12 Reasons You Should Pray Scripture
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a prayer-expert. I’m not. But that’s one reason I find praying Scripture so helpful (more on that later).
My argument is simple: You should pray Scripture.
- I don’t mean merely that you should pray. That’s a given.
- I don’t mean that you should merely pray scripturally informed prayers. That’s also a given. I’m arguing specifically that you should pray Scripture itself.
- I’m not arguing that you should pray only Scripture every time you pray. Rather, I’m arguing that you should pray Scripture itself often.
So why should you pray Scripture? For at least twelve reasons:
1. You should pray Scripture because God’s people in the OT and NT did.
It’s not always logical to argue that we should do something merely because the Bible records God’s people doing it. Sometimes OT narratives or the book of Acts describe practices without prescribing them. But I can’t think of a one good reason that we shouldn’t emulate these two examples.
First, an example from the OT: When the Israelites confess their sins in Neh 9, the Levites lead the people in prayer (Neh 9:5–37). The entire prayer is scripturally informed (e.g., 9:11),1 and verse 17 quotes previous Scripture:
They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies . . . . (Neh 9:17–18, emphasis added)
In the middle of their prayer, they quote Exod 34:6. They apply that Scripture to their specific context.
Second, an example from the NT: After the antagonistic Sanhedrin release Peter and John in Acts 4, how does the early church respond?
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’ . . . .” (Acts 4:24–26)
In the middle of their prayer, they quote Ps 2:1–2. They apply that Scripture to their specific context.
2. You should pray Scripture because Jesus did.
I need to develop this further because it’s not always logical to argue that we should do something merely because Jesus did. Jesus did a lot of things that we can’t do—like walk on water and forgive people of their sins. And Jesus did some things that we shouldn’t do—like die on the cross to satisfy God’s righteous wrath against sinners. But Jesus did many things that we should imitate, and praying Scripture is one of them.
Both the Gospel according to Matthew and Mark record that Jesus prayed this to the Father when he was dying on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). That quotes the first line of Ps 22.
We have to be careful here because Jesus fulfills Scripture in a way that we don’t. Jesus is unique.2 My point is that Jesus prayed Scripture. For him to do that, he had to read Scripture, correctly understand Scripture, meditate on Scripture, and then apply Scripture to his specific situation. We don’t typologically fulfill Scripture in the same way that Jesus does, but we can and should pray Scripture appropriately with reference to our contexts. For example, we can appropriate God-breathed prayers in Scripture as they match our own circumstances. God’s people have been doing that with the Psalms for thousands of years.
3. You should pray Scripture because it glorifies God the Father.
Jesus told his disciples in John 15:7–8, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”3 What is the “fruit” in the context of John 15?
I won’t take the time to demonstrate this here,4 but here’s how I understand John 15:4: “Abide in me, and I in you” essentially means “Obey my words, and let my words remain in you.” Therefore, Jesus abides in us (believers) to the degree that his words abide in us, and we abide in Jesus to the degree that we obey his words. Every believer abides in Jesus to some degree, resulting in different degrees of fruitfulness.
So when we internalize Jesus’ individual utterances (i.e., his words remain in us), we will make scripturally informed requests, and God will answer them. So what is the “fruit”? I think that the fruit in this context is the answers to those prayers. That does not refer exclusively to when we pray Scripture; it refers to scripturally informed prayers. But that certainly includes our praying Scripture. When we pray Scripture, we demonstrate explicitly that Jesus’ words are remaining in us.
And when we are bearing much fruit through our praying Scripture, that is a way that we glorify God the Father: “By this my Father is glorified.”
4. You should pray Scripture because it helps you focus on what is most important.