The Bible not only teaches us that prayer is important, but also how to pray. As we enter into the prayers passed down to us in Scripture, we learn to pray.
One thing which fascinates me about the psalm-prayers is how all of life is taken up in prayer: the bright and the dark sides of life, joy and pain, love and hate. A beautiful psalm of trust follows right after a psalm of lament (e.g. Ps. 23 after 22). Doesn’t that reflect the reality of our walk with God? The psalm-prayers are not all nice and tidy – they express feelings such as anger (e.g. Ps. 137) or painful questions (e.g. Ps. 13). All of life has a place in these conversations with God. These prayers invite us to speak to God about everything, without first editing our thoughts or feelings.
Prayers from Scripture also invite us to pray with a wide perspective. So often, our prayers simply echo the thoughts and feelings which are in us. Biblical prayers help us to pray in light of God’s reality. The Lord’s Prayer encompasses God’s purposes for the whole world (Mt 6:9-13). The prayers of Paul have challenged my tendency to primarily pray for God to change difficult circumstances and solve all problems. Paul’s prayers go far beyond that as he prays for believers to grow in their knowledge of God, to bear fruit, to walk faithfully with God until Christ returns. (See Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 1:3-14).
Let me close with a few simple suggestions on how prayers from Scripture can help shape our communal praying:
- Pray using prayers from the Bible. You can simply speak the words from Scripture together. Or you can pray a few lines from Scripture and let these words lead you into further prayers before continuing with the Biblical prayer. In this way, your prayers alternate between the words from Scripture and your own words of prayer.
- Pray for one another using one of Paul’s prayers. Personalize the prayer by inserting the name of the person you are praying for.
- Read a prayer from Scripture together. After a time of silent reflection and sharing allow this prayer to shape a communal time of prayer.
Similarly, you can let prayers from Scripture shape your personal prayer life. As we enter into these prayers, we will be learning how to pray.