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Using the Psalms will spur prayer life, Whitney says

JACKSON, Tenn.April 28, 2009 – Praying through Scripture, especially the Psalms, is an effective way for Christians to enliven their prayer lives, according to Don Whitney of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at SBTS and author of the book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life,” led a seminar at Union University April 23 about how praying through the Psalms will lead to fresher, more vibrant prayer in the lives of believers. His visit was made possible through a Worship Renewal Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Mich., with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.

“Our problem in prayer is we say the same old things about the same old things,” Whitney said. “Praying that way is often boring. When prayer is boring, we don’t feel like praying. And when we don’t feel like praying, it’s hard to concentrate in prayer and to pray for very long.”

Praying through Scripture will help Christians address such boredom by allowing them to pray about “the same old things” in new ways, Whitney said, and by providing ideas of things about which to pray that they never would have thought about before.

He used Psalm 23 as an example of how to use the Psalms in prayer.

“Read ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and thank him for being your shepherd,” Whitney said. “Ask him to shepherd your family that day, to guide, protect and provide for them. Pray that he will make your family members his sheep; that they will look to him as their shepherd.”

After thinking through the first line, when nothing else comes to mind, Whitney said it’s time to move to the next line.

“Simply go through the passage, line by line, praying what you find in the text or what it brings to mind,” Whitney said. “If nothing comes to mind, or if you don’t understand the verse, go to the next. You might choose to linger long on one verse. Conversely, there may be only a handful of matters that prompt prayer as you go through many verses. Nothing says you have to pray over every verse.”

Whitney said the Psalms are the best place from which to pray through Scripture because of their original purpose and usage. They were inspired by God for the purpose of being reflected in song back to God, and there’s a Psalm “for every sigh of the heart,” he said. “The entire range of human emotion is recorded in the 150 Psalms.”

But other parts of Scripture are also effective as guides to prayer, Whitney said. The letters of the New Testament, for example are “so densely packed with truth that virtually every verse suggests something to pray about.”

“Once you actually experience praying through a passage of Scripture, you’ll likely be able to turn to any part of the Bible and pray through it,” Whitney said. “You won’t need these notes to remember how to do it the second time. Like riding a bicycle, you never forget.”

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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