by John Ellis
An anemic prayer life is a confession that I frequently hear from brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, it’s a confession that has sadly characterized much of my eleven years in the faith. Rarely do I ever hear anyone praise God for their rich prayer life. Likewise, I have rarely given praise for my prayer life. Sadly, the confessions and experience of those around me are not unique among American evangelicals.
In 2014, reporting on a survey conducted by the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Today revealed the startling truth that, “of the over 1,500 surveyed, nearly all (90 percent) said they read the Bible regularly, but only 31 percent said they set aside a substantial period of time each day to pray.”
Sadly, and methodological flaws aside, the Evangelical Alliance’s survey lays bare the hard truth that many of our prayer lives are suffering. Considering that the Bible teaches that prayer is a vital part of a Christian’s discipleship and sanctification, this is not a problem that should be ignored or excused.
In my case, I have been frequently guilty of justifying my abbreviated prayer sessions by pointing to my Bible reading.
As someone who loves to read and has been blessed with jobs that allow me the flexibility to easily and frequently devote large chunks of my day to the reading and studying of God’s word, I have often fallen into the trap of excusing my lack of prayer because I “excel” in one aspect of daily communion with God. After reading the Bible for over an hour, I’ll frequently rationalize my cursory three or four-minute prayer as not necessarily ideal but balanced out by my Bible study. In my heart, though, I know that’s not true and that I am willfully cutting myself off from one of God’s primary means of grace.
Thankfully, by God’s grace, my pastor placed Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney into my hands before a staff meeting a few weeks ago. He frequently pushes books onto me, and I have a backlog of a couple dozen books that he has selected to go into our church’s “booknook.” Occasionally, my pastor will ask for my thoughts on a specific book he has given me, and I will frequently be forced to sheepishly admit that I have yet to read it. Not so with Praying the Bible.
The short book (less than 100 pages, unless you count the endnotes) jumped to the head of my reading list line. It took me two days to read, and very few books have had such a large impact in such a short amount of time.
Prior to reading the book, praying the Bible back to God was not an unfamiliar concept for me. Unfortunately, the concept had sunk to the level of nothing more than a buzzword in my mind and actions. Sure, when tasked with praying in front of the congregation, I dutifully sprinkle Bible verses throughout my prayer. But, on the best of days, my personal prayer life has been nothing more than a long, laundry list of requests that I had accumulated over the previous weeks. And that long laundry list was regurgitated in basically the same way day after day. Donald Whitney’s assertion that, “when prayer consists of the same spoken sentences on every occasion, naturally we wonder at the value of the practice,” has proven true for me.
Praying the Bible opens with a convicting reminder of the importance of prayer. Within his diagnosis of why many Christians fail to consistently enter God the Father’s presence through prayer, Donald Whitney gently provides encouragement. Christians’ desire to pray is a product of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Not allowing the reader to become discouraged at past failures, Whitney graciously provides a needed reminder that “The Holy Spirit causes all the children of God to believe that God is their Father and fills them with an undying desire to talk to him.” The desire to pray is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Whitney’s reminder of the importance of prayer coupled with his astute observations about why Christians often fail to pray is quickly followed up with the practical method of praying the Bible. While pointing out that the entire Bible is available to pray back to God, Whitney narrows it down and focuses on the Psalms. After providing some concrete and helpful illustrations, he gives the reader a monthly schedule for praying the Psalms back to God.
Chapter seven, aptly titled, “The Most Important Part of This Book,” was, and risking redundancy, the most important part of the book for me. In the chapter, which is a mere page and a half, Whitney asks the reader to set the book down, pick up the Bible, and spend seven minutes praying through a Psalm. At first, I intended to skip the exercise and keep reading. After all, I figured, I know how to pray the Bible, no need to stop my reading momentum. But then I read, “Having taught this material hundreds of times, I know by repeated experience that those who fail to do this exercise soon forget the teaching and profit little from having encountered it.”
By God’s grace, I put the book down, opened the Bible to Psalm 11, and began to pray. I praise God that I did.
Thankfully, God in his mercy and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I have continued the practice. With the understanding that it’s been a short period of time, since reading Praying the Bible and implementing Whitney’s “method” into my prayer life, I have been greatly encouraged by my prayer time. And, my laundry list of prayer requests has yet to receive short shrift. There has not been a moment while praying the Bible back to God that my concerns and prayer requests haven’t naturally been lifted before God. By far, the Bible is truly the best prayer manual available for Christians.
With his book, Donald Whitney has given practical legs to my desire for a rich, fruitful prayer life. I wholeheartedly echo Whitney’s claim that “it’s not only easy to begin praying with this method; this method makes it easy to continue in prayer.”
While no one necessarily needs Donald Whitney’s excellent little book to begin praying the Bible back to God, I believe that it would be a mistake to ignore this treasure that the Holy Spirit has given to followers of Jesus. I highly encourage all to prayerfully and humbly read Praying the Bible. And, upon reaching chapter seven, make it a point to put the book down, pick the Bible up, and pray. Further, and most importantly, allow the book to inspire you to make a commitment to pray the Bible back to God every day.
 I question what “read the Bible regularly” and “substantial period of time” mean. Not to mention the problems inherent in self-reporting. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if the numbers aren’t on the overly optimistic side of exaggerated.
 The “booknook” is a very large bookshelf that fills up an entire wall in our church’s vestibule. That shelf is filled with books that are free for the taking.
 Donald S. Whitney, Praying the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 15.
 Whitney, Praying the Bible, 14.
 Whitney, Praying the Bible, 64.
 Whitney, Praying the Bible, 41.