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Showing posts with label Praying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Praying. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Praying Through The Psalm by McKenzi Marlow

Today, I am pleased to share the second instalment in a series on prayer by a member of my church, McKenzi Marlow.  McKenzi is a talented young lady who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Samford University with a BA in English and literature concentration.  McKenzi will enter the English Masters program at Auburn University this fall where she will also be teaching and doing research.  Today, McKenzi shares about her experience with praying through the Psalms over the last week and over the weekend while on a trip to Austin, Texas.


Hello regular readers of Pastor Chris’ blog!

As I mentioned last week, most of my prayers up until now have been collections of petitions and intercessions to God. It wasn’t until I began seeking Christ and Christian community on my own in college that I realized prayer was deeper and more complex. Last week, Dr. Floyd’s article introduced the idea of beginning prayer time with scripture. Since opening my prayers with Psalm 63 had been beneficial, I decided this week would be the perfect time to learn how to pray through the whole book of Psalms. 

I began, as anyone would in the 21st century, by Googling “how to pray the Psalms.” One of the first links led me to The Upper Room website and their articles on prayer. According to The Upper Room staff writer, the book of Psalms is known in both the Jewish and Christian traditions as the “prayer book of the Bible.” Unlike a normal poetry collection, the Psalms are meant to be used in conversation with God; to praise Him, exalt Him, and tell Him our anxieties. The Upper Room article says, “[The Psalms] teach us to hide nothing from God, but to bring all that is real into the only relationship that can bless and heal the worst in us.” Confirmed in my suspicion that Psalms are the key to a healthy prayer life, I decided to let the “words of the Psalms accompany [me] into God’s presence” this week (“Praying the Psalms”). 

Unlike Dr. Floyd, The Upper Room failed to provide me with specific instructions for praying the Psalms. To their credit, they did include a list of Psalms to pray in certain situations. If I felt contented, for example, The Upper Room recommended Psalm 23. If I felt anxious, they recommended Psalm 70. Though helpful, this list is not a structured method for prayer. Disappointed, I turned once again to Google. To my relief, I stumbled upon “How to Pray the Psalms” by Pastor Benjamin Kandt. Kandt is the pastor of formation and mission at New City Church in Orlando. In his article, he gives a brief explanation of how to—you guessed it—go about praying the Psalms. Though his article is not a prayer method outline like Dr. Floyd’s, I still found Kandt’s observations beneficial. 

The first tip Pastor Kandt gives is “pray through the whole Psalter.” Psalters are collections of Psalms “arranged for liturgical worship in Christian churches” meaning they are intended for public, corporate worship like hymnals (Kiczek). For those of us who do not own Psalters, Pastor Kandt gives instructions for using our familiar Bibles. He gives two methods. To simulate the structure of the Psalter you can, “Multiply the day of the month by five and pray those psalms” (Kandt). Now, if you’re anything like me, you balk at the mention of math, even if it’s a simple calculation. Nevertheless, I whipped out my phone and crunched the numbers. Since it was the fourteenth of June, I was supposed to begin with Psalm 70. Great! But I had a problem: where should I stop? According to his article, Pastor Kandt prayed five psalms in succession. Should I just count up from 70 and pray Psalms 70-74? Perturbed, I decided to review the second way to simulate the Psalter. Kandt writes we can forgo math (hooray) and “start with Psalm 1 and pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. . . [moving] to Psalm 2 the next day.” Needless to say, I chose this method. 

My method selected, I read Kandt’s next tip. His second bullet point says to “make the psalm’s words your words.” Whether the psalmist is lamenting or praising, we are meant to take their emotion in stride instead of hopping around looking for the right words to fit our mood. As I moved through the first seven psalms, I found it difficult to push myself to feel negative emotions, especially when I went on vacation. It’s hard to call for vengeance on your enemies while surrounded by friends. It is important, however, not to skip over psalms of vengeance or sorrow when we aren’t feeling those negative emotions. In Romans, Paul says we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12: 5). In other words, we are supposed to empathize with our fellow man. If I can’t even identify with a psalmist’s joy and sorrow, how am I going to do so with my friends’ and family’s. Allowing the psalmist’s phrases to guide my prayers meant my laments were longer, but when I did get to praise God, my joy was brighter.

While we pray through the Psalms, regardless of their tone, Kandt recommends we “meditate on [them].” This step was difficult for me, especially while I was vacationing. Getting up thirty minutes earlier than everyone else to ponder the Psalms after staying up thirty minutes later the night before was not something I really wanted to do. It required a lot of discipline to sit still and reread verses that jumped out at me. Most of the time I could feel my mind trying to wander while I attempted to let God “shine His light” on the passage (Kandt). 

Kandt’s fourth tip is to “memorize the Psalms.” In times of spiritual speechlessness—those nights when you just don’t know what to say to our Father—having the Word stored away will help you articulate what you need to say. Last week, I decided I didn’t have time to memorize anything properly, but I will be circling back to memorization in my private spiritual life. I already have the opening verse of Psalm 63 locked and loaded! 

Kandt’s fifth tip is to “pray the psalms like an apple tree or Christmas tree.” When I saw that line for the first time, I raised an eyebrow at its childish, Bible School vocabulary only to sheepishly force the brow back down after reading his explanation. Those phrases are actually useful! Kandt explains apple picking as choosing “pleas and praises” from the Psalms and making them your own. As an English major, I try to avoid taking quotes out of context to use for my specific purposes, which is what Kandt’s apple picking sounded like to me. That left the Christmas tree method. 

With the Christmas tree method, you simply “[hang] your pleas and praises” from the Psalm’s words. As I allowed the different psalms to inform my mood and length of my prayers, I was glad the Christmas tree method was so customizable. For example, Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man / who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” I read the verse and then began hanging my plea and praise. I prayed, “Father, help me turn from the counsel of the wicked and listen to Your good instructions instead.” Here, I pleaded for salvation from wicked counsel and praised God’s goodness. With that branch decorated, I moved on to the next verse. By the end of the passage, I felt like I’d had a fulfilling, deep conversation with someone close to me. 

The sixth and final tip is to “pray the Psalm through Jesus & with Jesus.” This tip works in tandem with the third, meditation. As you’re sitting there, eyes closed, attempting to mull over a specific word or phrase that stuck out to you, imagine Jesus doing the same thing. When I lamented, I imagined Him lamenting in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when I praised God, I imagined Jesus praising Him after performing miracles to reveal His glory. I felt closer to Jesus because I realized I was praying the same words He would have known, loved, and used two thousand years ago. This revelation added an extra layer of fervent awe to my prayers even as I struggled to be still during meditation. 

At the end of the week, my prayer life felt a little dehydrated. I started strong, Christmas tree-ing every Psalm I read, all three times I read it, but by the end of the week, I was just throwing random ornaments at the passage as I let my eyes scan the words. Autopilot praying isn’t fair to God, and it definitely isn’t going to help our relationship flourish. I think Pastor Kandt’s tips are useful, but they would benefit from having more structure or at least a journaling session as the final step. Though disappointed, I appreciate the challenge that praying the Psalms posed. Wish me luck as I attempt to follow my third method this week. I’ll let you know how it goes! 

In Christ,
Mckenzi Marlow


Kandt, Benjamin. “How to Pray the Psalms.”, Medium, 16 July 2017, 

Kiczek, Steven. “Cataloging Biblical Materials: Differentiating Psalms from Psalters.” Princeton University Library’s Cataloging Documentation, Princeton University Library, 

“Praying the Psalms.” The Upper Room, , 2021,

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditating Prayer)

Joshua 1:8
Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Psalm 145:5
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles.

We have seen there are so many different ways to pray.  We have discussed Examining Prayer, The Lord’s Simple Prayer, Liturgical Prayer, Suffering Prayer, Continual Prayer, and Formation Prayer. [Click here for a list of 21 different types of prayer based on Richard Foster’s book Prayer]

One never need become bored with prayer or get stuck in a rut with their prayers and only pray the same things over and over again.  Today, I want to talk about Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditative Prayer).  By Praying the Scripture, Richard Foster writes in his book, Prayer, “the Bible ceases to be a quotation dictionary and becomes instead ‘wonderful words of life’ that lead us to the Word of life. It differs from the study of Scripture. Whereas the study of Scripture centers on [interpreting Scripture], the meditation upon Scripture centers on internalizing and personalizing the passage. The written word becomes a living word addressed to us.”

Praying Scripture Directly
One way of Praying the Scripture is simply to use the words of Scripture themselves as prayer.  There are many, many prayers recorded in the Bible.  You can use these as your own prayers.  We already do this when we pray the Lord’s prayer, which is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  But there are many other Scriptures we can pray.  Much of the Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers that can easily serve as our prayers.  We could pray Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want…”  We could use Psalm 145, “I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever…”  When we are in despair, we can use Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  Why are you so far away when I groan for help?”  Or you could repent and ask for forgiveness with Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins...”

There are prayers in many other parts of the Bible too.  And you can turn a passage into a prayer.  In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus “...said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”  You could pray what Jesus asked his disciples to pray:  “Lord, there is so much work to be done, so many souls to harvest for Your Kingdom.  Please send more people to help with all this work!”

Acts 4 records the prayers of the early Christian Church as they faced severe persecution from the Roman Empire.  They prayed “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them…  And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:31 says, “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.”  If the prayer was so effective for them, why not try praying it for our Church today?

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”  If the Word of God in the Bible is so incredibly powerful, think how effective it could be to use those words themselves as your prayers.

Meditating on Scripture
But praying the actual words of Scripture is not the only way to Pray the Scriptures.  Another way to pray the Scripture is to meditate on it.  Meditation has been integral to God’s people from the very beginning.  Genesis 24:63 tells us Abraham’s son, Isaac, went out into a field to walk around and meditate.  Many of the Psalms were written as David meditated about God and His creation while he watched sheep at night.  The Psalms themselves mention meditation 14 times.  Devout Christians down through the ages have always practiced meditation.  Meditation is a firmly established Christian spiritual practice.  It wasn't until the last century that Christians got lazy about meditation so that it is more associated with the foreign religions of Buddhists and Hindus (or something reserved for the Karate Kid or Jedi Knights in Star Wars).  What would it look like if you and I recaptured the powerful practice of Christian meditation?

Christian meditation is fundamentally different from meditation in the Eastern religions.  In those religions, a person tries to empty their mind and become completely absorbed into impersonal, cosmic consciousness.  That is very different from what Christians believe. We believe God is a Person just as we are.  We believe He is an individual with emotions and a personality.  We believe God also made us as individuals in His image.  So, we believe we can talk with God just as one person talks to another.  Through Christian meditation we don’t seek to empty our minds.   Instead, we try to let God fill our minds with His feelings, His ideas, and His insights as we focus our minds on Scripture and welcome Him to transform our wills.

How Do You Meditate on Scripture?
Studying Scripture is important and we should do it, but meditating on Scripture is something different that we should do too.  When Christians meditate, we don’t analyzing the Scripture in order to merely get more information about it.  We believe the Bible is the living word of God. Therefore, we try to commune with God through the Scripture.

  1. Start by choosing a short passage on which to meditate.  Choose just one passage.  Don’t try rush through many pages of Scripture.  Just pick one episode and meditate only on it.  You might pick only one verse or even just one word to meditate upon.  Spend your entire time meditating on that one passage.  Some have suggested spending a whole week on the same passage, coming back to it again and again.  Sometimes you need time to move beyond just information gathering to where you are really entering into the text.  Each time you return to the passage over a course of days, you may may go deeper and deeper.
  2. Use your imagination.  As you meditate on the passage, use your imagination to consider what it’s like to be in the story.  What do you see, feel, taste, smell?  What emotions does the text bring out in you?  Why?  (God gave us an imagination and He wants us to use it.  So ask God to sanctify your imagination and use it for the work of His Kingdom.  Do not try to impart your own ideas into the meditation, be totally and completely dependant upon God to give you His thoughts and His Truth.)
  3. Try to relate to the story not just as something that happened a long, long time ago.  It is something that still unfolds today.  You are as much a part of God’s story as were the twelve Disciples who walked alongside Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  They were real people--His friends and disciples.  So are you.  Through Christian meditation, you open yourself up to the experience and start to feel the reality of Christ’s tangible presence with you, right now.  Through your intimate, prayerful fellowship with Him, He begins to change your will.  He confronts you, comforts you, challenges you, and inspires you.
  4. Let God change you.
Closing Meditation on Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac
I want to close with a meditation on Genesis 22:1-8, part of the story where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  As I read the passage, close your eyes and try to imagine you are Abraham.  What do you see, smell, hear, and how do you feel as you talk with God and your son and the other characters in the story?  What is it like to chop wood for an offering that will take your own son’s life?  What is it like to walk for three days trusting God while carrying the burden about what you are about to do all by yourself?  You might be tempted to think, “I’m sure glad I’m not in Abraham’s shoes.”  The Truth is, you are in Abraham’s shoes.  We are all called to a sacrificial faith in God that puts everything on the line.  So, as we meditate, how does it feel?

Genesis 22:1-8
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Take your time and quietly reflect on how this passage makes you feel.  resist the temptation to jump ahead and search for a happy ending.  Remember, Abraham didn't know how the story was gong to end.  And most of the time, we don't know how our troubles will end.  We have to walk as did Abraham, buy faith--trusting God will take care of it, but not knowing when or how.  Use your imagination to be Abraham in the passage through meditation as you commune with God in prayer.

I hope you found this blog helpful and will give Praying the Scripture (AKA Meditating Prayer) more attention.