The Prayer Book

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Donald Whitney tells the story of sitting under the ministry of a guest preacher at the Chicago church he pastored in March 1985. As the guest taught on the prayers of the Paul, he paused, held up his Bible, and exhorted, “Folks, when you pray, use the prayer book.” This proved to be something of a lightbulb moment for Whitney, who started from that day to deliberately pray Scripture. He made it a discipline to daily turn one of the sections of his personal Bible reading into a prayer. He offers some insight on how to begin this discipline in his helpful little book, Praying the Bible.

Praying the Bible is hardly a novel idea. It was not first thought of by a guest preacher to Don Whitney’s church in March 1985. It is not a practice invented by the Reformers or even the apostles. The discipline of praying Scripture stretches back much further than that. Psalm 135 is a case in point.

We don’t know when the anonymous author of this psalm lived and wrote, but it seems to have been fairly late in old covenant history because so much of what he wrote references elsewhere in the Old Testament. Dennis Tucker and Jamie Grant offer a helpful table highlighting this reality.

  • Verses 1–2—Psalms 113:1; 134:1–2; 116:19
  • Verse 3—Psalms 133:1; 147:1
  • Verse 4—Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2
  • Verse 5—Exodus 18:11
  • Verse 6—Psalm 115:3
  • Verse 7—Jeremiah 10:13
  • Verse 8—Exodus 12:29
  • Verse 9—Deuteronomy 6:22; 34:11
  • Verses 10–12—Psalm 136:17–22
  • Verse 13—Exodus 3:15
  • Verse 14—Deuteronomy 32:36
  • Verses 15–18—Psalm 115:4–8
  • Verses 19–21—Psalm 115:9–11
  • Verse 21—Psalms 133:3; 134:3

The table above illustrates the reality that Scripture is given to us, among other things, as a guide to our prayers. We sometimes struggle to know how to pray, or how to pray effectively, and when we are stuck, we can do no better than to pray God’s word back to him. How can you do this? Here are four questions to ask as you read Scripture, which may help you to formulate your prayers.

First, what does the text teach me about God? As you read Scripture, you learn about the character of God and the person of Christ. This gives you ample opportunity to praise God for his character. For example, as you read Psalm 135:3 you are reminded that God is good, which affords you opportunity to formulate a prayer of thanksgiving and adoration for his goodness.

Second, what does the text teach me about God’s work in the world and in your life? Psalm 135, for example, highlights God’s power in something as simple as giving rain (v. 7) and as enormous as giving salvation (v. 8). As you read these verses, they give you opportunity to petition God for what you need and give thanks for his answers to your prayers.

Third, what does the text teach me about God’s commands? Psalm 135 teaches us that God expects his people to bless and praise him (vv. 19–21). As we see how the text exhorts us, we can respond appropriately, crying out to him for the ability to do what he requires.

Fourth, what does the text teach me about my failures? As you learn what God expects, you may well realise how you have fallen short, which will give you opportunity to respond with a prayer of confession.

As you consider Psalm 135 this morning, carefully do so asking the right questions of the text and allowing the answers to shape the way that you pray. When you pray, use the prayer book.