In writing on “Christianese” worship and living last week in “Let’s Stop the ‘Christianese’!”, I came across a helpful, practical article by our friend, Greg Koukl, from Stand to Reason on “A Solution to Monotonous Prayers”; in other words, “Christianese” prayers; prayers with no weight, meaning, power, or access to God.
Keep working at making your Christian lives fresh, real, and dwell-able by God. Hope this helps!
“A Solution to Monotonous Prayers” by Greg Koukl
Prayer is hard. There’s no getting around it. I know there must be saints who find it easy, but I don’t know any.
Part of the problem is monotony. How do we avoid, as one person put it, saying the same old things about the same old things? Recently, though, I’ve discovered an approach that has helped me immensely, and I want to pass it on to you.
In the past when I spent time with God, I’d start with prayer, then read my Bible. Now, I reverse the order and combine the two into one. I start with God’s Word, then let the words in the passage guide my prayers. There are three different ways to “pray Scripture” that I have used. Each is easy to employ.
Here’s the first: Pray the prayers of the Bible as if they were your own. For years, I prayed for my family using Paul’s wonderful prayer to the Colossians found in Col. 1:9b-12. At first I had to turn to the passage each time, but soon I knew it by heart. Here is how I paraphrased Paul’s words for my own girls:
Lord, I pray that they may be filled with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that they would walk in a manner worthy of You, Lord, to please You in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in their knowledge of You. Strengthen them with all power according to Your glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks to You, Lord.
Profound, satisfying, simple.
There are lots of prayers like this in the Bible and they’re perfect for those closest to you: children, spouse, friends, disciples. Some are short, like 2 Thess. 3:16 (“May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance”) or Ps. 19:14 (“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer”). Others are longer, but exceedingly rich, like Eph. 3:16-19, Eph. 1:17-19a, and Phil. 1:9-11.
Guard against repeating these prayers mechanically, taking the life out of them. Rather, pray the words slowly, with meaning, putting your own emotion into them.
Choose a passage and write the verse on a 3×5 card if you like, though soon you won’t need the reminder. The words will be hidden in your heart, faithful friends ready to serve you at any moment. Consider Col. 2:2-3, 1 Thess. 3:12-13 or 5:23, 2 Thess. 2:16-17, or Heb. 13:20-21 (also a wonderful benediction to conclude a church service).
Second, pray the content of a passage. Pick a Psalm or a New Testament chapter and read through it slowly, talking to God about its meaning in context. Don’t get creative; just stick with the flow of thought. Reflect carefully on the theology as you converse with God and apply it through prayer. Pray the words, express wonder, give thanks, offer praise, confess shortcomings, ask questions.
Often you can make the whole passage your prayer. I frequently pray Ps. 51, using David’s words as my own confession. Sometimes at night I’ll lie in bed, slowly and silently praying the 23rd Psalm as I drift off to sleep, thinking about its wonderful truth. The Lord is my Shepherd. He restores my soul. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
Finally, read through Scripture praying about whatever thoughts come to mind that are triggered by the passage, even if they have nothing to do with the text’s intended meaning. This is the method Donald Whitney develops in his wonderful little book, Praying the Bible. “This isn’t reading something into the text,” he writes, but rather “using the language of the text to speak to God about what has come into your mind.” When, for example, you read Ps. 23, you might think of others who need special shepherding from the Lord or need their souls restored. Pray for them.
These three ways of praying Scripture are incredibly simple, and have the added bonus of taking passages you visit frequently and binding them to your heart forever. I still pray most of the same things I used to pray for (my “list”), but I pray for them differently, often incorporating my standard requests into my scriptural prayers.
Simply put, let Scripture guide your conversation with God. Pray 1) the prayers of Scripture, 2) the content of Scripture, or 3) your thoughts as you read Scripture. Start right away and you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.