Praying the Bible, Donald S. Whitney (Crossway 2015, $13.99)
Review by S. Craig Sanders
If prayer is the “chief exercise of faith” or “faith … breathed out in words” as John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards wisely expressed, why are so many genuine Christians out of shape and breathless? When Christians feel bored in prayer, the problem is often their method rather than being a “second-rate” believer, says Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary.
Praying through a passage of Scripture is “the simple solution to the boring routine of saying the same old things about the same old things,” Whitney writes in his new book, Praying the Bible.
Whitney introduced his method of praying the Bible in his classic Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Although Christ-followers have practiced this method since the time of Jesus, Whitney’s version helps to personalize Bible encounters through prayer and meditation. The primary focus of this exercise, Whitney insists, is turning Godward in our prayers rather than reading the Bible for instruction.
“To pray the Bible, you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text,” Whitney writes. “Just speak to the Lord about everything that occurs to you as you slowly read his Word.”
Psalms is the “best place in Scripture from which to pray,” Whitney writes, because the book of praises provides Christians a vocabulary for praising God. Whitney notes that Psalms encapsulates every biblical doctrine and expresses the full range of human emotion, strengthening its case as the perfect prayer book. In an appendix, Whitney provides a chart for the “Psalms of the Day,” a popular method he uses in his Personal Spiritual Disciplines course. Five psalms correspond with each day of a 30-day month, giving Christians a plan to pray from a selection of psalms each day or through the entire book each month.
“God gave the Psalms to us so that we would give the Psalms back to God. No other book of the Bible was inspired for that expressed purpose,” he writes.
That does not mean, however, that Psalms is the only place in the Bible from which believers should pray. Whitney also devotes a chapter to praying through the New Testament epistles and biblical narrative, demonstrating the confidence believers can have to “turn to any part of the Bible and pray through that passage.”
What happens when Christians begin to adopt this method of prayer? According to Whitney, believers have responded to Whitney’s instruction by saying their prayers became more focused, God-centered, exciting, and conversational, while also conforming to God’s will. No longer are Christians having the same conversations over and over with the “most interesting Person in the universe,” but now are rejuvenated by responding to God’s initiative in Scripture.
“It bears repeating that a stale prayer life can experience a new freshness with a simple change of method,” Whitney writes. “Anyone with a Bible and the Holy Spirit has everything necessary to enjoy God in prayer and to banish the boredom born of repeating tired phrases about the same old things.”
Whitney closes his short and potent book with reflections on how praying Scripture was vital in the lives of Jesus, the early church, and 19th-century minister George Mueller, who recorded more than 50,000 answers to prayer. If you are seeking that kind of prayer life, the solution is simple: Read Whitney’s book and follow his method.
A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, Paul E. Miller (NavPress 2009, $14.99)
Faculty recommendation: Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality, associate dean of the School of Theology
“It’s been the best-selling book on prayer over the past five years, perhaps eclipsed only the past year by Tim Keller’s book. While I would have some minor differences with it at points, I’m happy to use it in one of my courses. As all good books on prayer do, it leaves you recommitted to prayer and builds your faith in the One who answers prayer.”