Some people have found that using Bible verses in their prayers is an effective way to pray. “Praying Scripture back to God” seems to help to focus the mind and to assure that the subject matter of the prayer is pleasing to God.
James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). First John 5:14–15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” The word effectual means “sufficient to produce a desired result.” Fervent means “constant, strenuous, and intense.” James and John are both telling us that for our prayers to be effective, they must be fervent, meaningful, and in agreement with the will of God.
One way to know that our prayers are the will of God is to pray specific Scriptures that express what is in our hearts. Scripture should not be used as some kind of magic chant, repeated mindlessly as though the words themselves had power. The power of prayer comes from God alone to a heart that is “fervent.” But when we find a command or promise that expresses what is in our hearts, we know we are agreeing with God when we use it as a prayer. It is, after all, His Word. The more we memorize and meditate on the Bible, the more it becomes part of us. The truth we have studied comes to mind when we are praying and is often the answer we are seeking. Often, when we don’t know what to pray, Scripture can give us the words. The Psalms contain hundreds of prayers, and many of them have already put our thoughts into words.
Jesus gives our best example of effectual prayer. His longest recorded prayer is His “High Priestly Prayer,” found in John 17. The first thing we notice is the oneness of spirit Jesus has with the Father. He begins by saying, “Father, the hour has come.” Jesus was not telling the Father anything He did not know. Rather, Jesus was acknowledging that they were in agreement. He spent so much time in fervent prayer that He knew the heart of the Father. That is the goal of effectual prayer: to understand the heart of God and align our wills with His. Whether by using our own words or those penned two thousand years ago, the key to effective prayer is that it comes from the heart and seeks the will of God.
Praying Scripture as an act of personal dedication is a good way to know we are praying effectually. For example, we can take Galatians 2:20 and use it as a prayer of consecration. Such a prayer might sound something like this: “Father, today I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. This life I live today I will live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In praying this way, we take the heart of God and make it our goal. There is nothing magic in the words, but we can know we are praying within the will of God when we use His Word as our model.
We must be careful not to treat Scripture as though every passage was written specifically for our situation. We cannot take verses out of context simply because we want them to be true for us. For example, God promised Solomon “wealth, possessions, and honor” in 2 Chronicles 1:11–12. But we cannot pray that verse as though God had promised it to us instead. We cannot search for isolated verses that say what we want them to say and then “claim” them. There are times, however, when God impresses a certain verse on our hearts as His personal message to us, and we can and should pray about it.
If we try to apply every verse as though it directly affected our own lives, we would have problems with verses like 1 Samuel 15:3: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them.” We must always read Scripture within its context and learn more about God from the principles we find. God may use that passage to speak to us about destroying the worldliness in our lives and leaving no remnant of it. In that instance, we could pray, “Lord, just as You told the Israelites to totally destroy everything that represented the evil of the Amalekites, I want to tear down any false gods in my life and leave nothing but You. Purify my heart as they purified their land.”
Effectual, fervent prayer can come from Scripture or from the depths of our own hearts. The goal as we grow is that the two become intertwined. Even on the cross in the midst of horrible suffering, Jesus cried out words from Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Many scholars believe He was quoting the entire passage as He hung on the cross, praying it back to God as an act of worship even in death. The more Scripture we learn and personalize, the more our prayers will reflect the will of God and the more effective they will be.