Looking at the day’s headlines, one would think there’s plenty to pray about: terrorist acts at sporting events, theaters and even churches; protest rallies for protecting our First Amendment religious freedoms; videos surfacing with allegations of fetal mutilation by tax-supported agencies; community rallies lamenting a rise in deaths due to heroin overdoses; distressing admissions of marital infidelity by a family values advocate and television personality.
And, there also seems to be much to praise God for: Christians willing to stand up for their faith, even at the risk of loss of vocation or imprisonment; hundreds of professions of faith and decisions by teens at our summer camps; dozens desiring to use creative arts in missions and ministry; volunteers training for disaster relief efforts; thousands across the nation who attended rallies in support of pro-life values.
Yet, if Donald Whitney is right, many of us regrettably would have to admit that our prayers are repetitive, even boring, as our thoughts frequently turn inward—our health, our family, our finances, our work. “Why don’t the people of God enjoy prayer more?” he asks. Many of us, Whitney maintains, do not pray because we simply don’t feel like it. Why not? Because we tend to say “the same old things about the same old things.”
Many great Christians mistakenly conclude, “Something is wrong with me,” the Southern Seminary professor of spiritual formation explains. “If I get bored in something as important as prayer, then I must be a second-rate Christian,” they reason. After all, the words just do not seem to flow as beautifully as the prayers others do.
I’ve been there! And my guess is, so have many of you. But Whitney, whom I had an opportunity to hear speak on this topic several years ago at a Baptist editors’ meeting in Williamsburg, Va., has a word of hope: “(I)f this mind wandering boredom describes your experience in prayer, I would argue that if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit—if you are born again—then the problem is not you; it is your method.”
Whitney, who will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Super Saturday training event in Louisville Sept. 12, asserts, “Every Christian can have a meaningful, satisfying prayer life.” He offers a solution in his new book, “Praying the Bible.” Under 90-pages in length, it is an easy read. But, his little book packs a profound punch and, with the Holy Spirit’s influence, offers a practical yet powerful transformation of our prayer life through meditating on God’s word.
The problem, Whitney emphasizes, is not that we pray about the same old things. “To routinely pray about the same people and situations is perfectly normal,” he acknowledges. “It’s normal to pray about the same old things because our lives tend to consist of the same old things.”
Yet, when one prays this way, it becomes boring, he adds. “And when prayer is boring, we don’t feel like praying, it’s hard to pray, at least in any sort of focused, heartfelt way.”
His solution? “When you pray,” he suggests, “pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm,” observing that there is a psalm “for every sigh of the heart.” Let the words of Scripture become the words of your prayers, he urges.
For example, if you choose Psalm 23 and read “The Lord is my shepherd,” you might thank Him for being your shepherd. Ask Him to shepherd your family—to guide, protect and provide for them. Pray that He will make your family members His sheep, and ask Him to shepherd you in the decisions you have to make.
When nothing else comes to mind, go to the next phrase—”I shall not want,” Whitney explains. Keep going until you either finish the psalm or run out of time.
“By praying through a passage of Scripture,” he observes, “you’ll find yourself praying about most of the same old things, but in brand new ways. You’ll also find yourself praying about things you would otherwise never pray about.”
While I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Whitney again in Louisville, I’m equally certain that the other keynote speakers—Hershael York, Nate Adams and Micah Fries—will offer inspiring and practical advice for church leaders at Super Saturday training events in Lexington, Paducah and Bowling Green. Make plans to bring a group from your church!