Faith Works 9-14-13
Praying through the Bible
If you are a practicing Christian, and are wanting to work on your prayer life, it almost seems too obvious to tell you to look in the Bible.
That turns out, though, to be a relatively underused approach. People buy all kinds of books and go to workshops to learn how to go deeper in prayer, missing some tools that are already (I would hope!) right at your elbow.
I've said before that a good first step for someone wanting to learn about prayer is simply to go to church, and pay attention: the service has a number of prayers in it from which you can learn, some improptu and spontaneous, others from a liturgical resource or prayer book (such as the Roman missal for Catholics, or the Book of Common Prayer for Episcopalians, a tool in the latter case used by many Protestant clergy beyond the Anglican tradition).
But the best known worship prayer is right out of scripture, The Lord's Prayer, Jesus' answer when the disciples say to him "Lord, teach us to pray." And Jesus says "pray like this" as he launches into the familiar words, but note he doesn't say "pray only these words" but presents this prayer as a model, first and foremost. So if we model our prayers on the flow and images of that prayer, we can't go far wrong.
And that's not the only prayer in those sacred pages: Moses prays fervently in Exodus 32; David asks for God's pardon in Psalm 51; Hezekiah offers up a beautiful, extensive prayer that opens up his heart to God, and to us when we read II Kings 19 & 20; Nehemiah prays for his people, and for his efforts on their behalf in the outset of the book named after him; and in Luke 22:39-46 Jesus prays for acceptance of what is to come in the Garden of Gethsemane.
For a seventh example (seems like a good number), you may recall that Bruce Wilkerson got a best-selling book out of I Chronicles 4:9-10, the prayer of Jabez to "enlarge my territories." A short, simple prayer, but with some extensive application to our own prayerful reflections.
On top of those prayers in the Bible would be the entire book of Psalms. These poetic hymns, whether said or sung, are more often than not more of a prayer directly to God than they are statements about God or Israel. Psalm 139 is a prayer for discernment, and there are so many that are ideal for someone trying to pray when it seems all hope is distant: 22, 42, 88, 130.
Then there's the justly famous 23rd Psalm, the one longer piece of scripture that many people know by heart, whether they think they do or not. It is a statement more than a prayer-form, and yet in saying it, you realize that sometimes that's exactly what our prayers need to be: a restatement so we can hear it ourselves of what we believe, why we believe it, and what that faith means.
"And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Amen!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him about your examples in prayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.