I have read all of Donald Whitney’s books because they invariably cause me to grow in my appreciation for the simplest but most important spiritual disciplines. As with so many other Christians, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life proved foundational in my understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines. Simplify Your Spiritual Life was an important wake-up call to the beautiful simplicity of the Christian life. I was excited, therefore, to dive into his new work Praying the Bible.
This book is premised on the existence of a very common problem: That prayer is difficult. “I maintain that people—truly born-again, genuinely Christian people—often do not pray simply because they do not feel like it. And the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things.” I would guess that this resonates with you and that many of your prayers feel just like that. The repetition in your prayers can lead you to assume that your prayers are meaningless and having no effect. When you are bored with your prayers you stop praying. When you stop praying you feel like a spiritual failure and count yourself a second-rate Christians. It’s a familiar downward cycle.
Now the problem here is not with praying about the same old things. We have to pray regularly and repetitively about certain matters—personal holiness, family members, our church families, our unsaved neighbors and relatives, financial care and provision, health and safety, and so on. “The problem is not that we pray about the same old things; rather, it’s that we say the same old things about the same old things.” The problem, then, is one of method.
The heart of Praying the Bible is Whitney’s instruction on a particular method that is meant to address the lack of variety in our prayers: “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm.” That’s it. “Simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text. See how easy that is? Anyone can do that.”
He describes this method and then teaches it with very practical instructions. The book’s tone is of a wise, older Christian coming alongside a young one and saying, “Let me teach you what I have learned. Let me teach you how to pray.” It is warm, conversational, and very encouraging. Whitney’s long experience with this method, coupled with his enthusiasm for it, makes it seem both good and do-able. If you read the book, you will walk away knowing and being able to practice his method. I think I can just about guarantee that much. I also think you will walk away excited to try it out and confident that it will bring new life to your prayers.
Now, as I come to the end of this review I feel the need to point out that this method is just one among many. While the method is roughly modeled in Scripture, and while many Christians practice it, it is nowhere demanded of us. Praying through Scripture as Dr. Whitney teaches is a powerful method of praying, but not a necessary one. There are other ways to bring new life and strength to your prayers.
On a personal note, I have never made this kind of prayer a regular part of my prayer life. However, because of my respect for Donald Whitney and because of his enthusiasm for it, I am inclined to try it over an extended period. My only concern is that I am not quite sure how to integrate the method with my prayer list to ensure that I am praying for the wide variety of concerns (including, of course, all family members, church members, friends and neighbors, ministries I love, and so on). I think the book might have benefited from a little more guidance on how to do this.
Knowing the Word of God and the character of God, Whitney concludes “It must be possible for every Christian, including every Christian reading this book, to have a meaningful, satisfying prayer life.” If you read it and implement its method, I am sure you will find this is true.