“At noon the whole country became dark. The darkness continued for three hours. About three o’clock Jesus cried out loudly, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” This means “My God, my God, why have you left me alone?” – Matthew 27:45-46

A Personal Testimony

Some years ago, I lived in the city of Kano, in northern Nigeria. Once, some brothers in the fellowship where I worshipped were travelling to Lagos, in the south. Think of this as traveling from Dan to Beersheba. On their way, they were involved in a road traffic accident. Thankfully, they all survived. Weeks later in December, I was to travel home for the Christmas holiday. The night before the morning of my journey, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of fear. Different dark thoughts ran through my mind. “This journey that you want to make, what if you also get involved in an accident like those brethren?” “Will you survive the accident?” The fear I felt was palpable. I knew this was an attack from the man of darkness, Satan. I confronted this fear in prayer. Then I picked up my Bible to read and I came to Genesis 28:15. It says:

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Hosanna in the highest! God had spoken. The effect was miraculous; the chains fell off. That scripture was my assurance of safety, not just for my journey home but for my return as well. The I am that I am had said “I (not another) will watch over you wherever you go and I (not an emissary) will bring you back to this land. I was sure I would return safely. That scripture became my sword of battle that night, alone in my room. I didn’t keep it in my heart, I read it out loud for Satan to hear. Whenever he spoke in the ear of my heart, I recited that scripture to his hearing. It became my prayer for the journey; I affirmed it in prayer. My faith was strengthened by that scripture as fear gave way to faith.

Jesus Prayed the Word

Praying the Word means to read out or recite portions of scripture in a spirit of prayer and to let the meaning of those portions to inspire your thoughts and become your own prayer.

In the verse at the top of this page, Jesus exemplifies how we can use the words of scripture to form our prayers. In his most difficult moments, nails piercing through his body, blood flowing out of his wounds and his life ebbing away, the Saviour chose the words of Psalm 22:1 to pray to his Father. Another quick lesson we can derive from here is the importance of allowing the word to dwell richly within us (Colossians 3:16). It was from the rich reserve of scripture in his heart that he prayed in those trying times, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. That doesn’t mean you can’t place a Bible before you and read from it to pray during your prayer times. The word mustn’t come from memory. This also challenges the one-sided emphasis on the place of original, impromptu, spontaneous prayers. Yes, pray spontaneously, but also enrich your prayers with verses or passages from scripture. Jesus did both. It helps to keep your prayers in scriptural proportion.

Praying the Word means to read out or recite portions of scripture in a spirit of prayer and to let the meaning of those portions to inspire your thoughts and become your own prayer.

A Practice Widely Exemplified

This practice of using the scriptures to pray can be found in the Old and New Testaments, where the people of God quoted scripture as part of their prayers.

A classic example of this practice is seen in Nehemiah 9 – the whole chapter is a recorded prayer session. It was put down for our instruction so that we too might learn how to pray acceptably. In the third verse we are told:

“They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshipping the LORD their God.”

In the middle of that prayer (V.17), they quote from Exodus 34:6, where God spoke to Moses on the Mountain: “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” That whole chapter in Nehemiah recalls God’s past deeds as recorded in scripture. That would have helped them to pray by reminding them of God’s faithfulness and strengthening their own faith in him in the moment.

A New Testament example is found in Acts 4, after the leaders of the early church appeared before the opposing Sanhedrin. On their release, Peter and John went back to the rest of the congregation and reported all that had happened. In response, they prayed and in the middle of that prayer, they recited the words of Psalm 2:1-2 saying,

“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’”

In both instances, they applied the scriptures to their own contexts. And you should too.

Why You Should Pray Scripture

  1. It’s Been Exemplified In Scripture Itself: As we saw earlier, this was a practice in both the Old and New Testaments, and these examples were written down for our learning.
  2. It Helps You To Pray Aright: One of the reasons why prayers don’t receive answers is asking amiss (James 4:3). One way to cure that is to pray scripture. It helps you to learn what and how to pray; your prayers are shaped by God’s word. The Bible also says that we do not know what we ought to pray for and the Spirit helps us in this regard (Romans 8:26). The Word, inspired by the Spirit, is one such help. When you come before the great God, should you present your case in Shakespearean English for him to hear you? Praying scripture helps answer that with exact words that can capture your heart and are relevant in your present context too. Praying scripture also teaches you to learn what the content of your prayers should be; the various prayers recorded in scripture teach you that.
  3. It Helps You To Maintain Your Focus While Praying: Have you began praying and a few minutes into the session, you found your thoughts wandering into completely unrelated and unhelpful things? Or even slept off like Jesus’ disciples? “The Spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Praying the scriptures help to fill your mind with the word and keep you from wandering, especially when you are reading a portion.
  4. It Strengthens Your Faith: When in Nehemiah 9 the Israelites prayed and read the scriptures, they read portions that reminded the congregation of God’s promises and his past deeds. Their faith in Him would doubtless have been strengthened as a result. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Don’t forget that the man who doubts while he prays is “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7-8).
  5. It Helps You To Fight Your Battles: It is the Word of God that is the Sword of the Spirit, not your own words. One way to effectively engage in spiritual warfare is to enrich such moments with scripture. Use relevant scriptures that remind you of God’s faithful promises and the finished work of Christ. It is he who disarmed principalities and powers by his cross and made a public spectacle of them. It is he who promised that no weapon formed against you shall prosper. When the devil tempted Jesus in the desert, he fought him off with the ‘It is writtens’ of scripture. Copy that.
  6. Jesus Did It: That Jesus used the scriptures in his own prayers is enough reason for us to. I’m not saying we should do everything that Jesus did, like die on the cross to forgive people their sins. But praying the scriptures is one good example we can emulate.

A Final Word

Will the devil permanently disappear and doubts never arise in your mind because you used a scripture to pray today? No, such forces go away only to seek for an opportune time to return. It is your duty as a believer in the Word to hold fast to it at all times. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to travel and the enemy has whispered those same words in my ear to instil fear in me. Each time, I have had to wield the Sword by reading out the promise of Genesis 28:15, and God has been faithful to his word.

After Jacob had dismissed Laban and was to come face to face with Esau, he had another battle on his hands. In Genesis 32:9-12, he prayed. Given the circumstances, his prayer was brief but was a restatement of the faithfulness of, and the promises, God, had made to him.

Will the devil permanently disappear and doubts never arise in your mind because you used a scripture to pray today

That is how to pray. Fill your mind with the Word and turn it into prayer. If a particular portion is not in your memory, pick up a copy of the Bible, open it, read and pray. You can read a small portion, pause and turn what is says into prayer and go again. Your prayers will be enriched.