Bible Reading and Prayer
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). “Continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
These are but two of the passages which have led our shepherds to choose prayer as a subject of emphasis in the coming year. And let’s be clear about something—the intent is not to focus on prayer in 2017 and then move on to something else in 2018. Instead, the hope is that in this coming year we can learn some things and make some changes that will stay with us throughout our lives. In February we will use our winter classes to focus on prayer and throughout the year other lessons will emphasize this vital aspect of our relationship with God with the hope of producing lasting changes in how we approach our Father. So as we begin this year with an emphasis on prayer, I want to start by encouraging everyone to make use of your Bible reading in making your prayers more frequent, fervent, and effectual.
When reading of the creation in Genesis, the parting of the waters in Exodus, Jericho’s walls collapsing, the fire on Mt. Carmel, our Lord’s virgin birth, Jesus walking on the water, the resurrection, and a host of other stories, we should be impressed by the power of the Omnipotent One. How can we not be encouraged to pray in faith when we realize we have been granted access to Almighty God?
As our reading takes us through stories such as Joseph, Ruth, and Esther, may we be impressed with the way the Lord’s providence worked in people’s lives as He caused all things to work together for good in putting the right people in the right places at the right times (cf. Rom. 8:28). While I do not pray for miracles today, I can and should pray to the same God who controlled the weather in the times of Joseph and Ruth and who could turn the evil of Joseph’s brothers and the pride of Haman to the benefit of His plan and His people.
This year as we read through the life of Christ, let’s pay careful attention to His prayers. One thing we will notice are the mentions of how He would get away from the crowds to spend time with the Father in prayer. We will see Him praying at important moments such as His baptism, before the selection of the apostles, and as He faced the cross. We will read from Him specific instructions on how to pray and for whom we should pray. We don’t want to neglect any aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching, but in the coming months let’s give some extra attention to how Christ prayed and what He taught His disciples to do in prayer.
In addition to the specifics of prayer, in the life of our Savior encouragement to pray is found in the love so richly displayed. Not only is this love seen in His coming into this world and dying on the cross (John 3:16), it is seen in His compassion for the poor and afflicted, the time He had for little children, His gentleness with the woman taken in adultery, the tears He shed for Jerusalem, and a host of other examples. This year’s reading of the life of Christ should help all of us to more deeply appreciate how the Almighty Ruler of heaven and earth loves us and welcomes our approach to Him.
As we go through the Psalms, let’s take note of the emotion invested in prayer by David and the other psalmists. Careful reading of the Psalms will help us move away from formulaic, ritualistic prayers and teach us to pour our hearts to the One who wants us to call Him Father.
There are other things we could consider and I hope you will add to the list as you go through the year, but we’ll conclude with the encouragement to pay attention to prayer in the epistles of Paul. We need to learn from the specific instructions given by inspiration in his letters, of which two examples can be found at the beginning of this article. But let’s strive in the coming year to pay more attention to his mentions of his own prayers, along with the prayers and petitions that are inserted into the text. One of the things this will do is help us better appreciate how the needs of others, and especially their spiritual needs, should be a major focus of our prayers.
“Our Father, as we open your word and allow you to speak to us, may we learn better how to speak to you in prayer. Help us grow in our dependence upon You and know better both how we should pray and what we should pray for.”
All quotes from the New King James Version, copyright 1995, Thomas Nelson, Inc.