A Guide to Prayer

When it comes to prayer, we can sometimes feel lost. Of course we have Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6, but we often find ourselves nodding to Paul’s comment that “we do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26). Yet we should not throw up our hands in despair. God has given us an abundant guide, one which we tend to overlook.

In Psalm 119, we come across a stanza that is entirely bracketed by prayer. In verse 41, the Psalmist says, “May Your lovingkindnesses also come to me, O Lord, Your salvation according to Your word.” That’s how he opens this section, and we see several important points. Notice that He asks God to bring “Salvation according to Your word.” What God had spoken informed and guided the Psalmist’s prayer. That refrain of “according to Your word” has already been used in verses 25, 28, and 38 with slight variation. Yet key to each instance is that God had spoken, and the Psalmist used those words in his prayer.

We can look at the promises in Scripture and ask God to fulfill His Word. For example, we can look at Hebrews 13:5 and 6 and ask God to be with us even in the midst of difficulties. “Lord, You promised You would never leave us—don’t leave me now.” Or perhaps we’re struggling and looking for peace. We might consider Philippians 4:6-7 and Isaiah 26:3 as we pray, “Lord, help me to keep my mind fixed on You and may You bring Your peace that can’t be explained by anything in this world.” These are just some basic examples of how God’s Word can provide substance to our prayers.

We can also praise God and remind Him of His character. In Psalm 119:41, the Psalmist prays, “May Your lovingkindnesses also come to me.” He is reminding God of who He is, for the Lord described Himself as “abounding in lovingkindness” (Exodus 34:6). There are so many attributes of God’s character, word-pictures of His activity and relationship that we can use to fill our prayers. We can praise and glorify the Lord with them, recognizing and affirming who He is. They also can direct how we present our requests before Him. He is holy, just, and sees all, so we can ask Him not to forget our plight if we are going through a time of injustice. He is a loving Father who gives what is best for His children, even if it’s not exactly what they asked for. We can ask Him to fulfill His perfect will in our lives. And so it goes.

These are two ways God’s Word informs and guides our prayers, but they’re not the only ways. Earlier in the post, I said this passage was bracketed by prayer. The final verse says, “And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, which I love; and I will meditate on Your statutes” (v. 48). The imagery of lifting hands has a few different uses in Scripture, but the overwhelming majority of the occurrences refer to prayer. For example, consider how Paul describes prayer as “lifting up holy hands” in 1 Timothy 2:8.

So in our verse in Psalm 119, the Psalmist is not saying he worships the Bible, but rather that the Bible guides his prayer. He loves God’s Word (vv. 47, 48), and he wants to love, know, and follow it more. It’s almost as if he’s reaching out, asking to receive the request he is making. And notice what drove him to do this—God’s “commandments” (v. 48). We don’t follow God’s commands to earn salvation; we seek to follow the commands to bring glory to the Father.

To bring this all together, God’s promises, character, and commands all drove the Psalmist to pray and gave substance to his prayers. He wasn’t the only one. When Daniel read in the book of Jeremiah how long their exile was to be, he ran to the Lord in prayer (Daniel 9:1-3). When the apostles faced resistance for preaching the gospel, they quote Psalm 2 in their prayer for courage and boldness (Acts 4:23-31).

We have both Old and New Testament examples of God’s people using His Word in their prayers. Not all of the prayers are direct citations of Scripture, but they are Biblically informed and guided. The Psalms themselves are prayers and provide models for our own. Verses and passages of Scripture also guide us in exact requests and praise. The Lord hasn’t left us alone to try and “figure out” prayer. He has given us His Word.

So let’s use the Bible as we pray. We may feel lost and think we need some particular method or formula to figure it all out, but we don’t. Prayer is part of our relationship with God, and that is personal. He has revealed Himself to us through the Bible and shown us how to pray. Let’s listen and apply what He says.


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