I went to bed last night in that oh-so-familiar pre-bed state. You know the one. Contrary to every health guru blogger, doctor, and grandmother’s advice, I did not wind down. There was no long bath with salts, no cello music drifting through lavender oil-scented air. Light glared from bulbs and screens. Jumbled recollections of things left undone or things done poorly rose like the floodwaters of the prescribed bath. Conversations from the day replayed while I agonized over what I should or shouldn’t have said, without any clear conclusions.
In an effort to get my mind off of my work, the fears my friends had confided in me, and my own irritations and guilty sense of failure—I opened my Bible.
I started reading in 1 Corinthians, where the first words on the page are Paul’s greeting to a group of believers whom he declares are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Paul emphasizes that God has reached out to them all, and that they all call on “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I thought of my friends, family and co-workers who shared my faith. I’d been fretting over them, but Paul’s words illuminated them as a group united and unafraid.
As I pictured them, the opening blessing of “grace… and peace” became my own prayer for them. And by the time I’d finished reading, that grace and peace were mine, too.
Praying with Scripture
Often, our prayers don’t get beyond a list of worries. But Scripture reminds us who we’re praying to, who we are, and who we belong to. When we pray Scripture, most often we end up praising God, even when there’s no immediate answer to what we ask of him.
This time, I didn’t look in Scripture for a passage written as a prayer, like the psalms. Instead, I patterned my prayer after Paul’s expressions, filling in the spaces with my own details. Scripture can help us pray by reminding us of God’s character and what Christ has done and continues to do for us.
I’ve always been a little scandalized by paint-by-number kits. The artist matches pre-mixed paint to a pre-designated point on a canvas, a little like tracing. But even if that perfectly shaded sailboat painting isn’t original, it’s still a good sailboat. The painting works. And in following the guidelines, the painter assimilates skills and gains experience.
It’s like that when we pray with Scripture. We match our personal praises and needs to the framework of a passage. We sharpen our ability to pray.
For instance, Paul says: “I give thanks to my God always for you.”
And I imitate him, putting my friends in place of his: Thank you for the people in my life, and the faith you’ve given them.
I kept reading and praying along, the words on the page shaping my prayer.
Try it with me:
“…That you have been enriched in him in all speech and knowledge … so that you are not lacking in any gift…” (1 Corinthians 1:5, 7)
You’ve blessed us—me, my friends, my family. We’re not needy and stranded as I have been presuming—you’ve made us rich!
“… As you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (v. 7)
I’ve been so caught up in today’s struggles that I’ve forgotten the eternal side of things: you’re in control, you care about us, you’re coming back.
“…Who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 8)
Jesus, you yourself are sustaining me, sustaining the people I worry about. You’re caring for them, giving them energy and creativity and resources. You have their futures well taken care of.
And you will keep your people “guiltless.” It’s hard to believe: all the little injustices that bothered me. All the ways I’ve failed to do the right thing—gossiping here, criticizing there… all of that erased and forgotten. Guiltless—thank you, Lord!
“God is faithful…” (v. 9)
You keep your promises! You are right now, in every event, word, person, being faithful, loyal, never going back on what you said you’ll do.
“…You were called by God into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (v. 9)
Jesus, thank you that you have fellowship with me—despite the weaknesses I’ve been noticing in myself. And not just with me, but with all the believing friends and family who are struggling and whose futures I’ve been afraid for. You will make us who you want us to be. You will work it all out.
My eyes were heavy now. At some point, I had unclenched my hands. I hadn’t needed that lavender oil after all.
The grace and peace Paul invokes had buoyed me up and given me rest. When I had initially opened my Bible, I had done it from desperation, or habit, or both. I hadn’t expected a bolt of resolution or sudden joy. My thoughts had been so disorganized that I couldn’t have prayed clearly—I didn’t know what to pray. I had effectively forgotten that there was any power in prayer, or in Scripture.
But then, almost without realizing it, I had prayed Scripture. Paul’s words to the Corinthians—words I’ve studied or skimmed many times—guided my thoughts. Moments before, my prayers would have been little more than masked grumbling. But as I prayed through the words on the page, they became praise. The Word reminded me of God’s faithfulness—I didn’t need to be afraid. While reading, I recalled the benefits I enjoyed through belonging to Jesus, benefits I’d forgotten. Now I could pray in confidence, not anxiety, for my friends. I saw them the way Paul described those I love: holy, rich because of God’s gift, secure.
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