We’ve already seen one example of this in the Lord’s Prayer. The discipline of this kind of prayer comes from familiarity with Scripture. Christians don’t just read the Bible to know more about God. They read the Bible to become more like God, and prayer is a chief means of grace. It just makes sense, then, that as you and I “age” in Christ, that the phrases of Scripture become like a second language to us. Not that we’ve got everything memorized exactly, but that it is natural for us to recall certain passages and verses.
When we pray Scripture back to God, we have internalized it. It has become real to us. I can honestly think of no better way to pray than to let Scripture permeate our petitions and thanksgivings. We allow God to hear His words, and He knows that we haven’t just sought to understand them—even though this is extremely important—but also seek to see them come alive in our day. The things He has wanted for us, we now want. And so we tell Him using the familiar words of the psalms, the instructions of Paul, and the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus and all of his people regularly prayed and sang the psalms. The psalms of ascent were recited every year at Passover as Jews traveled to Jerusalem. When Jewish men wrote what became Scripture, their minds were ablaze with the imagery and thought life and phrases of the Old Testament. It had become such a part of their lives that there was no other way to write about Jesus.
Look at the topics they cover. Then ask, “What would our prayer lives be like if we only got to pray these words?” Lots of lamenting–crying out to God in
Psalm 1 Wisdom
Psalm 2 Messianic and Royal
Psalm 3 Lament of an Accused Person
Psalm 4 Lament and Song of Trust
Psalm 5 Imprecatory
Psalm 6 Lament/Psalm of Sickness
Psalm 7 Lament
Psalm 8 Hymn of Praise of Creation
Psalm 9 Praise
Psalm 10 Lament
So how might we do this? Our Bible reading can be a springboard for prayer. When we read, we can pray through that passage. If it is a narrative, we might pray about how we are like or unlike the people in the story. Or ask God to do for us what He did for them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation.” Bonhoeffer had the men enrolled in his seminary start their days with a half-hour silent meditation on Scripture.
As we read Scripture, we cannot skip over the boring passages, or the ones that we deem to have little application for us. For example, we cannot read the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and simply thank God that we are not in his spot. We are in his shoes. Like Abraham, we are all asked to sacrifice that which is most precious to us, that which we believe God gave to us. Like Abraham, we come away from our decisions to surrender all to God with a new understanding of what it means to be completely His. I believe that praying Scripture back to God moves us in this direction.
Adding a section on the means of grace is really related to things like the spiritual disciplines and other catalysts God uses to grow our faith. It is speaking of those things we can consistently count on God to use in our lives to give more of His grace to us, whether we are aware of it or not. The “means of grace” is very much a Wesleyan phrase that John Wesley used to describe one of the ways God works in us.
Wesley writes, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” (Sermon 16). He later lists in the same sermon that the “chief” means of grace are prayer—corporate or personal, searching the Scriptures, and eating the Lord’s Supper. God has chosen certain avenues and activities by which he gives grace. Many of these are the spiritual disciplines that we have talked about earlier.
Wesley also wrote in this sermon several clarifying statements as to what is meant by the means of grace.
- The means of grace must be tied to the end, or goal, of Christianity. If they are not part of loving God, they keep Christianity out of the heart rather than bring it in.
- If they are separate from the Holy Spirit, they cannot profit us. There is no inherent power in the means of grace, but only by the Holy Spirit at work in them do they profit us.
- The means of grace cannot atone for sin. Only the blood of Christ can offer forgiveness for sin.
- A large number of Christians abuse the means of grace to the destruction of their souls. They believe there is merit in them that will cause God to favor them even though this is not how God gives us His favor.
The means of grace can also be called sacramental, because the sacraments–communion and baptism–are also outward signs of an inward grace. So we might say that prayer is sacramental. We might say marriage is sacramental or that raising children is sacramental. It is not that they are sacraments, but that God uses these relationships as a way to change us.