—by Pew-Thian Yap, Ruling Elder
Let’s face it. We are not praying as often as we ought to. When we do pray, we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. Our repetitious prayers bore us to the point where we could hardly find the motivation to pray. Why is talking about the most important things in our lives to the most fascinating Person in the universe so mundane, monotonous, and lifeless?
In Praying the Bible, Donald Whitney puts his finger on the heart of the problem: Our tendency to repeat the same prayers about the same matters again and again. The remedy, he argues, is to center our prayers on the text of the Bible: “To pray the Bible, you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text.” Whitney explains the many benefits of shaping our prayers with the words and thoughts of the Scripture. I’d like to mention here two points that are helpful to me.
Prayer as Conversation
We often assume that we must do all the talking when we meet with God. Consequently, our prayers become monologues and eventually our creative energy runs dry and we cannot think about fresh new ways to talk to God about our daily concerns. Prayer centered on Scripture lifts this burden and promotes two-way communication. We take in God’s words, circulate them through our hearts and minds, and voice out our thoughts to God. This empowers us to not only pray in new different ways, but also pray for things we don’t normally pray about. We are unlikely to run out of prayers.
Focusing on God
Our thoughts are less likely to wander when we have the text in front of us to guide our prayers. This helps battle the mind-wandering boredom of mindless repetitious prayers. The text also directs our attention more toward God and less toward ourselves. The fact that we are actively engaged in the text when we pray means that we are pondering more deeply about God’s words and are hence able to shape our prayers in greater conformity with God’s will. We don’t expect God to answer if we are not praying according to His will (1 John 5:14–15).
The new season of prayer is a great opportunity to put this into practice. Repetitious prayers ultimately become meaningless words. “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). If our prayers bore us, do they not also bore God?