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Praying the Bible—The Pathway to Spirituality

For results in prayer, we need to follow Jesus' example—the time-tested method of the Church throughout history—of praying the Bible out loud.

"Wesley!Wesley! You know what's coming, don't you, Wesley?"

… modern-day evangelical/charismatic Christianity may be the first segment of the Church in more than three thousand years that does not pray right!

Boldly, my wife stood in front of me and prophesied the word of the Lord. And yes, I did know what was coming. God had visited our church in an unexpected and sudden move of the Holy Spirit and, in the space of three months at least, seventy people were to break out with prophetic anointings. Now, here in this leaders' meeting, God was speaking to me! The prophecy continued, "I called you, and you did not come!"

Suddenly, another pastor rushed across the room and bellowed, "Wesley, if you do not pray, your ministry will be taken from you like this piece of paper from your hand, and thrown to the ground!" This was a serious rebuke from the Lord and I was determined to do something about it.

The next day I got everything ready to pray. I had my favourite chair positioned just right. I gathered my various Bibles and a note pad and pen. I even had an egg timer to time my prayers. I was determined to be God's man of prayer and power for the hour. I was ready to meet with God!

Boldly, I stood up and cried, "Oh God! Here I am in obedience to your word! And Lord, I thank you. I thank you for saving me … that I'm going to heaven and not hell. And God, thank you for Stacey and the children … and for my health, oh God! In fact, I bless you for everything." (Awkward silence; nervous shuffling.) "Africa! Bless all the missionaries in Africa!"

Desperately, I looked at the egg timer. It didn't even seem like it had moved. I may have only been praying for forty-five seconds. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but those prophecies rang in my ears. Like Elijah, I girded myself up for another run.

"Lord … I'm still here calling on your name. Again, I thank you for my salvation … for Stacey … the children … my health … arms and legs! Oh my God!" (Long pause.) "China! God, bless China!"

I looked at the egg timer again. No noticeable change.

Pathetically, I looked toward the ceiling and said, "You cannot be enjoying this!" Right or wrong, I had the distinct feeling that I was boring God. I was crushed. I could not go on. I had no integrity at all.

In time I heard about this guy called Mike Bickle, who personally prayed from three to five hours a day, and made his pastoral staff pray three to five hours a day as well! This was the most outrageous thing I had ever heard. I said to myself, "This I have to see." So I flew there in person and was provoked to see that his team actually did it. What's more, they liked it!

I went directly to the bookstore and said, "Give me everything these men have written on the subject."

"Written?" said the clerk with incredulity. "They haven't written anything, they've been praying all the time."

"Then how am I going to learn this?" I asked desperately.

"Well," she said, "they do have a lot of tapes on the subject. Maybe these will help."

"Good, give me all you've got." I flew home happily with more than a hundred tapes. I was going to learn this thing called prayer!

Over the next few months I learned the simple, timeless practice of the art of prayer. I later discovered that Mike Bickle's prayer model was actually based on a historical model used by men and women of God for thousands of years. As I looked deeper into the topic of prayer, I found that modern-day evangelicals are the only ones who do not pray in the time-honoured method of the Hebrews, the Early Church, the Desert Fathers, and the saints. In fact, modern-day evangelical/charismatic Christianity may be the first segment of the Church in more than three thousand years that does not pray right!

Set a time; set a place

If we are going to learn to pray, we have to show up.

As I processed Bickle's teaching on prayer, I discovered that there are four reasons people don't pray—two spiritual reasons and two practical ones:

• They don't believe in it.

• There is sin in their life.

• They don't know how.

• They don't set a time.

The last one is fundamental. If we are going to learn to pray, we have to show up. One of the main reasons people do not pray is that they do not set a time. For most of us it has been prayerlessness by default.

How did Jesus pray?

A most interesting question is how did Jesus pray? Did Jesus have a structure? Did he use written prayers? Did He pray every day? Did he sit, stand, walk, or lay down? Can we know what Jesus said?

One thing we do know is that Jesus was Jewish and was brought up "according to the custom" (Luke 2:22; 2:42; 4:16), and the Jewish custom of prayer was very defined and pervasive in Jesus' day. It had its origin in the first books of the Old Testament. By Jesus' time, there had developed a distinct practice of prayer based on their understanding of the Scriptures.

The first major commandment on prayer is found in the greatest of all Jewish commandments, the Shemah (Deuteronomy 6:4-13):

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates … " (NIV).

The Jews clearly understood this command as a call to pray. The wise sages said that the premiere expression of love to God—the service of the heart—was prayer. The rabbis said prayer became at once the means and proof of loving God. God told Joshua that he was to lead the nation into daily prayer—meditating on the Law (vocal recitation of the Scriptures), day and night (a minimum of two times a day), so that he and the nation of Israel would be able to do all that God commanded and be blessed and successful (Joshua 1:8).

Of course, the obvious question is whether God was really serious about seeing His people show up "day and night." In fact what does "day and night" mean? Is it just a religious cliché? How Israel understood Deuteronomy 6:4-13, and Joshua 1:8 is evidenced by how those who believed it lived it out. David said, "But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice" (Psalm 55:16-17). Daniel carried this practice to the point of obsession and, as a captive in Babylon under threat of the death, he refused to break his habit of praying three times daily. "Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before" (Daniel 6:10).

By the time of Jesus, it was customary … to pray eighteen benedictions, coupled with readings and more than three set 'hours' of prayer [daily] …

Historians tell us that after the seventy years of captivity in Babylonian, under the ministry of Ezra (520 BC) Israel determined that they would never again provoke God to such wrath. Ezra and the prophets mandated daily prayers accompanied by readings from the Torah. By the time of Jesus, it was customary for Jews to pray eighteen benedictions, coupled with readings and more than three set 'hours' of prayer at the temple, synagogue, or home. These customs Jesus and every righteous Jew observed daily. It is interesting to think that Jesus' earthly father Joseph prayed this way. Jesus' grandfather prayed this way. Peter, James and John all grew up praying like this. Paul was steeped and set in this Jewish prayer model. This was the accepted, adopted model of the New Testament Church.

It is evident by the New Testament record that night and day prayer was practiced by the entire early church and the God-fearers who had attached themselves to Judaism. Luke records that "Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth [hour,] the hour of prayer." In Acts 10:2, Cornelius is called a devout man who prayed continually. The next verse explains continual prayer—"About the ninth hour of the day [the hour of prayer] he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had [just] come in to him, and said to him, 'Cornelius! … Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God'" (Acts 10:2-4).

Both inside and outside the Church, these passages show that the afternoon (three o'clock) hour of prayer was firmly established as a practice for first century Christians. Hourly prayer was further implied where Peter went to his housetop to pray and "it was about the sixth hour"—the noon time of prayer (Acts 9:9). Pentecost takes place in the midst of a corporate prayer time that just happens to be at the time of morning prayers—the ninth hour (Acts 2:15). Luke records that those who believed were "daily (and continually) in the temple courts as well as meeting from house to house (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:26). What did they do daily in the temple courts? Jesus said that His Father's house (the temple) would be "a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:17), and described how "two men went up to the temple to pray" (Luke 18:10).

Regardless of the exact times, both the Jews and the early Church prayed a minimum of three set times of prayer daily. The first hour ranged from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., the second was at noon, and the third was between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Whether we feel like it or not; whether we know how to do it or not; whether we feel inspired or not; as the worshippers of God we are called to show up. Set a time and make a place to get face to face with God.

Pray to God

Working backward in the command given to Joshua it is implied that the meditation is to God. That is, we meditate, or recite, the law to God! Of course, people of every religion pray thinking they are praying to God. But who is right? Which God is the true God? Who is He? Where is He? What is He like? What is He doing? These are questions that any worshipper will consider when he sets aside time to talk to God.

Often, when I am speaking on prayer around the world, I ask the whole congregation to stand up so that I can give them a test. I say, "If you are in the regular practice of praying the theophonies—that is the "God sightings"—and you can generally recount at least four of the many God sightings in the Bible, then stay standing."

People look around dumbfounded, and then slowly almost all of them sit down. Rarely is there even three percent of the audience left standing.

When we think about this spiritual omission it becomes quite absurd. Imagine seven of the most holy, prophetically inspired men and women of your church or movement going up to a mountain to fast and prayer for seven days for a breakthrough with God. Imagine that God actually comes down in a full blown visible display. They are overwhelmed, and laid low before His glory. As soon as they are able, they call down to say that they've seen God with their eyes and they will be down to tell everyone about it the following Sunday. Who wouldn't want to be there? Who wouldn't want to read the detailed account?

And yet we have the greatest holy men of history—men like Moses (Exodus 24 & 33), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Daniel (Daniel 7 & 8), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1 & 10), Peter (Matthew 17) and John (Revelation 1, 4, 19, 21)—all of whom say they saw God (or the glorified Christ) with their eyes. Not only that, they wrote it down for us to read. And yet, believers who have given their whole lives to love God don't even know where the accounts are found! Much less are they able to recite them in their minds and spirits.

I tell people everywhere that if men and women, and especially children, are ever going to pray effectively, they must first start by being able to see God. We must pray the theophonies until we can see heaven as clearly as we see our own houses. Our children must be able to close their eyes and see God sitting on the throne, the movement, the color, the sea of glass, the living creatures—everything. I want them to mentally walk through the surroundings of heaven and be as familiar with them as with their earthly surroundings. My advice is always the same, "Both you and your children should begin to pray Revelation 4 at least one hundred times out loud to God. That is, pray Revelation 4 out loud, ten times a day for ten days. After you have finished that, do the same with Ezekiel 1. Then you will begin to be able to pray to God!

The Bible says "Pray the Bible"

Once we have developed the habit of showing up, and we have a clear, biblical vision of God, then what do we say? Men and children are notorious for not holding up their end of the communication exchange. What do you say in those long pauses? "Thank you for arms and legs", and "God Bless China" does get a bit old. And the children's prayer, "help us have a good day" only takes them so far.

Joshua was told specifically to "meditate on the Book of the Law day and night."

Thankfully, God knows how we are wired and gave us the structure from the beginning. Joshua was told specifically to "meditate on the Book of the Law day and night." Because David did this, we got the Psalms (Psalm 1:2). The prophets did this, and we got prophetic books. These books, Moses writings, and the writings of all the prophets make up the composite that Jesus called the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). These are the words we are to pray.

Paul, an apostle and prophet himself, said: "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words" (1Corinthians 2:13). The whole Bible is God-breathed, and is the language of the Spirit—the language of prayer.

Throughout history, the Church taught the faithful to pray the Bible. In fact, virtually the only ones to ever depart from this model are the modern day evangelicals/charismatics. Right from the Judaistic roots of the Early Church, through the Church and Desert Fathers, the monastic movements, Celtic Christianity, the Catholic, Anglican, and Greek Orthodox Church, Lutheranism, and most mainline denominations—all believers were taught to pray the Bible. Virtually every famous Christian and saint throughout the ages preached and practiced praying the Bible.

Many people do not realize that beginning with the Church Fathers onward, all monks and nuns prayed the whole book of Psalms every week, leading three to five public prayer times a day. Benedictine monks prayed through the book of Psalms weekly in addition to other prayers and readings. St. Patrick, the famous missionary evangelist to Ireland, was said to recite at least a hundred Psalms a day out loud to God. Spiritual "iron-men," following in the tradition of St. Patrick, prayed "the three fifties" daily, that is the entire Psalter. Saint Comgal began a house of prayer in Bangor, Ireland in 555 AD where believers prayed and sang the Psalms as well as other Scriptures, twenty-four hours a day for more than two hundred and fifty years. Pope Gregory told everyone to pray the Bible. St.Teresa of Avila prayed the Bible. St. John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, George Whitefield, Martin Luther, George Muller, and the modern day House of Prayer movement—all pray the Bible.

The categories of biblical prayer are many, but a simple layout would be:

• The Theophanies

• The Psalms

• The Apostolic Prayers of Paul

• The Prayers of Jesus

• The Hymns of Revelations

• The Song of Songs

• The Songs of the Prophets

Praying these will keep even the most ardent prayer warrior busy for a very long time.

Pray the Bible out loud!

I often ask people, "Do you know why God wants you to pray the Bible out loud?" The blank stares tell me that they don't. The answer is: "So you know when you've stopped!" It usually takes a few seconds for them to get it and start chuckling at the truth of this statement.

The problem of the "wandering mind" is not a new one. St. Cassian, one of the Desert Fathers said, "The man who prays only when on his knees prays little, while the man who kneels to pray and then lets his mind continually wander prays not at all." Movement is essential to good prayer.

Interestingly enough, Joshua was to told to "meditate" on the Law. Wrongly, most of us have interpreted the verb "to meditate as something we do silently—an exercise of the mind. Even worse, some understand it to be like the Eastern practice of emptying oneself to achieve nirvana or nothingness. All this is a gross misunderstanding of the word.

Broadly speaking, Strong's definition of the Hebrew word for "meditate," hagah, is "to imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter, roar, speak, study, talk, utter." The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, interprets it as meaning "to murmur, to have a deep tone;" to "sigh, moan;" or higgayon, as the "murmur" or dull sound of the harp. This is meditation.

The biblical equivalents of hagah are as follows: the lion roars or growls (hagah) over his prey (Isaiah 31:4); we moan (hagah) like doves (Isaiah 59:11); mediums and spiritists whisper and mutter (hagah) (Isaiah 8:19). From this we discern that hagah, or meditate, means "to say over and over again, to speak, to mutter, to recite, to expel air out loud." There was to be physical involvement in this activity. And in the case of Joshua, he was to hagah—say over and over again out loud—the Book of the Law towards God.

Historically, writings of any kind were scarce in ancient Israel. The average Israelite family did not have their own personalized copy of the scroll of the Book of the Law. They learned the Scriptures by oral recitation and they meditated them out loud from memory in a type of musical cantor—an ancient form of Hebrew rap, if you will. This is how they passed the commandments on to their children and how they had power to obey them themselves. Even today, when the Jews go to the Wailing Wall to pray, they bob, and rock, and mutter. Their whole bodies become involved in meditation. They do not just engage in mental prayer based on sitting and contemplating. They recite specific texts and use the mouth to lasso the mind and affect the spirit.

So, what have I learned in ten years of trying to get closer to God through prayer? I have learned that the pathway to spiritually is found in praying the Bible. Learn as a family to focus and be intent on praying the Bible out loud to God every day! It will change your life.

Wesley and Stacey Campbell are founders of 'New Life Church' and 'Praying the Bible International'—a subsidiary of "Be A Hero!" They are producers of the Praying the Bible CDs and co-authors of the Praying the Bible books. Their web site is:

Originally published in Arise Magazine, Spring 2001.




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