Hardly any question — unless perhaps if someone asks about your evangelistic efforts — can cause more chin-dropping, foot-shuffling embarrassment for Christians than asking about their prayer life.
Why is that? Why do so many followers of Jesus suffer with such unsatisfying prayer lives and consider themselves hopelessly second-rate Christians because of it?
Method Is Our Madness
For almost all followers of Jesus, I believe the problem in prayer is not with the quality of the Christian, but with the method of their prayer.
Of course, no change in method will make prayer consistently meaningful to someone who is spiritually dead. But it’s different for those who are spiritually alive. They are born again through faith in Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s presence causes them as God’s children to cry, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), giving them a Godward orientation they didn’t have before.
In other words, all those indwelled by the Holy Spirit really do want to pray. And if an individual Christian sincerely seeks to live for Christ, and has no specific sin issue that he or she refuses to confess and fight against, then the basic problem in prayer is not with sin or failure, but with method.
And what is the method of prayer for most Christians? It’s this: When we pray, we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. Sooner or later, that kind of prayer is boring. When prayer is boring, you don’t feel like praying. And when you don’t feel like praying, you don’t pray — at least with any fervency or consistency. Prayer feels much more like duty than delight.
The problem is not that we pray about the same old things. To pray about the same things most of the time is normal. That’s because our lives tend to consist of the same things from one day to the next. Thankfully, dramatic changes in our lives usually don’t occur very often.
No, the problem isn’t that we pray about the same old things; the problem is that we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. The result is that we can be talking to the most fascinating Person in the universe about the most important things in our lives — and be bored to death.
So we can experience boredom in prayer, not because we don’t love God, and not because we don’t love who or what we’re praying about, but because of our method.
Solution in the Spirit
What is the solution? Well, whatever it is, it must be simple. God has children all over the planet, and they represent the widest imaginable diversity in language, culture, age, IQ, education, and Christian privilege (such as access to a Bible preaching church, Christian books, Christian content online, and more). If all these believers, despite the various and dramatic differences among them, are invited to pray, then prayer must be doable by all God’s children.
The simple solution to the seemingly universal problem of saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer is this: Pray the Bible. In other words, slowly read a passage of Scripture and pray about all that comes to mind as you read.
Do this, and you’ll never again be left to say the same old things in prayer.
Simple, Powerful, Biblical
Praying the Bible isn’t complicated. Read through a few verses of Scripture, pause at the end of each phrase or verse, and pray about what the words suggest to you.
Suppose you are praying your way through Psalm 23. After reading verse one — “The Lord is my shepherd” — you might begin by thanking Jesus for being your Shepherd. Next you might ask him to shepherd your family, making your children or grandchildren his sheep, causing them to love him as their great Shepherd too. After that you might pray for your undershepherds at the church, that Jesus would shepherd them as they shepherd you.
Then, when nothing else comes to mind, you go to the next line, “I shall not want.” You might thank him that you’ve never been in real want, or pray for someone — perhaps someone you know, or for a Christian in a place of persecution — who is in want.
You would continue through the psalm until you run out of time. You wouldn’t run out of anything to say (if you did, you could just go to another psalm), and best of all, that prayer would be unlike any you’ve ever prayed in your life.
That means if you’ll pray the Bible, you’ll never again say the same old things about the same old things. You don’t need any notes or books or any plan to remember. Simply talk to God about what comes to mind as you go line-by-line through his word.
As John Piper puts it, “Open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into a prayer.”
If nothing comes to mind, go to the next verse. If you don’t understand that verse, go to the next one. If the following verse is crystal clear, but doesn’t prompt anything to pray about, read on. If you want to linger long over a single verse, pray from and about that verse as long as you want.
By this method, your prayers will be guided and shaped by Scripture, and be far more in conformity to the word and will of God than they will if you always make up your own prayers.
Jesus prayed the Bible in Matthew 27:46 and Luke 23:46, and the early church prayed the Bible in Acts 4:23–26, and so can you.