What does it mean to pray the Bible and why is it important?

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.

Six Reasons to Pray the Bible

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.

How to Stop Praying the Same Old Things

“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.[1]

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.


[1] 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.

Join Me in Praying the Bible


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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 bookDoes 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?

I am convinced that there is a simple, permanent, biblical solution to the almost-universal problem of saying the same old things about the same old things. That solution is to pray the Bible.

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 seriesIn 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.

Each day’s email will contain a short (3 to 5 minute) video where I teach briefly about praying the Bible and then illustrate how to pray through a passage of Scripture.

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,

Don Whitney


Related blog post: How I Started Praying the Bible.

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).


Remember, Every Spiritual Discipline Is About Jesus

Why pray when it appears that your prayers go unanswered? Why keep on reading the Bible when it seems like you’re getting little from it? Why continue worshiping God privately when you feel no spiritual refreshment? Why persist in keeping a journal when writing your entries bores you? Why engage in fasting, silence and solitude, serving, and other spiritual disciplines when you sense meager benefits from doing so?

It’s easy to forget the real purpose of anything that’s as habitual as the activities of the spiritual life. And purposeless spiritual practices soon become dry routines that shrivel our souls.

The apostle Paul wrote of his concern that something like this would happen to the Christians at Corinth: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, nasb). Notice that the direction of devotion is to be “to Christ.” Spirituality is not an end in itself; it’s about Jesus.

When we realize just who this God-Man—this Jesus who is called the Christ—is, we understand why the spiritual life is about Him: “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). So, “in everything,” including our spirituality, Jesus should “be preeminent.”

That’s why God inspired Paul to tell us, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” [that is, Christlikeness] (1 Timothy 4:7, nasb). All our spiritual disciplines should be practiced in pursuit of Christlikeness.

We pursue outward conformity to Christlikeness as we practice the same disciplines Christ practiced. More importantly, we pursue intimacy with Jesus and the inner transformation to Christlikeness when we look to Him through the spiritual disciplines.

So when we engage in the disciplines of Bible intake, we should look primarily for what it tells us about Jesus, for what Jesus says to us in it, for how we are to respond to Jesus, for what we are to do for Jesus, and so forth.

And when we discipline ourselves to pray, we want to pray in Jesus’ name (see John 14:13-14); that is, we should come in the righteousness of Jesus (and not our own), and to pray what we believe Jesus would pray in our circumstances.

Our perennial purpose for practicing any and all of the spiritual disciplines should be a Christ-centered purpose. Authentic Christ-ian spirituality is about Jesus Christ.


This post is available as a bulletin insert here.


Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 27-28.