Posted by: gmscan | November 28, 2014

Enriching My Prayer Time

I’ve been in Receive mode rather than Transmit mode for the past few months. It was time for me to just shut up and listen. I’ve been listening to people who know a lot more than I ever will about what Jesus has done and continues to do in our lives.

One of these is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the organizers of the “Confessing Church” movement during the Hitler Regime in Germany. Hitler, of course, insisted that Christian churches swear allegiance to him and reject the Old Testament as Jewish propaganda. In the face of this, Bonhoeffer wrote a very short book, “Prayer Book of the Bible,” that argued the Psalms were essential to Christianity. In fact, he said that the Psalms are the prayers Jesus himself prayed.

Even on the Cross Christ was praying the Psalms. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” are the opening words of Psalm 22. “Into your hands I commit my spirit” is an essential line from Psalm 31.

Bonhoeffer says that, while many of the Psalms may not fit whatever we are experiencing at the moment, we should pray them anyway because in doing so we are praying with Christ, not just to Him. Like the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is showing us how we should pray to the Father, because it is the way he himself prayed to the Father.

Immediately after reading Bonhoeffer, I came across an interview with Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian (PCA) Church in New York City. He has just written a new book, “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.” He talks about praying the Psalms –

“I came to see that the Psalms are extremely important for prayer. Perhaps that is because I read a book some years ago by Eugene Peterson called Answering God. He makes a strong case that we only pray well if we are immersed in Scripture. We learn our prayer vocabulary the way children learn their vocabulary — that is, by getting immersed in language and then speaking it back. And he said the prayer book of the Bible is the Psalms, and our prayer life would be immeasurably enriched if we were immersed in the Psalms. So that was the first step.”

Keller, like Bonhoeffer, is also very big on meditation. He says –

“(I)t diminishes our prayer life that our hearts are cold when we get into prayer. Without meditation, you tend to go right into petition and supplication, and you do little adoration or confession. When your heart is warm, then you start to praise God and then you confess. When your heart is cold, which it is if you just study the Bible and then jump to prayer, you are much more likely to spend your time on your prayer list and not really engage your heart.”

I’ve always been a little dubious about meditation, probably because I associate it with Transcendental Medication and Buddhism. I thought you had to try to clear your mind of all thought and enter into some kind of trance. But this is not what Keller and Bonhoeffer mean by it. They mean clear your mind of distractions, yes, but think about what you have just read (in this case, one of the Psalms) and listen for God’s further word to you.

In other words, prayer is not just you talking to God, but also listening to what God has to say to you. You need to be quiet and receptive so you will have the ability to listen.

These ideas have transformed my evening prayers. Now I get on my knees, read a Psalm, think about what I have read, and listen for God’s reply. I don’t always get a reply, but it still gives me a chance to absorb the wisdom and emotion of the Psalm. Only then do I speak my own prayer and it is a lot more natural to include those elements of adoration and confession along with thanksgiving and petition.

I feel myself becoming a quieter and more patient man now. And now I look forward every day to the time I have carved out to spend alone with my Father.



  1. Letting God’s word settle deeply into us is so precious and important. It’s too bad that we’ve let the Eastern religions define the concept of meditation. As you say, it is much deeper than commonly understood!

  2. I like the ACTS model, both because I think it is correct and because it is easy to remember: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and last, Supplication. I suspect that reversing C and T is immaterial.

    All of us men would like to become quieter and more patient men.

    Thanks, Greg.

  3. We only pray well if we are immersed in Scripture
    By getting immersed in language and then speaking it back
    Greg in the synagogue today we pray in an undertone
    We read either in English or Hebrew in a very soft voice
    Collectively it is empowering to hear the mumblings of the congregants
    Individually saying the words helps them be more real as they come alive through actually pronouncing them
    Don Levit

  4. I like the ACTS model Earl mentions. My Pastor has introduced the 5 finger model recently to our congregation. There’s merit to having a plan. I am a church going guy and I pray constantly, not just on Sundays at 10am. My simplest prayer is, “Thank You.”
    Pastor Lin makes a valid point about Easterners defining meditation on their terms.Transcendental Meditation is not Buddhist, it has a Vedic base. The point of TM is not focused thought but uses a mantra as a vehicle to allow your thoughts to travel to a less active, quieter style of mental functioning. I have been practicing TM for 40 years or so. I figured if it was good enough to help the Beatles it might have value for me. Words can’t express the value I have received by way of stress reduction, sanity, and a richer understanding of God’s Word.

    Best Wishes!

  5. Its amazing to me that you zeroed in on Psalm 22 and Psalm 31 in the context of praying the Psalms. I have recently gone back to those Psalms and looked at them from the point of view of how a man of God faces into death.

    I do believe Jesus was praying those Psalms as he died on the cross.

    And I have come to think that maybe Psalms 22, 23, and on through Psalm 31 are meant to be read as one long Psalm. They are about the Man of God facing into painful death, going back and forth, between fear and despair and supplication, and bargaining and confidence in God, even past the point of death.

    If one interprets Psalm 31 as containing the moment of death, then it goes beyond death, and ends in a book-end in vs 22 that replies to the starting point “Why have you forsaken me?” (not “have you?” but “why have you”) .

    It pivots around Psalm 26:9-10.

    There is something very real about the narrative in those Psalms. About the true reality of living – and dying – by faith.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one such man.


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