A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of speaking to our high school ministry as a part of their series on prayer. I really enjoyed speaking on this topic, and wanted to share my thoughts with you here as well. I have modified some of the message in order to make more sense as a blog post, but the jist of the lesson is here. I love how the student team is equipping students to make their faith their own and encouraging them to grow in their faith.
Today we’re going to be talking about using scripture in our prayers. If you’re new to church, or maybe just haven’t heard this word before, prayer is the word we describe our time talking to God, whether it’s out loud in a group or by ourselves.
There sometimes is a lot of pressure around prayer, especially praying out loud. It can seem like there’s this specific formula, and you have to make sure you say all the “right” words when you’re praying. Growing up, my parents tell a story of the first time I prayed for dinner. I had listened to my parents and my Sunday school teachers pray for weeks, and felt like I knew exactly what to say. We all closed our eyes, bowed our heads, and I confidently said “Dear God. Amen.” Luckily today I have YouTube to teach me how to pray before meals, and I love how this video portrays pre-meal prayer
That video always makes me laugh, but I think there’s definitely some truth to how confusing this whole concept is. It seems like there’s a right and wrong way to pray, and if we don’t sound spiritual enough, or pray at exactly the right time, we’re doing it wrong. Praying out loud in a group is something I don’t think anyone is super comfortable with- there’s usually an awkward silence at least for a few seconds when someone asks who wants to pray during my life group.
And if we’re honest, sometimes it’s easier to pray when we’re alone, but not always. Especially when things are hard or confusing, it can be really difficult to know what to say or how to say it.
When we don’t know how to pray, we can use the words God has already given us to pray- scripture. There’s no one right way to pray, but the Bible is full of great examples of people praying- the book of Psalms is a whole book full of songs and prayers, and show what it looks like to cry out to God in good times and bad times.
And what’s cool is that the more you read the Bible, you can start to make connections within some of these prayers. People in the Bible use verses from other books when they’re praying, and say God’s words back to him. We’re going to read a passage from Acts 4, but I want to give you a little bit of background context first.
The book of Acts tells stories of the early church, right after Jesus died and rose again. These were not always easy times for the church, and there was a lot of push back against them from the rulers during this time. This story picks up after Peter and John are questioned, and then arrested and put in jail for teaching about Jesus. They were questioned, then released, and returned back to their home and told their church everything that had happened.
We’re going to start reading in Acts 4, verse 24.
24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’
What I think is so cool about this, is that these two men were so familiar with scripture, that they were able to connect their situation with one they had learned about many years earlier. This prayer is actually quoting a passage in Psalm, chapter 2 verses 1-2. They prayed using words from the Bible as a reminder of what God has done before for his people, and what he has promised them. This wasn’t the first time that God’s people had been attacked, and it wasn’t going to be the last. By looking back, it was a reminder for that church that God had seen His people in bad situations before, and had come through for them.
Every time I make a connection like this, I’m more motivated to study scripture well, and to commit it to memory. Here are three reasons why it’s important to read scripture and incorporate it into your prayers:
PRAYING GOD'S WORD HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND HIM. The better you understand the God you're speaking to, the easier it is to talk with Him. When you first meet someone, it can be hard to know where they’re coming from because you don’t know their story. You probably have preconceived ideas about the other person, but until you hear about their past, their heart, and their passions, you aren’t able to put any of your conversations into context. The Bible is God’s way of speaking to us, and allowing us to learn more about Him.
PRAYING GOD'S WORD REMINDS YOU OF HIS PROMISES. God doesn't need to be reminded of what He's promised, but we often do. Just like the early church in Acts, speaking God’s promises into our own lives can help us remember that God has been through our situation before. I like to go to the back of my Bible and use the index to find truth that can speak into whatever I’m struggling with and speaking that truth back to God.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with overcoming fear, and scripture about fear has been resonating with me lately, especially these two passages:
Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” Romans 8:15 “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”
These words of truth remind us that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and when we pray, we can use these words in our prayers, kind of like this:
This is just one example of how you could incorporate God’s words into your prayers.
PRAYING GOD’S WORD CAN HELP CHANGE YOUR HEART. God’s plan is always perfect, even when we don’t understand it or see what he’s doing, and when we use his words instead of ours, it can help us start to see things from a new perspective. I think a lot of times, we get caught up in viewing things our way, when God is calling us to see things differently. This can happen when we’re praying for something over and over again, and we aren’t seeing things turn out the way we want- God may be trying to change our heart to see the situation through a different lense.
We ended our time with an exercise inspired by the Catholic practice of “Lectio Divina” which means “divine reading.” It’s a practice where instead of just reading God’s word, we try to step into it and understand it from a different point of view. This practice has changed the way I read scripture, and given me concrete tools to view Scripture from a different point of view. I’ll link the video of the message here if you want to see the exercise in practice.