*This is the first article in a 3-part series on praying Scripture. It is written by G. Dwayne McCrary.
When growing up, the worship service in my church featured the reading of a Bible passage followed by a pastoral prayer. The Bible passage may have been “read” in one of several ways. We may have listened to a passage being read, been asked to locate the passage in our Bibles and encouraged to follow along, or read the passage in some type of responsive format. The person leading that time would then voice a prayer that was based on the Bible passage we had just reviewed. For example, if we had read 1 Corinthians 13, the person praying may have emphasized the unfailing love of God, thanking Him for loving us, even when we fail to love Him back in the same way. This person may have included a confession that our love was incomplete compared to His love. The individual may have asked for help to demonstrate to God through our worship the same kind of love He demonstrates to us. I did not know it at the time, but our church was being taught to pray Scripture through that element in the worship service.
Why was it so important for us to let Scripture inform our prayers as a church? One of the challenges of prayer is aligning our hearts with the heart of God. We know what we want, but we may not be sure about what God wants. When we use Scripture as the basis for our prayers, we are aligning with God’s heart and His wants. One example of how this can work is seen in Jeremiah 12. The prophet Jeremiah began his prayer with a statement about God being righteous and fair when a case is brought to Him. Jeremiah would know this by experience and through studying the Scriptures. Scripture informed his prayer as he praised God for His consistent character and trustworthiness. Jeremiah then followed with a complaint about wicked people being blessed while he and God’s people suffered. The prophet was trying to align his heart (what he wanted and viewed as fair) with the heart of God (what God wanted and viewed as fair).
Praying Scripture also keeps prayer from being the same thing week in and week out. Prayer times can become routine and border on boring. We read the list, update the list, add to the list, read the list to God, or invite someone else to read the list to God, then dismiss the group. It is an easy pattern to follow, so we keep on doing it. If we use the Bible passage studied that day to guide our prayer time, we remove the routine and potential boredom that comes with a routine.
As Bible study leaders, we can take the same initiative as the leaders in the local church in which I grew up in helping the people in our groups learn to pray Scripture.
Model Praying Scripture
If we are not careful, we can fall into the habit of treating a prayer time as an exercise in creating a To Do list for God over the next week. We collect the needs and then organize them so God will be aware of what He is to do for us before we regather to create another To Do list for Him. We may still collect prayer needs, but we may do so focused on the passage studied that day. For example, if we were studying Jeremiah 12, we may ask for people to share a recent event in which God’s righteousness was seen, and then ask for the group to identify something going on in their lives that challenges their faith in God. We may then lead the prayer time stating that, like Jeremiah, we too know that God is righteous and point to what was shared. We could then explain, like Jeremiah, we too face some challenges that confuse us and voice the challenges shared by the group. We would want to make sure to conclude the prayer time by stating that, like Jeremiah, we bring these requests with a desire to know God’s heart and a commitment to follow Him faithfully. With this approach, we are letting the passage examined that day inform how we pray, providing a model for the group.
How could you use the Bible passage being studied in your next group time as an outline for gathering prayer requests from the group?
Provide Prayer Prompts
One thing discovered while teaching preschoolers is that they expect you to stop and pray for someone when they mention it. They would rather not wait until the end of class to do so but would rather you pray for their need in the middle of walking, making a temple out of blocks, or forming two fishes and five loaves out of playdough. Why should we feel the need to wait when it comes to teaching adults?
As we prepare to lead the group time, we can look for natural ways to encourage the group to pray based on the Bible text being studied. Let’s go back to Jeremiah 12. Suppose the group plans direct us to lead the group to identify situations that might cause you to wonder if God is just. What if we added a prayer prompt at this point? We could direct the group to silently express to God why the situations listed cause them to question God’s justice. We may direct the group to pray something like, “God, I know You are ________ (just, righteous, all powerful, and so forth), but ________ makes me wonder and I need your assurance.” We could them point out that God answered Jeremiah and lead the group to examine verses 5 and following of Jeremiah 12.
Review the group plans for the next group time you will lead, looking for a place to add a prayer prompt. Record a potential prayer prompt.
Give Opportunities to Respond Aloud
We could certainly invite people to pray silently, but we should not ignore the value of inviting people to voice their prayers aloud within the group. Our overusing silent prayer may unknowingly communicate that we believe prayer to be strictly private when we find the early church involved in prayer as a community. Allowing people to respond to the prompts aloud can encourage others in the group who may be timid or less confident and helps the group hear an actual example of what praying Scripture looks like. We will want to remind people to be concise and current when responding aloud. Providing a clear prompt like the one suggested above can help.
How can you encourage more people in your group to voice a prayer aloud? What barriers might you need to address?
Imagine for a moment what might happen in your church if every adult group found a way to encourage the group to pray based on the passage studied in each group. What might that do in the life of your church? What if that happened in other churches? How might that impact the cause of Christ across our cities, states, and regions? As Bible study leaders, we can help our group be more in tune with God’s heart and desires as we lead them to pray Scripture, using the Bible passages we study.
G. Dwayne McCrary is manager of Adult Ongoing Bible studies at Lifeway.