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How to pray Scripture

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In 1549 Thomas Cranmer organized the publication of the Book of Common Prayer, which is still used today by millions of people in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Speaking with a sense of humor, the late J. I. Packer said, “Long before the age of fish and chips, the Book of Common Prayer was the Great British invention, nurturing all sorts and conditions of Englishmen and holding the church together with remarkable effectiveness.”

For non-liturgical evangelicals, a book of set prayers may feel stilted and overly formal.  Yet, all Christians have a prayer book because the Bible itself is a book of prayer. One of the most rewarding aspects of prayer for any believer, therefore, is praying Scripture. 

Scripture teaches us to pray Scripture

Praying Scripture is biblical, and there are numerous examples. For instance, the prayer in Nehemiah 9:17-18 uses a quote taken directly from Exodus 34:6. In Jonah 2:1-7, the prophet prayed from both the Psalms and 1 Kings. In Acts 4:25-26 the early church prayed directly from Psalm 2:1-2.

The most compelling examples are found in our Lord’s prayers from the cross. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 in the “prayer of dereliction,” Jesus prayed a direct quotation of Psalm 22:1. Later in Luke 23:4, while committing His life into God’s hands, Jesus prayed a direct quote from Psalm 31:5. 

Interestingly, most of the biblical prayers where Scripture is cited arise in the context of crisis. In those instances, leisurely thumbing through a concordance wasn’t an option. In other words, when our prayers are empowered by Scripture, those prayers often arise most naturally when we have already read, memorized, and deeply considered a passage. In any case, praying Scripture can revolutionize your prayer life.

Pray a promise for every prayer

In their 2024 book Lead with Prayer, authors Ryan Skoog, Peter Greer, and Cameron Doolittle describe two ways of praying Scripture. The first is to inject Scripture verses into your prayers. They call that approach “Bible your prayers.” 

This method involves applying a specific passage to your prayers. For instance, assume you are confessing sin in prayer. In that instance it is good to have 1 John 1:9 memorized: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Personalizing and praying that passage back to God may sound like this: “Lord, I have sinned against You but I’m confessing this sin now, believing Your promise that if I confess, You are faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me of all unrighteousness. I receive by faith Your forgiveness and cleansing.” 

Or perhaps you want to praise God for His love, so you pray: “Lord, You promised in Romans 5:8 that while I was still a sinner You showed Your love for me by allowing Christ to die for me.” You might also add, “Lord, I believe John 3:16 which says that You so loved the world, including me, that You gave Your only Son.”

Perhaps you’re praying for a family member living with illness, so you pray: “Father, Your word says, ‘By his wounds we have been healed;’ so Jesus I come in the authority of Your shed blood and pray by faith for the healing of my friend” (1 Pet. 2:24). 

Obviously, there are many passages throughout the Bible that can assist you in praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, or petition. As Ray Ortlund once observed, “I have learned to see the Bible as kindling for a holy fire.” You can ignite your prayers with Scripture!

Personalize the Word and pray it back

A second practical way to pray Scripture is to personalize a text back to God as a prayer. The authors of Lead with Prayer call this style “Pray your Bible.” 

Here is a practical example:

Choose a passage to pray through. Ephesians 1:3-13, for example, is an excellent choice. The first verse says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). So, in order to personalize and pray that back, you might pray like this: “Lord, I’m coming before You to bless You. You are the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ and my God and Father too. You have blessed me in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places, and You have withheld nothing. Every spiritual blessing I need You have already provided. Raise me up in heavenly places so that I might access all that You have given.” Pray like that through several verses and your prayer life may soar to the next level. Imagine spending time every day praying through Ephesians 1, 1 Corinthians 13, John 15, or Romans 8. In fact, you can pray Scripture every time you read it. Nothing stays the same when you pray Scripture. 

There are other practical advantages to praying Scripture. For instance, John Piper admits to distractions creeping into his prayer life. So, he prays Scripture to keep his focus on God’s agenda. Piper said, “If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.”

Praying Scripture does not require special materials. It isn’t reserved for elite prayer warriors. It is a practice anyone with a Bible and a desire to connect with God can do. And you can start right now.

    About the Author

  • Kie Bowman

    Kie Bowman is senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas and the SBC National Director of Prayer.

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