The Pulpit & Pen Reviews “Praying the Bible” by Donald S. Whitney

The Pulpit & Pen Reviews “Praying the Bible” by Donald S. Whitney

“This little book is explosive and powerful.” R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Donald S. Whitney is a professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He oversees his website, The Center for Biblical Spirituality, where he blogs and offers himself to local churches for speaking engagements.  Whitney has written several books on the topic of Spiritual Formation with Praying the Bible (“the book) being his most recent publication.  The book is a short one (it can be read in one day) about a very important topic, one’s prayer life.  Whitney writes systematically:  he identifies what he sees as a “problem” in the prayer lives of many, offers a solution to this problem, and explains the method which underlies his suggested solution, praying through the scriptures.

The Problem

When you’ve said the same old things about the same old things about a thousand times, how do you feel about saying them again? Donald S. Whitney[1]

People don’t pray as much as they should.  People don’t pray more because they don’t feel like doing so.  The reason they don’t feel like doing so is that “they tend to say the same old things about the same old things” when they pray.[2]  In other words, they find prayer boring.  This “same-ole, same-ole” feeling makes for an anemic and unengaged prayer life.  Prayer becomes something to be endured rather than enjoyed. In his assessment of the problem with prayer lives, Whitey wrote a statement that many readers could find very relatable: “There may be people in your own family, or your church, or somewhere in your background who, when they were or are called upon to pray, you could give the prayer because you’ve heard it so many times. Our hearts don’t soar when we hear such praying; we just politely endure it.”[3]

The Solution

“The best place… for learning to pray through a passage of Scripture is in the book of Psalms.” Donald S. Whitney[4]

There are many Christians in the world, each of whom lives in a unique circumstance.  Some are smarter than others.  Some are more educated.  Some hear better biblical exposition on church every Sunday than do others.  Yet, each Christian should have the ability to have a satisfying and meaningful prayer life.  “Our Father draws to himself people with few Christian resources and people with many Christian resources…if God invites and expects all his children— regardless of their age, IQ, education, or resources— to do the same thing— thing— to pray— then prayer has to be simple.”[5]  At the same time, it doesn’t have to be boring.  Whitney recommends a simple, permanent, and biblical solution to a boring prayer life: “when you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm.”[6]

The Method

“I would argue that if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit— if you are born again— then the problem is not you; it is your method.” Donald S. Whitney[7]

Before explaining his recommended method for praying the scriptures in detail, Whitney provided (in Chapter 3) an example of what praying Psalm 23 would look like.  As someone read through that particular Psalm he might prayer a prayer such as the following:

“Lord, I thank you that you are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, great Shepherd, please shepherd my family today: guard them from the ways of the world; guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil. O great Shepherd, I pray for my children; cause them to be your sheep. May they love you as their shepherd, as I do. And, Lord, please shepherd me in the decision that’s before me about my future. Do I make that move, that change, or not? I also pray for our under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us. Lord, I thank you that I’ve never really been in want. I haven’t missed too many meals. All that I am and all that I have has come from you. But I know it pleases you that I bring my desires to you, so would you provide the finances that we need for those bills, for school, for that car? Yes, Lord, do lead me in that decision I have to make about my future. I want to do what you want, O Lord, but I don’t know what that is. Please lead me into your will in this matter. And lead me beside still waters in this. Please quiet the anxious waters in my soul about this situation. Let me experience your peace. May the turbulence in my heart be stilled by trust in you and your sovereignty over all things and over all people.  My Shepherd, I come to you so spiritually dry today. Please restore my soul; restore to me the joy of your salvation. And I pray you will restore the soul of that person from work/ school/ down the street with whom I’m hoping to share the gospel. Please restore his soul from darkness to light, from death to life.”[8]

Whitney’s method of praying through the scripture involves reading scripture and then praying whatever comes to mind.  There is no right thing or wrong thing to say.  There is, of course, a right and objective meaning to the biblical text. “Correctly handling the Word of God does not permit making the text say what we want…The text of the Bible means what God inspired it to mean, not “what it means to me.”[9]  The prayer that comes to one’s mind does not replace, alter, or create new meaning for any biblical text.  The goal of the method is to be immersed in God’s word to be able to better communicate one’s needs to Him.  It is not the goal nor is it permissible to proclaim new meaning to God.  God’s word is unequivocally found in scripture.  Therefore, the Bible is a good place to start when one seeks to speak to God.

A Critique

As I read the first part of the book, the part in which Whitney was trying to sell the reader on the problem of boredom, I found a lot to disagree with.  Repetitive prayer doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bore me.  I actually like the fact that my father has said the same blessing before we eat for the past quarter century.   I’m the same way in my prayer life.  I pray for the same lost people each day.  I thank God for my blessings each day.  I ask God for forgiveness each day.  I pray for the development of my children each day.  I use the same words almost every time and I think there is value in that.  My father prayed, for years, each night before I went to bed, that I would grow “mentally, physically, and spiritually”.  I think God has answered that prayer and as I listened to my father pray it over and over, I learned that it was something very important.  I pray the same things for my kids.

Still, I understand where others with different personalities might get tired of using the same wording over and over.  Whitney is clear that those who use his recommended method praying through the Bible will continue to pray for the same things, the things that are important to them.  He is also clear, as mentioned above, that praying the Bible does not involve creating new meaning for the text.  In this way, Whitney delineates his method from dangerous and unbiblical prayer techniques, where prayers are encouraged to empty their minds or imagine themselves as characters the bible story.[10]  Whitney makes the claim that his method is biblical.  This is a dubious claim.  I can find no “Thou Shall pray through the Biblical text” command in scripture.  However, surely there can be nothing unbiblical about reading God’s word as one prays, especially if it is a practice, as Whitney argues, in which Jesus and the Apostles engaged.  Personally, I think that Whitney’s suggested method could be beneficial, especially for families.  Reading scriptures and praying together with one’s spouse or children can only strengthen a family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Admittedly, I have not yet tried the method that Whitney suggests (although he invites his readers to pause reading and do so in the middle of the book).

The book is both concise and inexpensive (in Kindle form).  I believe it is worth a read, though Al Mohler’s effusive assessment of it may be a bit of an oversell.  I doubt there would be any harm is trying out Whitney’s method. Whitney suggests the Psalms and the epistles as the best books through which to pray.  Even if one doesn’t find praying the Bible to be a favorable prayer practice, he will have been edified from taking time to read the scriptures and lift up additional prayers to the Lord.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

 

[1] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Locations 98-99). Crossway. Kindle Edition

[2] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Locations 97-98). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[3] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Locations 158-160). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[4] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Location 261). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[5] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Location 229). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[6] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Location 257). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[7] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Locations 104-105). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[8] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Locations 263-295). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[9] Whitney, Donald S. (2015-06-15). Praying the Bible (Kindle Location 320). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

 

[10] For more on these wonky techniques see https://carm.org/centering-prayer

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Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Member of the Evangelical Theological Society
Certified Public Accountant

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