What To Say When You Pray

Growing up in and around the church, I spent a lot of my early childhood days singing silly songs at Sunday school. I remember a few, like that old one: “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow… Don’t read your Bible, forget to pray, and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.” What a powerful motivator for us kids: Read your Bible and pray everyday, or kiss your hopes of playing in the NBA goodbye. As an adult, I’ve learned to have regular devotional times without the motivation of traumatizing songs.

Daily times of devotion certainly are important, and a common frustration, particularly with prayer, is determining exactly what we should say. Should we tell God about our day? Should we really tell Him about all our frustrations? Is it OK to rattle off a long list of requests, or does God prefer some spiritual small talk first?

It seems there are about as many ways to talk to God as people, and I reject the idea there is some divine prayer formula we must figure out for our prayers to work. However, I do believe there is a place we can go to learn how God would have us pray.

I believe our prayers should be heavily inundated with the Word of God. As we come before God, there is nothing better for us to pray than God’s own Word. The Bible teaches us who God is and all that He requires, and we are prudent to let our prayers echo everything He has revealed to us in the Bible.

This idea is not my own. Many mighty Christians through history have practiced and recommended praying God’s Word. George Muller once wrote:

“Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible. But I often spent a quarter of an hour to an hour on my knees struggling to pray while my mind wandered. Now I rarely have this problem. As my heart is nourished by the truth of the Word, I am brought into true fellowship with God. I speak to my Father and to my Friend (although I am unworthy) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word.”

Along the same lines, Robert Murray M’Cheyne once wrote to a friend:

“Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you are reading the 1st Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before [you] and kneel, and pray, ‘O Lord, give me the blessedness of this man’ ‘Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,’ etc. This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible and learning to pray.”

I’ve been growing in this discipline of soaking my prayers in God’s Word, and it has proven a very great help. When I don’t know what or how to pray, I open my Bible and set my heart on a particular passage. Where I find God’s commands, I pray for strength to obey. Where I find God’s promises, I ask for faith to believe. Where I find God’s actions, I pray for reverent fear and tender love. My experience has been consistent with Herbert Lockyer who said, “The mightiest prayers are often those drenched with the Word of God.”

If you’ve been wrestling over a particular prayer request, perhaps you might deepen your prayers by searching the Scriptures for those with similar requests. Below are a few examples of how I have recently let the Scriptures saturate my own prayers.

Lord, as You provided for a child for Hannah, provide children for me (1 Samuel 1:20).

Lord, as You sustained Job through his great suffering, sustain me through my own trials (Job 42:10).

Lord, let the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

Lord, as You gave Solomon wisdom to rule, give me wisdom to complete my work with skill (1 Kings 4:29).

Lord, You satisfy the longing soul, and You fill the hungry soul with good things. Satisfy me (Psalm 107:9).

Lord, just as You gave up Christ for me, I give You all I have (Romans 8:32).

Lord, as Paul encouraged the early church with the promise of Your soon return, let my soul be encouraged that You are coming soon (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

Lord, strengthen me to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against my soul (1 Peter 2:11).

Lord, help me value the kingdom like treasure and fine pearls (Matthew 13:44-46).

Lord, as You gave Paul boldness to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, give me boldness to share Christ with my neighbors (Acts 9:28).

Lord, teach me how to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. I know this is Your will (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

These are just a few, and yours may look different, but my hope is that our prayer requests will increasingly flow from the Bible. As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we should also simultaneously grow in prayer. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne advised, open your Bible and ask God to make all the riches of the Scriptures a reality in your life.