I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to pray Scripture, mostly because I want my heart to be bigger than my head. I don’t just want to know truth; I want to know Truth. Or to use St. Paul’s punch-you-in-the-heart language: “If any thinks he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God then that person is known by God.” I find that to be one of the heaviest challenges in Scripture — would you rather glory in knowing stuff about God or be known by God?
Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, but the order matters and seems to go this way: I read Scripture so that I can intelligibly know the God I talk to in prayer. Learning to pray Scripture compels us to know God, instead of merely knowing about God. It shapes my heart in ways I need my heart to be shaped; it shapes my heart in ways I’m unable to alone. I want to know God, and I desperately want to be known by Him — and, God help me, I don’t want to do God’s work without God.
If there’s one thing Jesus is inviting us into during this global moment of isolation it is the invitation of knowing Him in isolation — away from the noise, away from the busy, away from the avoidance and the acts of service we perform for him, but rarely with Him. He’s inviting us to look at our own ugly, the ugliness of our pain and depression, the ugliness of our motives, the ugliness of our families, all the ugly. But that’s always been His way, the Cross is the ugliest thing in human history, and because of it we’re made divinely beautiful. We have to look at the ugly first, and then just like Dorian Grey, our ugly bleeds away onto the image of His Cross and we come away with a little more God-likeness worked into our image, into ours souls.
So, here’s a Scripture prayer-practice that embeds good things into me. Can I give it to you?
1 Corinthians 13
God is love and God is shaping us into His image. We are all disciples in the way of love.
So, here’s the practice of righteousness, in the way of love (each of these steps can be practiced without the others, just make sure you keep the order):
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Now use your journal to write out that passage, except substitute “love” for Jesus (or God). (ex. “Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind.”)
Once you do that, process if you believe whether or not God is actually like that. If not, talk to Him about that. Tell Him how you don’t see Him that way. Let that image of God (re-)shape your theology, your imagination, your hope. But really, just talk to Him.
Now, go back to your journal and write out the passage again, except this time substitute “love” for your own name. (ex. “Shane is patient. Shane is kind.”) People react to this part. I’m not going to try preemptively mitigating reactions you may have. Let me only say this, “love your neighbor as you love yourself”; we can only love to the extent that we know how to receive love. Maybe just do this part and then process reactions with Jesus. Can you do that for me?
Lastly, substitute someone else’s name in for “love” — a spouse, a child, a neighbor, someone you don’t get along with, etc.
Here’s the point: we need to see God as He is, we need to see ourselves the way Heaven sees us, and we need to see others as God sees them. At the bottom of it, we just need a lot of help seeing rightly. This practice of praying Scripture is a resource that will forever be a harmonization-key to see God, self, and neighbor — your theology, anthropology, and missiology. I hope you do it, because, well, because you likely need it just as much as I do.