Praying With Scripture

Scripture can be found here...


Some passages of scripture are so sublime, they lift the heart to prayer almost without effort. On the other hand…


Let me tell you a story. When my college pal K was marrying her husband J, she chose a passage from the Song of Songs, famous for its romantic, even erotic poetry. She chose Song of Songs 8:6-7:


Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
    passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    a raging flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
    all the wealth of one’s house,
    it would be utterly scorned.  ~ Song of Songs 8:6-7


But there was a little problem during the ceremony. That’s not what was read. The friend who had agreed to read scripture at the wedding wasn’t familiar with the Song of Songs, so, when the bible was accidentally bookmarked at the next book, Isaiah 8:6-7, he didn’t even blink as he read:


Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and melt in fear before Rezin and the son of Remaliah;  therefore, the Lord is bringing up against it the mighty flood waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it will rise above all its channels and overflow all its banks… ~ Isaiah 8:6-7


Tonight’s meditation is about praying with scripture. And the bible is a book filled with books, each written with a specific audience and intention, each intended to convey a specific kind of information. If we are to pray with scripture, we need to be mindful about exactly which scripture we choose to pray with.


Here are four simple suggestions for praying with scripture. These are not the only ways to pray with scripture-- of course. But they are good ways to begin.


1. Remember what prayer is. I like John Calvin’s definition: “Prayer is none other than an expanding of our hearts in the presence of God.” Therefore…


2. Choose wisely. Choose scripture that will expand your heart. We have been taught, many of us, that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” and I will stand behind that verse (2 Timothy 3:16). However, you will notice that it says nothing about all scripture being useful for prayer. Don't expect every portion of scripture to be equally sublime or heart-expanding. And for goodness’s sake, unless you are sure the exploits of the Amalekites or the Moabites will help to expand your heart in God’s presence, don’t close your eyes and point. Choose. Wisely.


3. Read through a gospel. Use your time in prayer with scripture to immerse yourself in the life of Jesus. Though they all tell us of Jesus’ words and deeds, each gospel has its own flavor and emphasis. Choose one and read it, just a little at a time. A few verses. Then close the book and listen to your heart as it responds. Try an exercise such as Lectio Divina—the ancient practice of prayerful reading.


4. Read the psalms. At least a couple of times a year I share the following passage from John Calvin’s commentary on the psalms with you. I’m going to do it again:


I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men [sic] are wont to be agitated. … here the prophets themselves … laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particulars in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed.[i]


Every emotion you can experience can be found in the psalms. The psalms are inspired by God to tell us the truth about what it means to be human beings. So try praying the psalms.


Psalm 130 is offered at this time of the year because we are drawing closer to our observance of the central mystery of our faith: Jesus’ death on the cross. And the words of this psalm remind us of one of the things we sometimes find it difficult to cling to: Jesus' humanity, his human experience of rejection and pain.


I am going to read the psalm again, a little more slowly this time. I invite you to close your eyes. I invite you to breathe deeply, and center yourself in your body. Know the deep, vast love of God that surrounds you. And let your heart expand in God’s presence:


I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—
 my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
 If you kept track of sins, Lord—
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
 But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

 I hope, Lord.
My whole being
    and I wait for God’s promise.
 My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

 Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
 He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its
sin.  ~ Psalm 130 (Common English Bible)


Thanks be to God. Amen.


[i] John Calvin, “The Author’s Preface,” Commentary on Psalms: Vol. 1, translated from the French by Arthur Golding,, 2009.