We introduced the idea of praying scripture yesterday, but it is one thing to talk about doing something and actually learning how to do it. I figured today would be a good day to see the concept put into practice. I recommended the Psalms as a great starting place and Psalm 23 in particular. In his book called Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Timothy Keller writes:

There is no situation or emotion a human being can experience that is not reflected somewhere in the Psalms. Immersing ourselves in the Psalms and turning them into prayers teaches our hearts the “grammar” of prayer and gives us the most formative instruction in how to pray in accord with God’s character and will.

I love the concept of developing the “grammar of prayer.” Reading the Psalms provides us with great examples of praise and prayer. The first way to pray the Psalms is to do so verbatim. Simply reading a Psalm as is. Psalm 23 works well as a verbatim prayer.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

The second way to pray the Psalms is to paraphrase and personalize them. When paraphrasing Psalm 23, you can rephrase it as

LORD, you are my shepherd who provides me all that I need.
You provide me peace and comfort and a place to rest.
You lead me to places of refreshment that don’t scare me
so that my soul is restored.
You show me the way that I should go because I’m your child
Even though the right path can sometimes lead to dark and places
I don’t have to be afraid, because you are always with me, keeping me secure
and reminding me you are there.

When you think through the words of the psalms, it can draw up images. The idea of “quiet waters” is not just to convey a placid scene. Sheep have 300º of vision and can see behind their heads. Only one problem, they have terrible depth perception and cannot see in front of their noses. They make up for their vision deficit with excellent hearing. Quiet waters are better for sheep than rushing waters because rushing waters would impact their ability to hear and keep them from drinking. That kind of knowledge can help inform our prayers.

When you paraphrase, it is important to understand that many of the Psalms’ context is quite a bit different from our own. When King David is talking about enemies surrounding him, there were literally human enemies preparing to kill him. That is true for some Christians in different parts of the world. Some of us have enemies, but they aren’t trying to kill us. Others of us need to be worried about the spiritual enemy who is trying to destroy us. Be sure to translate the context as you pray.

The third way to pray the Psalms is called responsive praying. This is where you take themes and statements in a Psalm and allow them to inspire your prayers. Take the idea of a shepherd leading his sheep and consider other ways that God provides for you. If you look at the verbs associate with God in the section I paraphrased above; you see that God: Shepherds, Leads, Refreshes, Guides, and Comforts.

Praying the scriptures is a powerful way for God to enrich our prayer time.