113, 143
2424, 54, 84, 114, 144
2525, 55, 85, 115, 145
2626, 56, 86, 116, 146
2727, 57, 87, 117, 147
2828, 58, 88, 118, 148
2929, 59, 89, 119, 149
3030, 60, 90, 120, 150
31Psalm 119

And if you will take thirty seconds to review five psalms every day, it is uncanny how one of them will express something that is looking for expression in your heart.
I love how Whitney guides you through this method. I love how he encourages you to try it. I definitely got a Green Eggs With Ham vibe! His passionate pleas to actually pray were compelling and persuasive.

I also love how he quotes some great theologians throughout the book--men, for the most part, who have learned that praying the Bible is transformative in their lives.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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