How to Practice the Spiritual Discipline of Praying Scripture

Although we live in a media-saturated culture, sometimes words fail us. We have immeasurably much more left inside our souls than we can communicate to God with our words.

Have you ever wanted to connect with another person on a deeper level, but found yourself at a loss for words? Have you ever wanted to voice a passionate conviction, but were unable to articulate your outrage or heartache? Dostoevsky wrote, and as we often discover, “There is immeasurably more left inside than what comes out in words.”[i]

Christians commune with a personal God through prayer. They yearn to have an intimate relationship with their Creator, yet often when they sit or kneel or stand to pray, God’s people find themselves empty of language. At other times their thoughts are distracted and rambling, “Lord, I’m thankful for who You are… please bless this day… I need to put that load of laundry in the dryer… how could that colleague betray me behind my back? I hope he gets what he deserves!… I think I left the yogurt sitting out on the kitchen counter… oh yeah, God, protect my spouse and children and friends.”

Although we live in a media-saturated culture, sometimes words fail us. We have immeasurably much more left inside our souls than we can communicate to God with our words.

What is the Spiritual Discipline of Praying Scripture?

The spiritual discipline of praying scripture is the practice of Christians adopting God’s words to inform and shape their own prayers. God penned his words through people who experienced the breadth and depth of human struggles and emotions. In this discipline, Christians give ear and voice through the original biblical writers’ songs, prayers, laments, reflections, and affirmations.

Praying scripture is not:

  • Using a Bible concordance to find an isolated scripture verse to infer whatever one thinks is best or specifically desires in answer to prayer.
  • A manipulative tool by which someone can force God’s hand to do something.
  • Applying an isolated biblical verse out of context while ignoring the biblical genre, which misrepresents the biblical text and distorts God’s intended meaning of a passage. For example, taking a wisdom proverb and claiming it as a promise.

Praying scripture is:

  • Praying God’s heart through his own words for our loved ones, our world, and ourselves.
  • Personalizing scripture and praying for application within our own life. What was God saying to the original audience? What was God’s intention to teach us about himself or his ways? How can I apply this principle within my own culture and my own life?
  • Gradually memorizing individual scriptures to begin to pray without ceasing.

Praying scripture is praying God’s heart through his own words for our loved ones, our world, and ourselves.

The Christian Scriptures Teach the Spiritual Discipline of Praying Scripture

Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, the people of God prayed their scriptures. In Daniel’s prayer written down in Daniel chapter 9, the Old Testament prophet incorporated recognizable phrases from throughout the Old Testament texts as well as specific portions of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy.[ii]

Within the prayer of the early Christians recorded in Acts 4:24-26, they included portions of Psalm 146 and Psalm 2, praising the Lord who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. During the excruciating torture of the crucifixion, Jesus cried out with portions of Psalm 22, including “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[iii]

Suggestions to Practice the Spiritual Discipline of Praying Scripture

  • Prayer has several components. It is not only making requests in line with God’s heart for the world, it is also composed of worship, thanksgiving, and confession of where a person has gone astray from God’s purposes.
  • Leave “hurry” behind. Read scripture slowly and reflect deeply on the Eternal God’s words.
  • Start a “prayer notebook” with personal thoughts, a list of topics, and applicable Bible passages.
  • To prevent mental drift, speak your prayers quietly aloud or journal your prayers. If music holds a special place in your life, sing your prayers to God.
  • Find passages in the Bible that reflect your heart and thoughts and apply these verses to your specific context. Personalize these verses as prayers.

Suggested Scriptures to Personalize and Pray:

Prayer of worship:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are Your judgments, and Your paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?

For from You and through You and to You are all things.

To You be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

See also Psalm 145 and Revelation 4:8, 11.

Prayer of confession:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. (Luke 18:13)

See also: Psalm 32 and Psalm 51

Prayer for spiritual maturity:

Heavenly Father, May I grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

See also: Philippians 2:5-8 and Hebrews 12:1-3.

Prayer for wisdom in discerning the will of God:

I do not know what to do, Holy Father, but my eyes are on You. (2 Chronicles 20:12b)

See also: Proverbs 3:5-8 and Colossians 1:9-12.

Prayer for painful emotional times:

Lord God of all comfort, I am hard pressed on every side; I pray I am not crushed. I am perplexed; do not allow me to despair. I am persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. I know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise me with Jesus and present me in his presence. I pray I do not lose heart. May I fix my eyes not on what is seen and temporary, but on what is unseen and eternal. Amen. (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)

See also: Psalm 23 and Psalm 42.

Practicing the Spiritual Discipline of Praying Scripture Deepens a Christian's Relationship with God

God infused the pages of scripture with every intensity of human emotion. The people of God narrate feeling deserted by God, joy, anger, contentment, confusion, anxiety, and defeat at the hands of their “enemies.” In learning to echo the prayers of David, Daniel, Mary, Paul, and Jesus, Christians comprehend God’s attributes, and their knowledge and insight of God’s sacred writings increases. As they pray scripture, their minds are renewed, and they begin to reflect the heart of the Sovereign Lord for humanity.

God infused the pages of scripture with every intensity of human emotion.

Referring to the prayers within the pages of scripture, N.T. Wright encourages, “But prayer isn’t just one thing among many. It’s like a secret stream, flowing along unseen, refreshing everything else we do and making things happen in ways we can’t understand, and often don’t even expect, but which prove themselves real time and again. That’s why these prayers, these central early Christian prayers going back in some cases to Jesus himself, are worth learning by heart. That way you can slip into them when you’re walking along, or waiting for the bus, or peeling potatoes, or drifting off to sleep. They can become the hidden music which sustains our thinking and feeling, music around which we can then learn to improvise, adding harmonies and new rhythms.”[iv]

May all Christians devote themselves to prayer, knowing that God’s Word will not return empty. (Colossians 4:2; Isaiah 55:8-13)

[i] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Adolescent, page 43.

[ii] See Deuteronomy 28:15-68 and Jeremiah 25:1-14; 32:16-23, among others.

[iii] See Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.

[iv] Wright, N.T., New Testament Prayer for Everyone, ix.

How to Practice the Spiritual Discipline of Silence

When was the last time you experienced a few minutes of complete quiet? Is it even possible in our noise-saturated society?

When was the last time you experienced a few minutes of complete quiet? Is it even possible in our noise-saturated society?

Ringtones abruptly waken us in the morning. The voice of a beloved author reads her latest bestseller as we drive. The chitchat of coworkers interrupts our concentration on a project due yesterday. A small child questions for the umpteenth time, “Why?” We exercise while streaming informative podcasts. Our phones ding notifications incessantly.

Silence is awkward. Dead air on the radio makes us anxious. When discussion lulls during a meeting, we become uneasy. Quick, somebody say something! We turn on the TV to hear the voice of another human being to fend off the loneliness. We numb our relationship pain by streaming a favorite movie on demand.

Practicing the spiritual discipline of silence helps to restore the peace and clarity that eludes the soul of a weary Christian pilgrim.

What Is the Spiritual Discipline of Silence?

One author defines the spiritual discipline of silence as, “A regenerative practice of attending and listening to God in quiet, without interruption and noise. Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as from listening to words or music.”[i]

In this practice, Christians intentionally place themselves in a quiet place to focus on God and His presence. They refrain from speaking, move away from the voices of other people, and turn off technology and entertainment.

Susan Muto observes, “In a noise-polluted world, it is even difficult to hear ourselves think let alone try to be still and know God. Yet it seems essential for our spiritual life to seek some silence, no matter how busy we may be. Silence is not to be shunned as empty space, but to be befriended as fertile ground for intimacy with God.”[ii]

The Christian Scriptures Teach the Spiritual Discipline of Silence

In the opening of the book he authored, the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk was confused and demanded answers from God. Why were the wicked prospering in the nation? From his Holy Temple, God then answered and shared his own viewpoint. He assured Habakkuk that He certainly was not blind to the violence and evil on the earth. God was neither absent nor idle. God’s vision and plan for his people would certainly be fulfilled, but in a radically different way than the prophet had expected.

God’s words deeply affected Habakkuk.

But the LORD is in his holy temple;

let all the earth be silent before him.[iii]

In this passage, the term silent refers to a respectful silence filled with awe, a holy hush, a time without speaking. For Christians to practice this command, they must strive to create quietness in the clamor of noise that infiltrates their everyday lives.

Out of the silence, the prophet responded with a new perspective in a beautiful prayer of trust in God. With catastrophic events on the horizon, Habakkuk praised God for his splendor, salvation, and strength.

Suggestions to Practice the Discipline of Silence

1. Find an intentional place

Think of a quiet, safe place where you can escape from the racket and chaos of your life. A sacred space set apart to be with God where other voices cannot reach in, technology cannot distract, and intrusive sounds cannot interrupt.

  • A secluded spot in your home
  • Alone in your office or workspace
  • A quiet corner of a library
  • An isolated seat in a museum
  • A bench in a city park
  • A hiking trail in the woods
  • A solitary walk through your neighborhood or garden
  • A path by a lake
  • Sitting or walking on a beach

2. Set an intentional time

Make a sacred appointment. Put it on the calendar. Other responsibilities will easily push this appointment aside. Resist the call to attend to “higher priority” or “urgent” tasks.

  • Over a coffee break or lunch hour
  • While preschoolers are napping or after their bedtime
  • Before sunrise
  • Before the rest of your family begins their day
  • Arriving to your workspace before anyone else
  • In the evening after work
  • Early on a weekend morning

3. Intentionally listen

At first, we may feel lonely, awkward, fearful, or out of control. If this practice is new to you, start small. Ten minutes is a good place to start. Experiment with what works for your everyday reality.

  • Turn off your phone, iPad, laptop, and other technology.
  • Set a timer to keep from watching the clock.
  • You may be tempted to fill the noiselessness with words. Resist.
  • You may be tempted to do something in your isolation. Just be still or walk quietly.
  • Your thoughts will scream, “This is a complete waste of time!” It’s not.
  • Listen to the quiet.
  • Still your soul in the silence.
  • Turn your thoughts to God.

Calhoun encourages, “And as the silence settles in and nothing seems to be happening, we often struggle with the feeling that we are wasting time… As we remain in the silence, the inner noise and chaos will begin to settle… Silence is a time to rest in God. Lean into God, trusting that being with him in silence will loosen your rootedness in the world and plant you by streams of living water.”[iv]

Practicing the Spiritual Discipline of Silence Deepens a Christian's Relationship with God

When Christians create silence, they place themselves in a consecrated space to begin to hear the gentle Whisper of God. They become aware of their own sacred personhood in the Creator’s eyes, unattached to a career, another person, or perhaps most importantly, their electronic devices.

As the quiet and calm seeps into our harried soul, the chaos in our life is stilled for a few moments. We gain clarity and perspective. As we practice the spiritual discipline of silence, we come to echo the prayer of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier,

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,

Till all our strivings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress,

And let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of Thy peace.

[i] Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, page 107.

[ii] Muto, Susan. In Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg, page 107.

[iii] See Habakkuk 2:20.

[iv] Calhoun, page 109.

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