Seeking God’s Will
About the Guest
Seminary professor Don Whitney tells believers how to put some spark back into their prayer life. When we pray in the same way, prayer becomes dull, and we quit. When we pray the Scriptures back to God we find ourselves praying with fervor. Whitney also coaches parents on how to lead their families in prayer.
Don WhitneyDon Whitney has been Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY since 2005. Before that, he held a similar position (the first such position in the six Southern Baptist seminaries) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, for ten years. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. Don grew up in Osceola, Arkansas where he came to believe in Jes...more
Don Whitney tells believers how to put some spark back into their prayer life. When we pray the Scriptures back to God we find ourselves praying with fervor.
Seeking God’s Will
Bob: One of the great privileges we have, as parents, is teaching our children how to talk to God / how to pray. Don Whitney says we ought to be teaching them how to pray the Bible.
Don: I think the simplest way to do this, if you’re praying with the family—is whatever passage you’ve read that night with the family—have them pray about, at least, one thing that you read about that night. If you read John, Chapter 3, with the family: “Okay; who do we know we can pray to be born again like Nicodemus was?” Next night, John, Chapter 4: “Who’s a woman we know who needs to meet Jesus like the woman at the well?”
You train the children to associate their prayers and get their prayers from the Bible; and secondarily, that means every prayer is different. It’s not the same prayer every night, and yet a biblical prayer.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
We’ll talk about the significance of our prayers aligning with the Word of God as we talk today to Dr. Don Whitney about praying the Bible. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to give folks a little bit of a spiritual workout today—take them to the spiritual gym and teach them how to use a new piece of equipment—maybe it’s not a new piece of equipment / maybe it’s the piece of equipment that’s been around the gym forever, and they just never knew how to use it.
Dennis: Yes; and in a fresh way of using that piece of equipment. Dr. Don Whitney joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Don—welcome back.
Don: Thank you, Dennis. It’s good to be here.
Dennis: Don is the professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. That’s as opposed to The Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Fort Worth. [Laughter]
Don: Here we go! [Laughter]
Bob: Seminary wars!
Dennis: Seminary wars here; no doubt about it. [Laughter]
He’s written a book that, if you haven’t heard of it, you need to—it’s called Praying the Bible.
If you missed what he said earlier, you need to hear the answer to the question—I’m going to ask him again; because I thought, “This is one of the more unique answers to a question I think I’ve ever had.” I asked you what the most important lesson you had learned in over half a century of reading the Bible, praying, walking with God: “What was the most important lesson you can pass on to other believers about prayer?”—and you said—
Don: I said to pray the Bible—learning to take the words of Scripture and turn them into prayer—something that anyone can do. That simple biblical practice is a permanent solution to an almost universal problem in prayer.
Bob: In fact, you said this is something of a life message for you.
Don: Yes; I have come to the place of believing that, other than preaching the gospel, the main purpose I’m on the planet is to spread this message of praying the Bible.
I pray every Christian on the planet will learn how to do this—I think it’s that fundamental and that helpful.
Dennis: Okay; I want everybody, who’s listening, raise your hand if—occasionally, if not regularly—your prayer life becomes boring. Hold your hand up.
Bob: Keith, come on—a little higher. [Laughter]
Dennis: Tonda/Keith—okay. Dan?—you out there? Okay; there we go. We have 100 percent agreement in here—we do tend to pray the same old stuff—
Dennis: —and it becomes boring. I think we lose heart for prayer because of that; don’t you?
Don: Yes; yes, I do. I found it to be almost universal that people—when they do pray—tend to say the same old things about the same old things. Praying about the same old things is normal, because our lives tend to consist pretty much of the same old things. People tend to pray for their family, their future, their finances, their work or schoolwork if they’re students, their church ministry, or the current crisis.
There’s hardly anything in your life that doesn’t relate to one of those. They don’t change dramatically very often. So if you’re going to pray about your life—and those things are your life—then it’s normal to pray about the same old things all the time.
The problem is that we say the same old things about the same old things. You don’t have to do that very long before that’s boring. When prayer is boring, you don’t feel like praying. And you don’t feel like praying when you know you’re about to do something and you know, in advance, it’s going to be boring—you’re not excited about that. As a result, people don’t pray, at least, with any fervency / with any consistency. They try to grind it out, maybe five to seven minutes; but it is duty prayer / it is obligatory prayer.
The Holy Spirit causes us—both Romans and Galatians tell us—to cry out: “Abba! Father!” We don’t just choose that—anyone with the Holy Spirit really wants to pray; and yet, colliding with that impulse is the boredom that comes from saying the same old things. Most people conclude, Dennis: “It must be me. I guess I’m just a second-rate Christian.”
I think there’s a simple, permanent, biblical solution to that: “When you pray, pray the Scripture.”
Dennis: You have some very practical, simple ways that we can engage around the Book of Psalms; and there’s a reason for that. Explain to our listeners why Psalms is where we ought to begin.
Don: Well, every book of the Bible is equally inspired; but the Psalms were inspired for a unique purpose. It’s the only book of the Bible inspired by God for the very purpose of being reflected to God. “The Book of Psalms” in Hebrew means “The Book of Praises.” The Psalms were songs to God, inspired by God. We get the Psalms from God, but they were intended to be sung back to God—it’s the only book of the Bible for that purpose.
So, the Psalms, I believe, constitute, therefore, the easiest place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture. We take these words that have come from God—we cause them to be the wings of our prayers back to God. We take words that have already originated in the heart and mind of God and circulate them through our hearts and minds to God.
For example, the 23rd Psalm, which most of your listeners would be familiar with—if I were going to do this—maybe I’ve already done my daily Bible reading—and I say: “Now I’m going to pray; and I’m going to pray, using one of the Psalms. Today, I pick the 23rd Psalm.” I read the first line: “The Lord is my shepherd.” I may say something like:
Lord, thank You that You are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd, and You’ve shepherded me all of my life. But oh great Shepherd, would You shepherd me in this decision I have to make about my future? Do I make that change or do I not? Do I make that move or not?
I pray You would shepherd my family today. Guide them into the ways of God, guard them from the ways of the world, lead them not unto temptation, deliver them from evil, and cause my children / my grandchildren to love you as their shepherd too. Cause them to be your sheep, as I am.
I pray for under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us.
Then, when nothing else comes to mind, you look at the next line: “I shall not want.”
Maybe you are in want about something, and you pray about that—or you know someone who is in want—or you say:
Lord, I thank You I’ve never really been in want—I haven’t missed many meals. But I know it pleases You to bring my desires to You. Would you provide those finances we need for those bills / for the car?
Then, when you can’t think of anything else, you look down and whatever comes to mind from the next line. Maybe nothing comes to mind—fine—skip it. Go to the next line. Maybe you don’t understand it—fine—go to the next verse. Maybe you understand perfectly, but nothing comes to mind to pray about—fine—go on to the next one.
You really can’t mess it up, because the Bible teaches us to pray about everything. Everything that comes to mind from the text is something we ought to pray about. I want to hasten to add—I’m not encouraging people to misuse the Bible / read something into the Bible. If we were preaching or teaching that we were interpreting the Bible, that would be incorrect; but that’s not what we’re doing. What we’re doing is praying, primarily, and we’re praying as we glance at the Scripture.
I’m saying that whatever comes to mind, you turn that God-ward. Since we’re to pray about everything, everything that comes to mind is worthy of prayer.
I think, if people will do that, their prayers will be far more biblical than they ever would be, making up their own prayers.
Bob: When the disciples asked Jesus about how to pray, He gave us a model prayer.
Don: Yes; yes.
Bob: Is that not what we ought to be following, instead of just going to any passage in Scripture?
Don: No; we should be following that, but we know that it wasn’t intended to be the only way to pray, because we see other prayers later in the New Testament by the Apostles. None of them simply repeat the model prayer. I believe, if you will pray the Bible, you will consistently pray the elements in the model prayer. You may not pray about every one of them every day. Psalm 150—if you pray that one—that’s mostly just praise / not confession of sin, for example.
Don: But, generally-speaking, if you pray the Bible very consistently, day in and day out, you will pray all the elements of the model prayer.
Bob: Let me ask you about group prayer and praying the Bible.
Don: Yes; yes.
Bob: Two things—first of all, as a husband / as a father, if you’re leading the family at the dinner table, how do you pray the Scripture? Then, I’ll come back to group prayer after that.
Don: So, if it’s one person asking the Lord’s blessing on the meal—a simple pattern, I think, is to—almost whatever verse comes to mind—if you have a Bible there, it’s much easier—but almost any verse that comes to mind, and ask the Lord’s blessing on the food through that verse.
For example—so if “The Lord is my shepherd,” comes to mind: “Lord, as the good shepherd, You’re the One who has provided us, Your sheep, with this food. Thank You. Amen.” If it’s Matthew 6: “You told us to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness. May this food that You’ve given strengthen us to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness. Amen.” So just very simply—almost any verse that comes to mind / if you have your Bible in front of you, certainly that’s easier.
But you know, Bob—just like the table blessing—for someone, who goes into a hospital room and visits with someone / or you’re just called on spontaneously/unexpectedly in some place, at the end of a Bible study or something, to close in prayer—
—almost any verse that comes to mind, you can use in that spontaneous moment—instead of saying the same old routine / you know, “…lead, guide, and direct us,” kinds of prayers—something that’s fresh and biblical.
Bob: And at what age can you start getting your kids involved in doing something like this?
Don: When they’re old enough to read, they can do this from the Bible—and before that, even. I think the simplest way to do this—if you’re praying with the family—is whatever passage you’ve read that night with the family / have them pray about, at least, one thing that you read about that night. If you read John, Chapter 3, with the family: “Who do we know we can pray to be born again like Nicodemus was?” Next night, John, Chapter 4, “Who’s a woman we know who needs to meet Jesus like the woman at the well did?” You train the children to associate their prayers and get their prayers from the Bible; and secondarily, that means every prayer is different—it’s not the same prayer every time; and yet, a biblical prayer.
Bob: And I have to ask you about the Bible study groups and the small groups that we’re a part of, where, at the end of it, the group leader will say, “Okay; who has a prayer request tonight?”
We get into distant relatives’ health issues—that’s the dominant prayer request that you get into.
Don: Yes; it’s okay in most cases. I think the problem is—you pray the same prayer you prayed for the person last week having the same surgery—you just put a different name in the slot.
Bob: Different surgery or whatever.
Don: Yes; our hearts don’t soar when we hear that kind of praying—we just kind of politely endure it. But if you use the Scripture to pray—and there are two or three different methods you can do in group prayer—it makes it fresh / it makes it different—and yet, not merely different, though that alone is worth it / just not saying the same old things about the same old things—that alone is worth knowing how to do this. But it’s even better than that—we’re praying inspired words. The words we’re praying have a supernatural quality—these are the words of God that we’re praying.
Bob: If I’m the group leader, give me one way that I can incorporate praying the Scriptures as a part of our small group.
Don: If you have the passage in front of you—maybe you’ve already read the passage—you pick and choose the phrases most easily understood and conducive to prayer, and you throw them out as needed.
If we’re a group right here, and I say, “Alright, now, let’s pray,”—and I throw out the phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd,”—then I’m quiet and just let people pick up on that—that “He would shepherd this guy to get a job,” “…shepherd this person who’s going to have surgery,” and so forth. Then, when it’s quiet, I’ll throw out, maybe, “I shall not want.” I avoid phrases that may be difficult to understand or some people maybe wouldn’t know what to do with. That way, people—I’ve discovered people pray more to the point / they pray more brief prayers, which is often good in a group setting—like on a Wednesday night and people are tired already. More people will pray—not just one or two people pray—but they pray these biblical prayers.
Dennis: How many years have you been doing this?
Don: Almost every day of my life since the first of March, 1985.
Dennis: Over 31 years.
Don: Something like that; yes.
Dennis: Have you found a couple of go-to passages for you, as a husband to—first of all, pray for yourself; secondly, pray for your wife; and third, to pray for your children?
Don: Well, the 23rd Psalm is hard to beat in this regard / in praying for all of us. Then, just the classic passages—like Ephesians 5 and others that deal with the family—just to pray those things. I mean, those are the most relevant passages to family life—and so to use those as the words I would pray, which keeps me lashed to God’s will for the family, which keeps me close to the most important issues, biblically, for a family member. Just the classic passages are the best.
But one of the great things about this method is almost any passage is relevant, because a family needs patience. Well, I guess, “Love is patient, love is kind,”—1Corinthians 13. But there may be very important things in your marriage, let’s say, that aren’t represented in the classic texts on marriage and family. Maybe something about finances—that’s a struggle in your family right now—so you pray that passage about being a good steward, as a couple.
Dennis: If your family’s struggling with getting along with each other, as ours did—I’m sure yours didn’t, Don, as you were raising your kids—
Don: Oh, of course not / of course not.
Dennis: I wish we’d had this; because I think 1 Corinthians 13 would have been a great passage to—first of all, for Barbara and me to focus on in praying for us, that we’d demonstrate it in our lives: “Love is patient, love is kind, it is longsuffering…” all the way through that passage in 1 Corinthians 13—but that also maybe, as you knelt beside your kid’s bed in the evening / as you put them to sleep—when they’re wanting to talk—
Dennis: —you could take a Bible in there with you, open it to the 23rd Psalm or to 1 Corinthians 13, and just say, “Father, would you help Ben and Samuel…”
Bob: How’d you pick those names?—just out of the air? [Laughter]
Dennis: Not out of the air; because the light in the kitchen—that was hanging right underneath where their bedroom was—
—they would wrestle upstairs, Don, and that light would bounce. It would bounce as one of them got thrown to the floor with a body pin or something. [Laughter]
But I think this would help parents not lose heart in prayer—to have more of a purposeful passage of Scripture you’re working your way through and praying for your kids.
Dennis: It’s not mere words into the air—you’re actually taking these children before God and saying, “Would you teach them how to love?”
Don: That’s right. And you know what else—it’s hard to pray that hypocritically. It often causes kind of a short interruption in prayer to say: “You know what? I need to confess something here before I can pray this further. We need to be patient, and kind, and so forth. Well, I wasn’t very patient tonight at dinner, and please forgive me for that.” The Word does its work—it instructs, it teaches, it edifies, it convicts—while you’re praying. That doesn’t happen when you make up your own prayers very much.
Dennis: Think about the Beatitudes—Matthew, Chapter 5.
Dennis: That would be a great passage of Scripture to work your way through, as a family—
Dennis: —just talking about who’s blessed, who’s happy, and “What kind of attitudes does God truly bless in a family?”
Bob: I’m just also thinking about some of these passages in Scripture, where somebody may go, “Alright, I know some Scripture works here, but…” Here’s an example—the [beginning] of Psalm 137—it’s one of the imprecatory—it’s: “By the waters of Babylon, we laid down our lyres.” We’re in captivity in Babylon / it ends with this statement—I remember the first time I read it—“Blessed are those who take your little children and dash their heads against a rock,”—something like that.
Don: Right; right.
Bob: Okay; so I’m not trying to imagine what I’m going to do when I come to that in my prayer journal. [Laughter]
Don: Yes; that’s right. I think, first of all, we put all the Psalms in the mouth of Jesus—someday, He’s going to do far worse to His lifelong, unrepentant enemies than just smash their heads against a rock. The other thing is—I don’t think we put people’s names in there anymore—but I put the enemies of my soul in those passages or our national sins.
I’ve prayed God will do that with abortion in this country / with racism in this country. I put the sins that come out of the sin factory that beats in my own heart and pray that God will do that kind of destruction against them.
But you know what? If someone is trying this and they—say, three days from now, and they get to that very passage and they say: “You know, on the radio program, they talked about how to pray this kind of passage. I forget what they said,”—fine—go on to the next passage; that’s okay. Nothing says you have to pray over every verse / nothing says you have to finish the Psalm. You really can’t mess it up—that’s a beautiful thing about it.
Dennis: Yes; I’m looking at a familiar passage that follows—Bob loves to cause trouble. [Laughter]
Don: “Stump the professor!”
Dennis: “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, bash their heads against a rock.” Wow!—Bob.
Anyway, Psalm 138, the last couple of verses there—this is a great one, especially in these days, which are troubling days.
We’re facing a lot of fear today—as we look at the political landscape, the economy, things that are happening in the world / terrorists—verses 7 and 8 say, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life.” That partial sentence, right there, would be worthy, saying: “God, thank You that You know where we are. You know what’s going on in our lives, as a nation. Would you protect us?
Dennis: “Would You preserve our lives?” Then verse 8 says, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” What a great promise!
Dennis: “Father, would You work that out in our lives, as a husband and a wife, but also in our children, our grandchildren, and their children?”
Don: —“who will live in perhaps even more troubled times.”
Dennis: Exactly. Then it says: “Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands.”
Dennis: Just asking God: “Will You make sure You protect us again?
“Will You not forsake us in the midst of the trouble we walk in?”
I just think you’re adding a fresh dimension to prayer, Don, that—who doesn’t need, I think, a breath of fresh air in their prayer life?—because, as you’ve said, it can get boring—we do say the same old thing many, many times over and over again.
Don: Yes; and it’s not just that there are different and fresh words—though that alone was worth listening to the broadcast / that alone was worth the time invested—but it’s even better than that. As I said, we’re praying inspired words. There’s a supernatural quality to these words—it’s the words of God that we’re praying, and they never get old.
Bob: And can I just thank you for the fact that this book is less than 100 pages?
Don: You’re welcome! [Laughter]
Bob: I mean, you have kept this simple—
Don: Yes; it is simple!
Bob: —so that anybody can pick this up, and glean from it, and start applying it. Al Mohler, who is your boss at Southern Seminary, says this little book is explosive and powerful. That’s what you’re hoping it will be in the lives of so many.
Don: Yes; certainly. I think it is transformative. Of all the things I teach, this is the thing—somebody will say, “You came to our church ten years ago and taught this, and I’m still doing it every day.” I love to hear that—I hear that more than anything else I teach.
Dennis: Has anybody done this in the history of the church?
Don: Yes; sure they have—although, I hadn’t come across it; and I am a student of history and theology—I hadn’t come across it that much that I remember. Now, I am aware of some books that / where they will take a topic, let’s say—and they’ve collected a lot of verses on anger: “If your problem is anger, you pray these verses,” “If your problem is financial, pray these verses,”—that’s a great service, to have them all collected; but in daily life, I don’t come to my devotional time and say: “Okay; what is my problem today?—and what is the topic?” and go through that. I’m just reading the Bible.
It is a great practice. First of all, I almost always go to the Psalms; but it may be that you’re reading in Ephesians 5, let’s say, today, in your daily reading of the Bible.
You say: “You know what? I don’t want to go over to the Psalms. This really ministered to me. I want to go back and pray through what I just read through.”
With this method, you don’t need another book / you don’t need any other resources—just you, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. It’s so simple—anyone can do this.
Dennis: The point is: “Get in the Book. Let the Book get in you and work its way through your heart and turn it into a prayer for yourself, for your spouse, for your kids, your grandkids, your descendants, for your community, for your nation, and for your world.”
Don: Yes; just talk to God about what you see in Bible.
Dennis: Yes; and what you’re burdened by—and just cast your cares before Him, because He cares for you.
Dennis: Thank you, Don, for writing this book.
Don: Thank you for having me on!
Bob: If you need some coaching—if our listeners need some coaching in this discipline of praying the Bible, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order a copy of Praying the Bible by Don Whitney.
It will not take you long to read this book; but it’ll give you very helpful, specific direction on how you can more effectively pray God’s Word throughout the year. Again, the title of the book is Praying the Bible by Don Whitney. You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order by phone at 1-800-FL-TODAY—that’s 1-800-358-6329 / 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, this time of year is a time for new patterns and new habits. For some of us, that means we pay additional attention to our food intake every day or our exercise regimen. For others, there may be new spiritual disciplines, like praying or like Bible reading—things that you’re developing as a part of your life in the new year.
We’re hoping that some of you—who are regular FamilyLife Today listeners and who have listened long enough to understand what we’re all about—our mission of effectively developing godly marriages and families / providing practical biblical help and hope for couples and families, day in and day out—we’re hoping that many of you will join with fellow listeners and become Legacy Partners in 2017. A Legacy Partner is somebody, who says, “This ministry is significant, and we’d like to provide monthly support.” That monthly support is the financial backbone / it’s the financial foundation for this daily radio program. Legacy Partners really are the key investors in the work that God is doing through this ministry. It’s easy to become a Legacy Partner. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to become a Legacy Partner.
We’re praying that, during 2017, we’ll see a significant influx of FamilyLife Today listeners, who will step forward and say, “We want to join up and help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today every month.”
Again, become a Legacy Partner, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say, “I’m ready to join the team and become a Legacy Partner.”
We hope you’ll tune in again tomorrow. We’re going to talk about your money tomorrow. We’ve been talking about your prayer life; now, we’re going to talk about your money. We’re really meddling here, at the beginning of 2017. Ron Blue will be here, and we’ll talk about some of the fundamental/foundation things we need to be thinking about as we manage our money in the new year. So I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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