Pray the Scriptures
by Scotty Smith
I am a recovering self-centered pragmatic pray-er — a believer who spent many of my first years in Christ thinking of God more as a sugar daddy than the sovereign Father. Prayer, for me, had more in common with programming a heavenly computer than surrendering to a loving Master. I worked harder at claiming God’s promises for my ease than being claimed by God’s purposes for His kingdom. Instead of being still and knowing that God is God, my prayer life was that of an antsy man, trying to help God be God.
Alas, this was a manifestation of the man-centered gospel that distorted my view of God and, therefore, enfeebled my practice of prayer. Thankfully, continued growth in grace has led me to a better understanding of the gospel, which, in turn, has radically reoriented my prayer life. It’s not cliché; it’s wondrously true: the gospel changes everything.
Nothing has been of greater importance to my growth in grace than learning to pray the Scriptures while wearing the lens of the gospel, and nothing has proven to be more fruitful. A gospel-centered approach to praying through the Bible will yield a mind informed by the will of God, a heart enflamed with the love of God, and hands extended in the service of God. All three of these are central to life in Christ, and all three flow out of our union and communion with Christ.
So, what’s involved in this doxological discipline of praying the Scriptures? I don’t suggest my way is the only way, but here’s how my commitment to Bible study and prayer have been tremendously enriched in recent years.
Praying the Scriptures requires us first to be in the Scriptures regularly, preferably daily. A “diligent use of the means of grace” doesn’t earn us anything, but it profits us in every way. We can’t hide the Word in our hearts if we’re not lingering in the Bible’s pages. Personally, the best time for me to meet with God in an unrushed, expectant way is early in the morning, but we’re all wired differently.
Jack Miller, my spiritual dad and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, taught me the importance of reading through the whole Bible while at the same time having a smaller portion of Scripture read me. If we aren’t careful, we can read the Scriptures for information and inspiration while playing dodgeball with our calling to transformation. Having the Scriptures “read me” deepens my prayer life because it exposes my sin, reveals Jesus, and makes me hunger and thirst for more of the gospel.
As Martin Luther said, we need the gospel every day because we forget the gospel every day. There’s nothing like knowing our need for Jesus to cure us of gospel amnesia. Nothing will so enflame our hearts like a fresh experience of God’s grace for our current needs. Reading the Bible and having the Bible read me constantly convinces me of this: there’s nothing more than the gospel, there’s just more of the gospel.
Praying the Scriptures, therefore, calls us to look for Jesus in every part of the Bible, for He is the heart, heartbeat, and hero of the gospel. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27), we want to discover everything prophesied and promised about Jesus as He is progressively revealed in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation.
All of God’s promises find their “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), but they’re not God’s “yes” to all of our fancies and fantasies. Jack Miller taught me to pray the promises of God with my eyes fixed on Jesus and His kingdom purposes. This represents an important paradigm shift away from looking for verses we can name and claim to pursuing the Christ we can know and serve.
Minds informed by the will of God and hearts enflamed with the love of God will be authenticated by hands extended in the service of God. The more we pray through the Scriptures wearing the lens of the gospel, the less we’ll find ourselves giving God bit parts in our story and the more we’ll think about finding our place in His story. The central and operative question in life is not “What can I do for Jesus?” while He’s away in heaven. Rather, it’s “What can I do with Jesus?” since He’s right here, right now. Each of us is called to live as a character in and a carrier of His story of redemption and restoration.
Praying the Scriptures involves heart-fully engaging with Christ in His three offices of prophet, priest, and king:
Because Jesus is our Prophet — the final Word from God — reading the Bible isn’t merely about gaining information; it’s about prayerfully listening to the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are to give Jesus our rapt attention and our grace-liberated consciences.
Because Jesus is our Priest — our great High Priest — we must read the Scriptures doxologically, for Christ is the completed sacrifice for our sins, our perfect righteousness from God, and the Shepherd of our souls. We are to give Jesus our current brokenness and our fresh adoration.
Because Jesus is our King — the King of kings and Lord of lords — we must pray through the Bible with bowed heads and surrendered lives. We are to give Jesus our humble obeisance and our overjoyed obedience.