by Daniel Henderson
Over the last two decades I’ve known the incredible joy of leading scores of prayer experiences that we call “Prayer Summits.” These are multi-day gatherings, usually away at some kind of retreat center, featuring unscripted, Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer. (Some have suggested that we call them “Bible Summits” because of the centrality of God’s word in prompting and guiding most of the prayers.) Because God is always faithful and creative, and His word alive and active, these experiences are always profound.
Our Most Effective Prayers
By conviction and experience I have concluded that the most creative and effective prayers spring from the inexhaustible treasury of the word of God. Thousands of times I have watched the Bible expose hearts, guide language, unite diverse interests, and create powerful moments of remarkable prayer impact. There is nothing more thrilling than watching a diverse group of Christians brought into unity and transformation as eyes and hearts are opened to pray from the Scriptures.
Finding our language in the Scripture through focused and measured prayers allows everyone to discover an entry point. The Bible provides handles for mature saints and struggling neophytes. It is a wonderful thing to observe this dynamic. This is at the heart of teaching people how to truly pray.
Prayer in Proper Context
Eugene Peterson said it well: “Prayer is language used to respond to the most that has been said to us with the potential for saying all that is in us . . . Prayer is dangerous . . . it moves our language into potencies we are unaccustomed to and unprepared for . . . We restore prayer to its context in God’s word. Prayer is not something we think up to get God’s attention or enlist his favor. Prayer is answering speech. The first word is God’s word. Prayer is a human word and is never the first word, never the primary word, never the initiating and shaping word simply because we are never first; never primary . . . the first word everywhere and always is God’s word to us, not ours to him.” (Working the Angles, Eerdman Press)
Peterson’s insights remind me of a lesson I’ve learned over the years about the value of letting the Bible shape the vocabulary of prayer. It’s sad, but somewhat humorous, to observe what happens in a prayer time that is based in stale human vocabulary rather than the fresh foundation of God’s word. Too often we just engage in a rapid-fire discharge of superficial thoughts, explaining to God all that we think He needs to do in order to structure the universe according to our specifications for a happy and comfortable life. Once we run out of our instructions for the day, our prayer concludes with a thud.
Of course, it is important for us to share our hearts with God when we pray. However, it is primary and essential that we allow Him to share His heart with us. This happens as we pray, first and foremost, from His word.
A Brimming Experience
John Piper has said, “Where the mind is not brimming with Scripture the heart is seldom brimming with prayer.” In his autobiography, George Mueller describes how for many years he did not begin his prayers in the Bible and confessed that his mind wandered. He goes on to testify that once he learned to pray from the Bible he was able to pray effectively for decades to follow.
Recently, one of the women attending a Prayer Summit pulled me aside to comment on her experiences. She said, “I never realized how simple but meaningful this kind of prayer can be. My prayer life has been stagnated for many months but through this experience I gained practical tips on how to kick-start my prayer life with new energy. The Spirit was really at work and I love learning how to pray straight from the Bible.” One pastor commented, “I’m convinced that the best way to apply God’s word is to pray it.”
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The Spirit who causes men to have greater regard for the Holy Scriptures and establishes them more in their truth and divine inspiration is certainly the Spirit of God. . . It is this word that God has given to be the great, the standing rule for the direction of His church in all spiritual matters and for all concerns of their souls in all ages. A spirit of delusion will not incline persons to seek direction from the mouth of God.” (The Spirit of Revival by Archie Parrish and R.C. Sproul)
“Seek direction from the mouth of God.” What a focus! This is the key idea and the central passion of Scripture-fed prayer. Today, as you seek to spend time with God, open the Bible. Discover the truths that spring from the text about the His character, His works, and His names. Give Him praise based on these truths. Seek the admonitions of the text. Ask the Spirit to apply these truths to the very fabric of your life. With an open Bible, make it your cry: “Lord, teach me to pray.” He will be faithful to do so as you learn to talk to Him in His own words.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.