Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The Vision (11/25/10): The Bible and Personal Prayer: Part 3 of 3
Note: In view of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Vision is being posted a day early this week. The following devotional article is the third in a three part series written by CRBC’s Michael Cressin.
Now I would like to consider that part of Scripture which I believe to be the real key to using the Bible in personal prayer: the Book of Psalms. These 150 “prayer-songs” (the word “psalms” means songs) have been used for centuries by Christians as the underlying basis for their prayer lives. The Psalter is truly the “prayer-book of the Bible”. These ancient prayers of Israel have been devoutly prayed by the church, both corporately and privately, since its inception. The Psalms convey the entire gamut of human emotions and contain the entire range of God-man relations. From utter despair to exuberant joy, from sorrowful repentance to jubilant praise and thanksgiving, the Psalms resonate within the believer's soul and propel him God-ward.
Martin Luther called the Psalms “a little Bible, and the summary of the Old Testament.” He viewed them as a meditation on the message and significance of Jesus Christ. In the Reformed tradition, the Psalms have been sung metrically ever since the Reformation. In the Anglican tradition the Psalms have been a significant part of worship, always included in the Book of Common Prayer and utilized regularly in public worship.
I have personally found the Psalms to be particularly helpful in initiating personal prayer time. Often we come to prayer and are not feeling spiritually inclined. I have found that beginning with a Psalm or several Psalms can help settle my mind and direct me towards God. Usually, I will pray through the Psalter consecutively over the course of several weeks and then begin it again. Another suggestion is to choose one or two meaningful Psalms and use these at every prayer period as opening prayers. Psalms 1, 51, 95, or 100 are some recommended possibilities here. If one focuses one's mind on the words of the Psalms and they enter one's heart they will serve to direct him God-ward. Reading a Psalm with some other Scripture, taking time for reflection, and then offering spontaneous prayer is a time-honored format. One could also utilize a Psalm as a concluding prayer.
Again, I must emphasize that it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray. (Rom 8:26). The Spirit searches the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:10) and teaches us spiritual things (1 Cor 2:13). We must ask the Holy Spirit to come to our aid to help us pray with the Word of God. The Word and the Spirit belong inseparably together. As John Calvin taught, “The Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of His Spirit to believers” (Institutes I: 9:3). This is an experiential reality which is meant to be shared by all Christians in prayer. Once we begin to experience authentic prayer God will indeed bless us with growth in knowledge of Him and His ways.