In his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller amplifies a point made by Eugene Peterson,
…our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. We should “plunge ourselves into the sea” of God’s language, the Bible. We should listen, study, think, reflect, and ponder the Scriptures until there is an answering response in our hearts and minds. It may be one of shame or of joy or of confusion or of appeal—but that response to God’s speech is then truly prayer and should be given to God. If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak. (Snagged from Goodreads, cuz I can’t find my copy of Keller’s book. Too generous a lender sometimes.)
This idea is exemplified in early Christianity. Facing hostility, the believers understand and interperet their situation through Scripture:
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’ —
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:23-26)
Knowing Scripture (in this case, they are quoting Psalm 2), the church pours out a prayer, which receives a powerful answer:
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts4:29-31)
Scripture is routinely ignored or even denegrated from plenty of pulpits, and an uncomfortably low percentage of Christians report reading their Bibles with regularity.
Yes, we can pray in our own words, and God will hear. And God loves us so much that, in the mystery of the Trinity, God is interceding for us and even praying within us when we don’t know how.
But there is great power to be discovered when Christians pray together, defining their circumstances according to God’s interpretation and priorities revealed in Scripture. Turning the Scriptures into the language of our prayers is to have heard God and responded, as Peterson and Keller pointed out, in God’s own language.
It is the means by which God helps us overcome the limits of our sinful estrangement from God and the incomprehensibility of God’s great mystery, joining God in purpose and power.
Recently, my daily Bible reading took me into Luke 5. Jesus guides some fisherman to a great catch, after they had spent a miserable night catching nothing:
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (5:8-11)
It happens that our family finances have had some significant improvement. Like the fishermen, I am astonished and almost unwilling to accept the blessing – Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.
But Jesus is saying Fear not. Jesus is showing his power to provide so that those who follow him can trust him and concentrate on new efforts in his service.
Will you pray with me? Jesus, you see every need and you provide. Help us to look past our limitations and accept that we are in your care. Help us to accept the freedom you give and use it to follow you. More than that, help us to enrich others with the Good News about you. In your name, Amen.
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