Most readers of this blog know that I’ve written a book on Praying the Bible and frequently teach in conferences on the subject. I propose that there are ways— from any part of the Bible—to turn the Scriptures into prayer, but that the Psalms are generally the best place to do so.
As a way to avoid aimlessly thumbing through the Psalms to find one to pray, and in order to systematically consider all 150 psalms, I recommend a simple procedure called “The Psalms of the Day.” This involves looking first at the psalm that corresponds with the day of the month.
So on the 14th of the month, for example, you first skim the 14th Psalm as the one you might pray through on that day. If you’re not sure that’s the one you want to pray through, you look at another by simply adding 30 (because there are usually 30 days in a month). So the second psalm you skim is Psalm 44. You continue this until you examine as many as five psalms. So on the 14th of each month you’d consider Psalms 14, 44, 74, 104, and 134. (On the 31st of the month you pray through part of Psalm 119.)
Although it’s a fairly easy process, some prefer to glance at a printable chart where all the math is already done.
Now there’s a free app that not only does the math for you, but actually includes the text (from the ESV Bible) of the five “Psalms of the Day.” Thus the app is called “Five Psalms.” And it’s available free for both iOS and Android platforms. There are no hidden costs, in-app purchases, subscription fees, etc.
Bryant Huang—a friend, software developer, and graduate of The Master’s Seminary in California—developed the app after reading Praying the Bible. As he started praying through a different psalm each day, it occurred to him that he could use his computer expertise to create an app that would streamline the process of quickly skimming the Psalms of the Day. As a result of Bryant’s good work, anyone can have all five psalms available anytime, anywhere, with just a tap on their smartphone or tablet.
The following screenshot contains just about everything you need to know about “Five Psalms.” When you open the app you see a page like the one below. This screenshot was taken on the 14th of the month. Notice all five “Psalms of the Day” at the bottom. You can either tap on them one-by-one or swipe to the left to see the next one.
On the Settings page (see below) you can choose between Psalm 119 on the 31st, or five random psalms. You can even choose to have the app display the chapter of Proverbs for the day. For more than 40 years I have been reading the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds with the day of the month (that is, there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, one for each day of the month), so I really appreciate this option.
I’ve been using this app on both my iPhone and iPad for months now and really appreciate it. It’s especially useful when I walk and pray, glancing at the psalm on my phone as needed.
I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have, and that you’ll spread the word on social media and with your church about this terrific, free app!
Good news for those interested in my recent book, Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015).
Today (Monday, Nov. 30), the digital edition of Praying the Bible is on sale for just $3.99.
Would you be interested in a free video series to help you, your family, or your small group learn more about praying the Bible? Watch this 85-second video for details.
Sign up to receive the free video series here on the Crossway site.
Here’s a brief video interview Justin Taylor did with me about the book.
I’m sure such folks are out there, but I’ve not personally met any Christian who hasn’t struggled with saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer. Before long, such repetitive prayer is boring. And when prayer is boring, it’s hard to pray—at least with any joy and fervency.
Note that the problem is not that we pray about the same old things. Actually, that’s normal, because our lives tend to consist pretty much of the same old things from one day to the next. Thankfully, the big things in life (our family, our church, our job, etc.) don’t change dramatically very often.
Instead the problem is that we say the same old things about the same old things. And prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. The result of such praying is that we tend to feel like failures in prayer. We assume that, despite our devotion to Christ, love for God, and desire for a meaningful prayer life, we must be second-rate Christians because our minds wander so much in prayer.
No, the problem may not be you; rather it may be your method.
I believe that the simple, permanent, biblical solution to this almost universal problem is to stop making up your own prayers most of the time (because that results in repetitious prayer) and to pray the Bible instead.
Praying the Bible means talking to God about what comes to mind as you read the Bible. Usually you might read the passage first, then go back and pray through what you just read.
So, for instance, if today you turned to Psalm 23 in your devotional reading, after completing it you would come back to verse 1 and pray about what occurs to you as you read “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might thank the Lord for being your shepherd, ask him to shepherd you in a decision that’s before you, entreat him to cause your children to love him as their shepherd too, and pray anything else that comes to mind as you consider verse 1. Then when nothing else in those words prompts prayer, you continue by doing the same with the next line, “I shall not want.” Thus you would go through the chapter, line-by-line, until you ran out of time.
By praying in this way, you discover that you never again say the same old things about the same old things.
While you can pray through any part of the Bible, some books and chapters are much easier to pray through than others. Overall, I believe the Book of Psalms is the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture. In part that’s because the Psalms are the only book of the Bible inspired by God for the expressed purpose of being reflected to God. God inspired them as songs, songs for use in the worship of God.
The Psalms also work so well in prayer because there’s a psalm for every sigh of the soul. You’ll never go through anything in life in which the root emotion is not found in one or more of the Psalms. Thus the Psalms put into expression that which is looking for expression in our hearts.
Christian, here’s how you’ll benefit from praying the Psalms:
1. You’ll pray more biblically-faithful prayers. The Bible will guide your prayers, helping you to speak to God with words that have come from the mind and heart of God.
This also means you’ll be praying more in accordance with the will of God. Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than when you are praying the Word of God?
2. You’ll be freed from the boredom of saying the same about the same old things in prayer. One way this will happen is that the psalm will prompt you to pray about things you normally wouldn’t think to pray. You’ll find yourself praying about people and situations that you’d never think to put on a prayer list.
Another way is that even though you also continue to pray about the same things, (family, church, job, etc.), you’ll pray about them in new ways. Instead of saying, “Lord, please bless my family,” the text will guide you to pray things such as, “Lord, please be a shield around my family today” if you are praying through Psalm 3:3, for example.
3. You’ll pray more God-centered prayers. When you use a God-focused guide like the psalms to prompt your prayers, you’ll pray less-selfishly and with more attention to the ways, the will, and the attributes of God.
Prayer becomes less about what you want God to do for you (though that is always a part of biblical praying) and more about the concerns of God and his kingdom.
4. You’ll enjoy more focus in prayer. When you say the same old things in prayer every day, it’s easy for your mind to wander. You find yourself praying auto-pilot prayer—repeating words without thinking about either them or the God to whom you offer them.
But when you pray the Bible your mind has a place to focus. And when your thoughts do wander, you have a place to return to—the next verse.
5. You’ll find that prayer becomes more like a real conversation with a real Person. Isn’t that what prayer should be? Prayer is talking with a Person, the Person of God himself. Prayer is not a monologue spoken in the direction of God. Yet somehow, many people assume that when they meet with the Lord he should remain silent and they should do all the talking. When we pray the psalms, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with God.
I’m not alluding to the perception of some spiritual impression or hearing an inner voice, imagining God saying things to us—away with that sort of mysticism. Instead, I’m referring to the Bible as the means by which God participates in the conversation, for the Bible is God speaking. God speaks in the Bible, and you respond to that in prayer. That’s why people who try this often report, “The pressure was off. I didn’t have to think about what to say next, and the whole experience just kind of flowed.”
Want to experience these benefits for yourself? How about right now? Pick a psalm, read what God says there, and talk with him about it.
Don originally wrote this post for OnFaith blog at FaithStreet.com.
To get info on Don’s book on this subject — Praying the Bible — or to order it, click here.
Since prayer is talking with God—the only Person in the universe worthy of being called awesome—why don’t people pray more? Why don’t the people of God enjoy prayer more?
I answer these and many other questions in this interview with Jonathan Petersen of Bible Gateway about praying the Bible.
You can find the interview here.
To get info on Don’s book Praying the Bible or to order it, click here.
In this video, Justin Taylor sits down with Don Whitney to discuss what it means to pray through God’s Word.
To get info on Don’s book Praying the Bible or to order it, click here.
Here’s a brief interview I did with Jared Wilson and the folks at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s “For the Church” website.
(If at first you don’t see the embedded video, please refresh your page.)
To get info on Don’s book Praying the Bible or to order it, click here.
“Empty phrases” are ruinous in any area of spirituality, but especially in prayer. Jesus warned, “But when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
Such “empty phrases” can result from insincerity or repetition. That is, we might pray meaningless, vacuous words because either our hearts or minds are far away.
One of the reasons Jesus prohibited the mindless repetition of prayers is because that’s exactly the way we’re prone to pray. Although I don’t recite intentionally memorized prayers, my own tendency is to pray basically the same old things about the same old things. And it doesn’t take long before such prayers fragment the attention span and freeze the heart of prayer.
The problem is not our praying about the same old things, for Jesus taught us (in Luke 11:5-13 and 18:1-8) to pray with persistence for good things. Our problem is in always praying about them with the same ritualistic, heartless expressions.
In my experience, the almost unfailing solution to this problem is to pray through a passage of Scripture—particularly one of the psalms—instead of making up my prayer as I go. Praying in this way is simply taking the words of Scripture and using them as my own words or as prompters for what I say to God.
For example, if I prayed through Psalm 27, I would begin by reading verse 1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Then I would pray something like,
Thank you, Lord, that you are my light. Thank you for giving me the light to see my need for Jesus and your forgiveness. Please light my way so that I will know which way to go in the big decision that is before me today. And thank you especially that you are my salvation. You saved me; I didn’t save myself. And now I ask you to save my children also, as well those at work with whom I’ve shared the gospel.
When I have nothing else to say, instead of my mind wandering, I have a place to go—the rest of verse 1. “Whom shall I fear?” Then I might pray along these lines: “I thank you that I do not have to fear anyone because You are my Father. But I confess that I have been fearful about ______.”
I would continue in this way, praying about whatever is prompted verse by verse, until either I complete the psalm or run out of time.
Praying through a passage of Scripture was the uncomplicated method that transformed the daily experience of one of the most famous men of prayer in history. George Müller said,
Formerly when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer . . . What was the result? . . . Often, after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began really to pray.
I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental [that is, experiential] fellowship with God, I speak to my Father . . . about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word.
Both Jesus (in Matthew 27:46) and His followers in the book of Acts (4:24-26) prayed words from the Psalms (from Psalm 22:1, and Psalm 146:6 and Psalm 2:1-2 respectively). Why not you?
Although you’ll pray about “the same old things,” you’ll do so in brand new ways. You’ll also find yourself praying about things you never thought to pray—things that are on the heart of God.
You’ll concentrate better, and begin to experience prayer as a real conversation with a real Person. For the Bible really is God speaking to you, and now all you have to do is simply respond to what He says.
 Roger Steer, comp., Spiritual Secrets of George Müller (Wheaton, IL.: Harold Shaw, 1985), pp. 61-62.
To learn about Don’s book, Praying the Bible, or to order, click here.
Why pray the Bible?
1. You’ll pray biblically-saturated, biblically-shaped prayers. This means you’ll have greater assurance that you’re praying the will of God. The Bible makes plain (in 1 John 5:14-15 specifically) that we must pray according to the will of God if we expect him to answer. Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than when you are praying the Word of God?
2. You’ll be freed from the boring rut of saying the same about the same old things in prayer. You’ll continue to pray about the same things, because our lives tend to consist of the same things from one day to the next. Most things in our lives don’t change dramatically very often. But while you pray about the same things, you won’t say the same things.
3. You’ll not only pray about the same things in fresh ways every day, but you’ll pray about new things as well. When you pray the Bible, the text will suggest things for you to pray that you wouldn’t pray for if you had a prayer list as long as the New York City phone directory.
4. You’ll be more focused in prayer. Your mind won’t wander as much as it does when you pray the same old things every day. When you say the same old things every day your mind tends to go on auto-pilot in prayer. You find yourself able to say the words without thinking about them. But when you pray the Bible your mind has a place to focus. And when your thoughts do wander, you have a place to return to—the next verse.
5. You’ll be more God-centered in prayer. For example, people tell me that when they pray the Bible they find themselves praising God more than usual. Instead of prayer being mostly a time of saying in effect, “Lord, here I am again with my usual list of the things I want you to do for me,” it becomes more about God—his attributes, his ways, and his will. And more God-centered prayer is a good thing, isn’t it?
6. You’ll find that your prayers become more like a real conversation with a real Person. That’s what prayer is, remember? Prayer is talking with a Person, the Person of God himself. So prayer shouldn’t be considered a one-way conversation. And yet somehow, many people assume that when they meet with God they must do all the talking. When we pray the Bible, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with I’m not alluding to the perception of some spiritual impression or hearing an inner voice, imagining God saying things to us—away with that sort of mysticism. Instead, I’m referring to the Bible as the means by which God enters the conversation, for the Bible is God speaking. God speaks in the Bible, and you respond to that. That’s why people who try this often report, “The pressure was off. I didn’t have to think about what to say next, and it just kind of flowed.”
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To get info on Don’s book Praying the Bible or to order it, click here.
I am thrilled to announce two important items:
1. Now available! The book I’ve long wanted to write: Praying the Bible.
2. A free, five-part video series from Crossway where I illustrate how to pray the Bible.
The book: Does your prayer life seem boring? Do you have a hard time consistently communing with God? When you pray, do you find yourself saying the same old things about the same old things?
What if we aren’t the problem? What if the problem we all struggle with is our method?
In the past 20 years of traveling to speak in churches and conferences, this is the subject I’ve been asked to speak on more than any other. Other than the gospel itself, teaching people to pray the Bible has been by far the most instantaneously and permanently transformational message I’ve ever taught. And for me personally, there is nothing in all my devotional life that more quickly and consistently kindles my consistently cold heart in prayer like praying the Bible.
To get a copy (hardback, Kindle, or audio), to get more information about the book, or to download a free sample, here are links to Crossway’s website, to Amazon, to christianaudio, or to my website where you might choose to go for bulk orders.
The video series: In conjunction with Crossway, I’ve recorded a five-part video series illustrating how to pray the Bible. If you’ll go here, you’ll be asked to sign-up with your email address to receive an email each day for five days.
For example, the first day I demonstrate what it might look like for a person to pray through Psalm 23. The next day I show how a person might pray through Psalm 37, and so forth for five days.
These videos would also be useful to teach your family, class, or small group how to pray the Bible.
I think Crossway did a great job with these videos, and I’d love to have you join me for the next five days to learn how to pray the Bible.
By His grace and for His glory,
Related blog post: How I Started Praying the Bible.
It was the first of March, 1985. I remember where I was sitting when it happened.
I was pastor of a church in the western suburbs of Chicago. A guest preacher was speaking at a series of meetings at our church. He was teaching on the prayers of the apostle Paul found in his New Testament letters, and encouraging us to pray these inspired prayers as our own.
Then, at one point he held up his Bible said, “Folks, when you pray, use the prayer book.”
In that moment I suddenly realized, “The entire Bible is a prayer book. We can pray not only the prayers of Paul in Ephesians, we can pray everything in the Book of Ephesians.”
So I started praying each day through one of the passages in my daily Bible reading. Soon I was reading in the Psalms and found it easy to make the words of the psalmist my own prayers.
For example, I read, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God!” (Ps. 36:7), and spoke King David’s exact words as my own prayer, immediately adding other thoughts prompted by David’s exclamation.
After I’d said all that came to mind from verse 7, I read verse 8: “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them to drink of the river of your delights.”
“Yes, Lord!”, I prayed, “Let me feast on the abundance of your house; let me drink of the river of your delights. Feed my soul with your goodness. Satisfy my thirsty heart with your delights. Let me be immersed in the vast, deep, incomparable river of knowing you.”
I simply spoke to the Lord those things prompted verse-by-verse in my reading of the psalm. If a verse didn’t suggest anything to pray, I would go to the next verse. On and on through the psalm, praying as prompted by the things I read, I continued until I ran out of time.
I discovered that praying the Bible helped me stay focused and minimized the tendency of my mind to wander. I stopped saying the same old things about the same old things when I prayed. And yet, I found that I still prayed about the things I wanted to pray for each day, but I stopped using the tired, repetitive phrases I typically used.
Using this approach also gave me a much greater sense of conversing with God. Instead of the usual me-centered monologue that I hoped the Lord would hear, I read what he said in the Bible, then spoke to him in response. When I finished, I turned to the words of God again, after which I spoke with him about what he had just said in Scripture. Throughout my time in prayer I kept alternating between God speaking in his Word and my speaking to him in response—just like a real conversation.
Eventually I discovered that what I’d stumbled upon was in fact an ancient Christian practice. Jesus prayed psalms on the cross (see Matt. 27:46 and Lk. 23:46). Followers of Jesus in the Book of Acts (4:23-26) prayed psalms. And many prayerful people since Bible times (such as George Müller) practiced praying the Bible. Regrettably, I’d never been taught this simple, satisfying method of taking the words of Scripture and turning them into prayer.
So March 1, 1985, was a day that forever changed my life, and changed virtually every day of my life since. And now, having prayed the Bible almost daily for thirty years, I can testify that there is nothing in all my devotional life that more quickly and consistently kindles my consistently cold heart like praying the Bible.
It is gratifying to be able to share with you something that has been so meaningful to me for so long. I hope you will find the practice of praying the Bible equally meaningful and helpful in your own prayer life.
For more on this subject, see Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015).