Do you ever find yourself saying the same types of things whenever you pray to God? Do you avoid prayer because it feels boring? Or do you struggle for words when praying?
When we pray the same things over and over, our prayers can become words we say but don’t really think about. In fact, we can utter the words without paying attention or even meaning them (like how a child can recite, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food,” but may not have any idea what he or she is even saying).
I don’t proclaim to be a great pray-er. It’s an area where I have grown some but still see the need for much growth. But I enjoy listening to the prayers of older saints in my local church, and I’ve learned much about how to relate to God by observing how they talk to him and what they say to him. For example, two empty-nesters have modeled for me various ways to incorporate praise and thanksgiving in their prayers. Another middle-aged man exudes such compassion and care for others in his thoughtful petitions to the Lord on their behalf, and he’s taught me to pray bigger prayers rather than to limit God by my own sense of what he can do in a situation.
But of all the things I’ve heard and seen regarding prayer, the simplest yet most revolutionary is to pray Scripture. Two ways of doing this that have invigorated my relationship with God include:
- Praying as I read the Bible in my daily study time, and
- Using the structure of a psalm as a foundation for my prayer.
Prayer During Bible Reading
If your mind wanders as you read the Bible, let it wander into prayer. Address your concerns with God, then go back to your study. Even better, let your Bible study inform your prayers. Prayer can be as simple as a stream of consciousness conversation that uses Scripture as your launching point. You can be like the dog in Up in how you talk to God (“Squirrel!”).
For example, when I recently read in 1 Peter 5 about elders shepherding the flock of God, I stopped to pray for the leadership at my church, for some current decisions being made at our church, and for our church staff and small group leaders. Some people were prayed for by name; other petitions were more big picture.
What I was reading in Scripture both prompted me to pray for my church and informed how I should pray for my church. I used the description about church leadership as a guide for my prayer. Peter’s charge to church elders in this text focuses on their actions and heart, so I prayed for these things specifically. God’s Word guided me in what to pray for and in what to say as I prayed for it!
You might be thinking that this sounds easy if reading various letters in the New Testament, but what if you’re reading something like Judges or 2 Chronicles or Numbers? In these cases, think about the primary point of the story or text. Does that prompt you to any specific requests? What does the text express about God? Let that lead you to worship. Depending on the genre of the book you're reading, you might not feel led to pray after every verse or even every chapter, and that’s okay. There’s not a right or wrong way to do this.
Prayer Using the Structure of the Psalms
As I write this, I’ve been walking through a season of grief and anxiety, so I’ve sometimes Googled “psalms + anxiety” or “psalms + sadness” because I’ve not had the energy to search 150 chapters to find a psalm that fits how I’m feeling.
Recently, I turned to Psalm 3 for anxiety and Psalm 4 for frustration. When I didn’t know how to pray, the structure of these psalms directed me in how to talk to God about what I was feeling.
- When the psalmist verbalized the facts and feelings of his situation, I paused and gave a summary of my situation and the contributing reasons for my emotions to God.
- Then when the psalmist acknowledged God’s attributes and how he’d worked in the past, I noted characteristics of God that came to mind or stood out to me about my circumstances, and I praised God for these things being true.
- When the psalmist requested something from God, I uttered my own requests.
- When the psalmist spoke truth to himself, whether to not be afraid of those who are against him (Ps. 3:6) or to “be angry, and do not sin” (Ps. 4:4), I rehearsed to myself what’s true about my circumstances.
Sometimes I do this in my head, mentally communicating with God as I read, but often, I write it in my journal. Other times, I’ve drawn an image depicted in the psalm, such as a mountain when thinking of God as a Rock, or I’ve used colored pens or pencils to depict various emotions. When I don’t have it in me to come up with words, I use pictures, word art, or color to express prayers or truths depicted in the psalm. In all of this, though, I’m using God’s Word to guide me in how I pray.
Prayer is Not a Magic Formula
As a new year begins with fresh excitement and motivation to grow in your relationship with God, take a step this week to infuse your prayers with Scripture, whether that’s praying God’s Word as you study it or adapting the structure of a psalm as a way to talk to God about your feelings. Keep in mind there’s not some sort of magic formula of words you have to get right in order for God to hear you. When you pray, you’re talking to Someone who loves you and wants to hear from you. He’s not bored with your words or overwhelmed by your emotions. He delights in his children and invites us to talk to him.
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
When in doubt of what to say, turn to God’s Word and pray.
Meet the Author:
Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Young Adult Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, and she’s the author of It's Not Just You: Freeing Women to Talk about Sexual Sin and Fight It Well. She has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a Certificate of Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. When she's not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer's market or trying some new local restaurant.