A Recipe for Potent Prayer

Sometimes our prayers feel cold and rote, a continual treading of the ground we covered yesterday. An antidote is to use the Bible for meditation to give us a greater spiritual vocabulary.

Bible reading should feed our devotional life of prayer. But too often we race through it, barely grasping the content of sacred revelation. Instead of speed reading, we should stop and ponder what God is intending for us as we read, that we might learn from him, savor his words like wine, and pray the words he has given us back to him.

This is the central ingredient in the recipe for potent prayer. Prayer that is potent is prayer that is sopping with Scripture. This was the secret of the puritans, shown by the fine example of Matthew Henry in his excellent book A Method for Prayer (which I recommend to everyone). The most helpful prayers I have heard and that have been a means of grace to my soul have been those prayers that drip with Bible from start to finish, utilizing the language and idiom of the words God has given to his people. These words are a light for our feet and a lamp for our path. We need God to open our lips in order that our mouths would declare his praise. But in order to do that, we need to know the Word. And in order to know the Word, we have to take time with the Word.

One of the most helpful Bible books to train ourselves for prayer is the Psalms. The Psalms consistently give us the language we need to come before God in praise, worship, joy, sorrow, confession, and discipleship. Too often, our prayers feel forced and cold — a continuous treading of ground we have covered before. Why? One reason, perhaps, is the lack of meditation on Scripture. But the thing that will help our prayers rise with God-centered buoyancy will be the fuel of the Word burning in our hearts.

If your prayers suffer from rote and routine, chain yourself to the Psalms and read them slowly day-by-day—then use the language in your own prayers before God in your closet. Take a concordance and look up verses that sound similar and then begin to pray them yourself. Search the Scriptures—and then use the Scriptures for prayer.

I want to highlight a simple prayer that we hear repeatedly in the Psalms. It is the cry, “Teach me!” Just take a moment to read Psalm 25:4–5; 27:11; 86:11; 119:12, 26, 29, 33, 64, 66, 68, 108, 124, 135, 171 and 143:10.

David clearly views himself as God’s spiritual apprentice — under divine tutelage. In Yahweh’s school David sits at his desk with pen and paper and looks to his Teacher, asking that he might know the paths of life. What does David want God to teach him? He wants to know:

1) God’s ways 2) God’s paths 3) God’s truth 4) God’s statutes 5) God’s law 6) God’s wisdom 7) God’s rules 8) God’s will

A lot of these are overlapping ideas, but the consistency with which we find them in the Psalms is exemplary for how we ought to pray. When we bend the knee before God, it is helpful to view ourselves as his pupils. By nature we are blind and foolish, but in God’s school we are graciously taught wisdom in the secret heart. As we utilize the phraseology of the Bible, we can be confident that we are indeed praying according God’s will. We should also expect that our prayers for God to teach us will be answered. And when they are, we will find other tributaries of truth to pray. For example, as we ask God to teach us, we will find areas of our life where we have not followed his way and must confess our sin. The Psalms give us ample fuel for confession as well (e.g. Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 130, 143).

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