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20 November 2018

Praying the scriptures.

Why Christians put a lot of bible in their prayers.

It’s a popular Christian practice to drop little bits of bible into our prayers. Kinda like so.

Father, we come to you because you tell us “if my people, who are called by my name, seek my face, I will hear from heaven,” and we recognize “your word won’t return void,” so we call upon you today, Lord. Hear our prayers, meet our needs, heed our cries. “Give us today our daily bread.” Amen.

Yeah, we can pray full passages. We pray the Lord’s Prayer of course; sometimes we pray the psalms. Many of the more famous rote prayers consist of lines lifted straight from the bible and arranged to sound like a prayer.

We do this for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes not-so-legitimate ones: We want our prayers to sound more bible-y. That’s why we’ll trot out the King James Version English with its “thee” and “thou” and old-timey verbs. If it’s old-fashioned we figure it’s more solemn and serious and holy. It’s not really—but people think so, which is why they do it.

Or we covet the bible’s power. We quote bible because the bible is God’s word… and since God’s word is mighty and powerful, maybe quoting it is also mighty and powerful. Maybe those words can make our prayers mighty and powerful… and we can get what we want because we’ve tapped that power.

Or we’re padding the prayers. Short prayers are fine, but too many Christians think long prayers are, again, more solemn and serious and holy. So if our prayers are too short, maybe we can make ’em longer by throwing in a few dozen bible verses. Plus they’ll sound more bible-y, plus tap a little of the bible’s power. Yep, we can do this for all three inappropriate reasons.

But don’t get me wrong; there are appropriate reasons to include bible verses in our prayers. Really good reasons too.

Meditation, obviously.

Christians are expected to meditate on the scriptures: Read our bibles, think about what it means, ask the Holy Spirit to show us stuff about it, and grow in knowledge and wisdom from these experiences. Ideally, even change our way of thinking because the Spirit has shown us a better way to think.

True, we often don’t bother to do this. We just read our bibles, and that’s all. We don’t sit there and think about what we’ve read, or ask the Spirit for further insight. We’re trying to tick all the boxes in our bible-reading plan, and we barely make time for that, much less extra time to reflect and really let it sink in.

But meditation should be a regular part of our Christian lives. “God, in your scriptures you have thus-and-so. What do you want me to learn from that? How do you want me to live it? Does this part apply to me?” We should be praying about the scriptures, so clearly there should be a lot of scriptures in those meditative prayers.

And where appropriate, we should be asking God for those things we just read about. Fr’instance if we’re reading Jesus’s prayer about how all his followers should be one, Jn 17.20-24 we should likewise be praying for what Jesus prayed: We should want us followers to be one. If we’re truly following Jesus, praying his prayers—and trying to mean them when we pray them—only makes sense.

So in order to get more of the scriptures into our heads and lives, and in order to know and understand God better, we oughta have scripture in our lives, and oughta be praying about those scriptures. And, like every revelation we think we got from God, we need to confirm everything, lest we run wild with one of our own ideas instead of something God truly wants to teach us. Too many Christians confirm nothing, go with what they think God told ’em, and have a lot of rubbish ideas as a result. Don’t do that. Double-check everything.

Praying back the bible.

Because it’s often a good idea to write out our prayers, various Christians wisely try to base their written-out prayers on bible. They look for bible passages which are trying to teach Christians something, than ask God to teach those things to us personally. Or ask him to keep on us so we do the things we’re taught to do.

Fr’instance when Jesus taught on money in his Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6.19-24 KWL
19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth, where moths and corrosion ruin it,
where thieves dig it up and steal it.
20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor corrosion ruins,
where thieves don’t dig, nor steal: 21 Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.
22 The body’s light is the eye. So when your eye is healthy, your whole body will be bright.
23 When your eye is ill, your whole body is dark. So if the light in you is dark, how dark is it?
24 Nobody’s able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”

Unless you’re a Mammonist who’s scouring this passage for loopholes, you’re gonna want to live by Jesus’s teaching, so you’re gonna want to pray, “God, help me do as Jesus teaches.” Based upon this teaching, you’re gonna dig into each of these sentences and pray for the power to follow Jesus.

Father, I don’t want to hoard wealth on earth, where moths and corrosion and thieves can get at it. I want my wealth in heaven. I want my mind on my wealth in heaven. I don’t want to be one of those stingy people whose “eye isn’t healthy,” but whose eyes are on you, who is light inside because you are light. I don’t want to be a slave to any master but you. I don’t want to follow Mammon. Help me fight it and those tendencies. Help me recognize you are my treasure in heaven.

Those who write out scripture-based prayers like this, like to point out how Christians regularly worry they may not really be praying that God’s will be done. And they want to! They want to be sure that when they pray for stuff, it’s exactly the sort of stuff God wants ’em to be praying. Well, praying the scriptures—praying for the stuff Jesus blatantly told us he does want—is a way to guarantee we are praying for God’s will.

Now whether it’s our will too… well, we’re working on that. Prayer has to change us too.

Pray it in context.

Context matters. If we legitimately care about God’s word, we’re gonna care about interpreting it properly, and quoting it properly in our prayers.

Those who just want to stretch out a prayer with bible quotes, or want their prayers to sound like bible, or really just want their own will and don’t care so much about God’s, aren’t gonna bother to find out what a verse actually means. If it sounds close enough, they’ll quote it. But let’s not do that. Let’s respect the God who inspired his scriptures, do our homework, meditate on these verses, seek God’s thoughts. Then quote bible in our prayers—and do it properly, ’cause we understand their purpose.

When we don’t care at all about God’s word—when we’re trying to co-opt it so we can get our way—we won’t care about context. We just wanna use the scriptures as if they’re magic words.

Well don’t do that. God has no motivation to reward the sloppy bible-quoter who only wants their prayers to sound holier than they truly are. Seek him properly. Quote his bible appropriately. And see what he does with your prayer life.