Prayer That’s Possible for Every Christian
Although God doesn’t choose many who are “wise according to worldly standards,” he does call people from every imaginable circumstance and background. Our Father draws to himself people with few Christian resources and people with many Christian resources, such as those who aren’t able even to own a Bible and those who own many; those who do not live near a good, healthy church and those who experience rich fellowship and sound biblical exposition every week; those who cannot read or who have no Christian books and those for whom many Christian books are readily available; those who have no access to Christian teaching by means of various media and those who do. But if God invites and expects all his children—regardless of their age, IQ, education, or resources—to do the same thing—to pray—then prayer has to be simple.
Therefore, it must be possible for every Christian, including every Christian reading this, to have a meaningful, satisfying prayer life. For if you with all your Christian resources—presumably a Bible, a church family, the availability of Christian books, access to Christian teaching via radio and the Internet, and more—if you can’t have a fulfilling prayer life in spite of all these helps, then what hope is there for our brothers and sisters in isolated locations, lands where non-Christian religions dominate, or places of persecution where few, if any, of these Christian resources are available?
Are you ready to say, “Well, that’s pretty tight logic, for if I, despite my education, experience, and all my Christian resources, don’t seem capable of a meaningful, satisfying prayer life, then that necessarily implies that almost no Christian in the world can enjoy one either, since almost no follower of Jesus anywhere has as many of these helps for prayer as I”? No. Of course not. You’d never say that. Instead, you’re more likely to think, Look, I don’t know about anybody else. I just know that when I pray, it’s boring. So it must be me. There’s something wrong with me. In fact, now that you’ve shown me all the advantages I have in comparison to many other Christians in the world, I feel guiltier than ever. I felt like a failure in prayer before, but apparently I’m even worse than I thought. Thanks a lot!
So now we’ve come to the most challenging part. It’s possible that you have been saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer for so long that it’s hard for you to believe that you could easily learn to pray any other way, as though you were listening to a lung specialist say that you could easily change the way you breathe. Many who are reading this have endured the guilt of an incurably wandering mind and feelings of boredom in prayer for decades, and here comes a writer asking you to believe that there is a simple, permanent, biblical solution to a problem that’s plagued you for most of your life. Would I really ask you to believe that?
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
I do realize that after all these years of unsatisfying prayer, you might find it challenging to believe that the problem is not you, Christian, but your method. But, let’s return to the facts. The Lord has his people all over the world, and among them are believers of every sort of demographic description. And yet by his Spirit, he gives to all of them a desire to pray. Would he do this for all if meaningful prayer was doable only by some? Would your heavenly Father make prayer so difficult or confusing that you could never enjoy it or, rather, never enjoy him through prayer? Despite his love for his people, a love demonstrated by the incarnation and crucifixion of his Son for them, a love made evident by providing the Holy Spirit and the Bible and the church, would he then devise a means of communion between himself and his children that most would find to be a frustrating, boring monotony?
That makes no sense. What does make sense is that the Father, who wanted to enjoy fellowship with all his children and wanted all his children to enjoy talking with him, would make it simple for all to do so.
The Simple, Permanent, Biblical Solution
So what is the simple solution to the boring routine of saying the same old things about the same old things? Here it is: when you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm. That probably didn’t seem as dramatic as you were expecting. In fact, you may have heard something similar to this before. If so, it was most likely when someone teaching through one of the prayers of the apostle Paul (e.g., Eph. 1:15–23; 3:14–21; Phil. 1:9–11) said, “We should pray these prayers today.” And I agree; we should. Better yet, though, I believe we should pray everything in Paul’s letters, not just his prayers. The best place, however, for learning to pray through a passage of Scripture is in the book of Psalms.
Now we’re going to see what praying through a psalm looks like. Let’s use the twenty-third psalm as an example. And let’s say that, as is probably true in real life, you read your Bible first. Perhaps you read in Matthew, or in Hebrews, and then you turn to prayer. You decide to pray through a psalm, and you choose Psalm 23. You read the first verse—“The Lord is my shepherd”—and you pray something like this:
Lord, I thank you that you are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, great Shepherd, please shepherd my family today: guard them from the ways of the world; guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil. O great Shepherd, I pray for my children; cause them to be your sheep. May they love you as their shepherd, as I do. And, Lord, please shepherd me in the decision that’s before me about my future. Do I make that move, that change, or not? I also pray for our under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us.
And you continue praying anything else that comes to mind as you consider the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Then when nothing else comes to mind, you go to the next line: “I shall not want.” And perhaps you pray:
Lord, I thank you that I’ve never really been in want. I haven’t missed too many meals. All that I am and all that I have has come from you. But I know it pleases you that I bring my desires to you, so would you provide the finances that we need for those bills, for school, for that car?
Maybe you know someone who is in want, and you pray for God’s provision for him or her. Or you remember some of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, and you pray for their concerns. His words become the wings of your prayers.
After you’ve finished, you look at the next verse: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 2a). And, frankly, when you read the words “lie down,” maybe what comes to mind is simply, “Lord, I would be grateful if you would make it possible for me to lie down and take a nap today.”1
Possibly the term “green pastures” makes you think of the feeding of God’s flock in the green pastures of his Word, and it prompts you to pray for a Bible teaching ministry you lead, or for a teacher or pastor who feeds you with the Word of God. When was the last time you did that? Maybe you have never done that, but praying through this psalm caused you to do so.
Next you read, “He leads me beside still waters” (v. 2b). And maybe you begin to plead,
Yes, Lord, do lead me in that decision I have to make about my future. I want to do what you want, O Lord, but I don’t know what that is. Please lead me into your will in this matter. And lead me beside still waters in this. Please quiet the anxious waters in my soul about this situation. Let me experience your peace. May the turbulence in my heart be stilled by trust in you and your sovereignty over all things and over all people.
Following that, you read these words from verse 3, “He restores my soul.” That prompts you to pray along the lines of:
My Shepherd, I come to you so spiritually dry today. Please restore my soul; restore to me the joy of your salvation. And I pray you will restore the soul of that person from work/school/down the street with whom I’m hoping to share the gospel. Please restore his soul from darkness to light, from death to life.
You can continue praying in this way until either (1) you run out of time, or (2) you run out of psalm. And if you run out of psalm before you run out of time, you simply turn the page and go to another psalm. By so doing, you never run out of anything to say, and, best of all, you never again say the same old things about the same old things.
So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers.
- Although this verse has absolutely nothing to do with taking naps, shortly I will defend from Scripture the validity of praying virtually anything that comes to mind while reading the Scripture and distinguish this from interpreting Scripture, which must always be done rightly.