To pray properly and profoundly, it is essential to understand that the Bible is a living collection of prayers which communicates the life, wishes and thoughts of God to us. Listen carefully to David’s affirmation: “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life” (Psalms 119:93). It’s this living Word of God which gives us not only direction to our prayers but also substance and content. God’s Word should not only reform our lives but also shape and reform our prayers. Prayers inspired by the Word of God are rich, powerful and effective.
The Scottish theologian Graham Scroggie (1877-1958) says in his book: “Too long have prayer and Bible study been divorced, and with sad results. What God has joined together, we should never have put asunder. His Word to us, and our word to Him are vitally related in His purpose, and must be vitally related in our practice.” Ignoring the Word of God in prayer is a grave mistake: “If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.” (Proverbs 28:9)
Six reasons from the bible why this harmony between prayer and the word is important
1. The Word of God is a seed of life
“The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). When we quote the Word of God in prayer we are also including the life of God. Jesus explains in John 15:16 that this harmony between prayer and the Word is a condition for receiving a response: “whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you”. Adolphe Monod said: “It does not matter how we feel during prayer. We need to be instructed, guided, directed by the Word of God, as the pilot trusts in his instruments to find and maintain the right trajectory”.
2. The Word of God sheds light on our subjects of prayer
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalms 119:105). We often don’t know what to pray for, what direction we should go in, what subject. Are there good and bad prayer subjects? Can we pray for anything? What are the best subjects for prayer? How can we be influenced, guided in the right direction? The Spirit of God always directs us towards the Word of God. It is reading the Word of God which helps us to discern the right subjects for prayer and allows us to pray with fervour, knowing that they are valid, eternal and at the heart of God’s wishes.
3. The Word of God is the ultimate source of faith
Where does faith come from? “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). If we want to expand our horizons, we need to trust what God says. Archimedes said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Archimedes relied on the support created through the lever and fulcrum. Here is what I suggest you use as the support for your daily prayer life: the Word of God. When we trust in God’s Word we can be sure that the Spirit supports, encourages and directs us because there is never any contradiction between the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Faith sweeps away incredulity and doubt. This faith is a precious tonic which invigorates our prayer life.
4. The Word of God keeps us at the heart of God’s thoughts and wishes
“I have not departed from the commands of his lips” (Job 23:12). Prayers inspired by the Word of God keep us at the heart of God’s wishes. James reminds us that our prayer often receives no response because, whilst praying, we are too preoccupied with our own desires and wishes and not those of God (James 4:3). When praying we need to try not to deviate one millimetre from what God says and what he wants for us.
5. The Word of God is a rich source of inspiration for our prayer life
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). It is this message of Christ which refreshes your prayer life and gives it variety and balance. I don’t know if you listen to your own prayers. I have often noticed that, year in and year out, I and others pray using the same fixed phrases, the same tics, the same tone, the same facial expressions (my children informed me of this). Since I have found inspiration in the biblical texts my prayers have developed, they have grown “wings”. For example, for a couple of months now I have been reading one or two verses of a psalm (Psalm 51), contemplating the text, reflecting, asking God to speak to me through it and then I respond in a short, simple prayer which is directly linked to the passage.
Listen to the testimony of George Müller, who has read the whole Bible more than a hundred and fifty-one times, about the importance of this harmony between prayer and the Word of God: “the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.”
Be careful! Prayer without the Word of God can quickly plunge us into mysticism. Another danger is reading and studying the Word of God without praying. Such extremes can lead us into intellectualism and spiritual drought. So avoid these two extremes: praying without the Bible and reading the Bible without praying.
6. Praying with the Bible purifies us and helps us to welcome this Word into our heart
Praying clears, prepares and waters the “ground” which will welcome the Word of God. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster explains what happens when we meditate on the Word of God. In a way, contemplation is praying twinned with the reading of God’s Word. Listen to what he says: “What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart.” The wonderful verse “I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20) was originally written to believers, not non-believers. Those of us who have given our lives to Christ need to realise that he wants to dine with us, commune with us. Biblical meditation opens the door. We engage in contemplation at specific times but the goal is to instil this reality in our entire being. It is a “portable” sanctuary which should have a place in all that we are and all that we do. Such a close relationship with God transforms our internal being, our personality. We cannot burn the eternal flame of the sanctuary without changing, because the divine fire consumes everything that is impure.
How can I maintain this harmony between the Word and prayer?
Study the prayers in the Bible, their structure and content: the prayers of Samuel, David, Solomon, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah…. You will be surprised to see the place and role which God’s promises occupy in their prayers.
Priests in the Old Testament had a threefold role of teaching, praying and serving the people.
Note that the growth of the early Church was possible because it persevered with the teachings of the apostles, brotherly communion, the sharing of bread and prayer. Note also that in the early Church, teaching and prayer were a priority for the elders: “We… will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).