Week Three of Lent: Praying Scripture
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
– John 10:27 (ESV)
God speaks to us in many ways. Scripture is one of the most powerful. We first learn to respond to the written word intellectually, with our minds. We are taught to analyze, critique, and evaluate what it has to say to our lives or whether it fits. We learn to apply these same skills to God’s Word, giving us a valuable tool as we seek to grow: an informational approach to scripture.
Yet there’s more to loving God, as Jesus implies here, than with our minds only. In an informational approach, we study God’s Word for all we can wrest from it, a necessary part of our growth as disciples. But there’s another approach to scripture that builds on what we’ve learned: a formational approach. When we take a formational approach, it’s because we now know enough of the Word to see some of the ways we fail to live it out, and our heart’s desire is to be formed and reformed in the image of Christ for the sake of others. For that we need God. We need to learn to listen and respond to his Word with our hearts, as well as our minds. This takes humility, to submit to the Word of God rather than master it. A formational approach allows God to set the agenda for what he wants to say to us through his Word.
There are many ways to pray scripture. In time of need, you might say the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm. You might make scripture into the prayer of your heart, such as, “Lord, help me to keep your Word hidden like treasure in my heart, so that I won’t be tempted to sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11) It helps to invite God to speak to you as you read and listen. Focusing on your breathing can help calm your mind as well. Sit with his Word and let it sink in and spill over into your life. You may want to end your time with a familiar prayer, or with, “The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need.” Psalm 23 (NLT)
Sometimes you might want to personalize it and put your name in a scripture passage. If you feel led, you could take a verse with you into the day to reflect further. Remain open to letting Jesus guide you and give you direction as you read and listen to his Word.
Isaiah 43:1-3 (NRSV)
“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’”
God is always speaking to us, in a variety of ways. He speaks to us through prayer, through scripture, through other people, circumstances, through nature, through devotional reading, through sermons and in silence, to name a few. One of the most powerful is through his Word. Praying scripture is important to us as disciples because it speaks to both head and heart. God’s written word has the power to enlighten, to convict, to counsel, to inspire and to give us a sense of his love in all seasons. As we walk with God, we see how to lay down our lives, to love our enemies, to forgive those who hurt us, to care for the poor and weak among us. His Word heals our deepest wounds, and gives us freedom from anxiety and fear. It offers joy and peace, despite our circumstances.
When we open up his Word, we are opening the door not only to his presence and his power, but also to his mercy. He is a high priest we can come to when we’re tempted or in need and find compassion and help. When you don’t know what to pray, let scripture say it for you. Let it be the prayer of your heart.
Today’s prayer practice: Letting scripture speak
Read the passage above slowly three times, paying attention to your feelings. As you read through this passage, remind yourself that God speaks to us personally through his word. Ask to hear his message to you as you begin to read. In the first reading, allow yourself to linger over any words or phrases that capture your attention, then pause to reflect. In the second reading, listen for what God might have for you in that word or phrase that stood out. Pause before reading it a third time. Afterwards think about how you’d like to respond to what God brought up. Thank him for his presence with you and for his love.