Last Sunday, I preached a sermon as part of our God with Us Series called God with Us in Confession from Daniel 9:1-19. I observed that Daniel read in “the books” and the writings of the prophet Jeremiah God’s plan for Daniel’s people while in captivity in Babylon (v. 1-2) and immediately proceeded to give a heartfelt, theologically rich, and humble prayer of confession (v. 3-19). The interpretation I gave to my church family was for the Bible to drive their prayer life, as it drove Daniel’s.1 This has created no small discussion in my church throughout this week about the role of the Bible in their prayer life.
Before I preach on the final eight verses of Daniel 9 this Sunday, I wanted to flesh out this concept a bit more by writing four reasons the Bible should drive our prayer life followed by some answers to some common questions. They are as follows:
Scripture makes it clear that people do not naturally know how to pray on their own, unless the Holy Spirit of God tells us (Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible and the author of every Godly prayer we have ever prayed. It is best to annex our prayers to it.
Jesus gave his disciples a model prayer we still use today (Matthew 6:5-15). The apostle Paul, in his letters to churches, frequently told them what to pray for. The 150 Psalms are basically a collection of prayers that were sung. Even if you are not reading a passage about prayer, every passage tells you a little bit about who God is and knowing God is imperative to knowing how to speak to Him. To have your prayer life driven by something other than the Bible is to ignore what the Bible says about itself.
Though God wants to hear from his people and wants them to pray, he is not your spiritual butler. James 1:6-8 says that if we doubt, we can’t expect to receive anything from the Lord. James 4:3 says if we ask with the wrong motive, we won’t receive what we ask. 1 Peter 3 says if I don’t honor my wife, then my prayers will be hindered. Isaiah 58:6 says if I don’t care for the poor God is not listening to my prayers. Francis Chan has a very popular video on this.
One church member, struggling with this truth, asked me if it was ok if she prayed for God to reveal Himself to her son, who is not a Christian. I asked her if she ever heard of God revealing Himself to people in the Bible, thinking she would know the answer is yes. She said she didn’t know but knew that is what God did for her. This is a shame not because she was wrong, but because she did not know why she was right! The personal testimony of the Christian can take him or her a long way, but if their experience is not eventually submitted to the Bible, worldliness will inevitably creep back in.
Should I stop praying if don’t spend much time in the Bible?
The Bible driving your prayer life does not mean pray less. Spend more time in the Bible, so that you will know how to pray more. An unbiblical prayer life is not praying for too many things. An unbiblical prayer life is not praying for enough. If you think you pray without reading the Bible much, watch God blow your mind when you do!
I pray throughout the day, and not always right after I read my Bible. Is that wrong?
That is not wrong at all. Compare the prayer in Daniel 9 to the prayer in Nehemiah 1:4-11. The prayers are mirror images of each other. One happens immediately after reading scripture and the other happens immediately following an experience. However, both prayers depend heavily on what the author knew about God in the Bible. The Bible tells you to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Do that.
Pastor, are you worried that some people will be afraid to pray in front of you if you think you are going to grade them on their prayer content?
This was a really good word of caution from a dear saint. My intention is certainly not to nitpick at what or how people pray. I am not trying to create some judgmental culture where everyone’s worried about praying the wrong thing. If you have a deep desire to ask God to do something, it is a conversation with God that needs to be had. Even if your desire is not what God wants, God will show that to you either in the prayer itself or by not answering it. Unbiblical prayers do not happen because we tried too hard and got it wrong, they happen because we don’t try very hard at all and pray just to say we prayed. I would like to rid us of prayers we pray just to say we prayed. I don’t want to get rid of heartfelt, raw, emotional, undignified, weeping sinner prayers (like in Luke 18:9-14). We must have those prayers because they are real.
I hope this encourages my readers and motivates God's church to pray. The Bible must drive your prayer life. Immerse yourself in it. Commit it to memory. Have a prayer partner who is reading the Bible with you. Watch as God transforms your prayer life into something you never knew it could be.
1I am not the only one, much less the first, to observe this connection. James Boyce in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary makes the same observation, as does Keil and Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament. John Piper preached a whole sermon on the connection in 1992.
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