For a long time, I never understood the concept of praying using Scripture. It always felt a little like cheating – as if I couldn’t come up with my own original words and needed to use someone else’s. Never mind that Jesus Himself gave us a prayer outline in Matthew 6:3-9 (commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer”). Besides, praying Bible passages felt awkward. For some reason, the lyrics of an ancient Jewish king were not as smoothly vocalized in my twenty-first century devotional hour. Then, last year, my pastor began a blog series on praying with Scripture. Every week he selected a few verses to expound upon a prayer theme of the week, and then used those verses to shape a written prayer. One Sunday morning, he drew the congregation’s attention to a particular passage that he prayed everyday for his grandchildren: Philippians 1:9-11.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (NASB)
After my pastor read the passage, three things popped out to me. First, the knowledge that he prayed Scripture on the behalf of others. The only kind of Scripture praying I had been aware of consisted of using the Psalms for oneself. Secondly, that he prayed this prayer for his grandchildren on a daily rotation. Repetition to this extent, it seemed, was a non-issue. Thirdly, the prayer’s content. When listening to those verses in a prayerful context, I picked up on a fervency I hadn’t noticed before. Paul, the author, wasn’t just exhorting the Philippian believers to be more loving, to approve of more excellent things, or to be more sincere and blameless. Instead, he prayed it for them. He had a vision for them and he brought it to God.
Paul begins the letter to the Philippians with a greeting and blessing, then moves onto a model of prayer. He outlines how he prays, why he prays, and what he prays for them. He prays with joy and confidence for these men and women (verses 3, 4, 6) because they are fellow participants in the gospel, from evangelism to persecution. Then comes the best part, the “what.” Paul prays that God will continuously transform these brothers and sisters into a reflection of His image – that their love be deepened by a greater understanding of Christ so that they might live a God-glorifying life. He prays for the daily sanctification, the daily transformation of holiness, in the lives of the Philippians.
We can pray that, too. We can pray that our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our friends and significant others, our pastors and small group members continuously seek after God’s own heart – that their desire for Him never ceases. We can pray “that [their] love [might] abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that [they] [might] approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
There’s nothing cheating or awkward about that prayer.