Praying with Scripture for Beginners

We Don’t Know What the Bible is

I’m sure you’ve been in this place before: you’re sitting and listening to your youth minister or priest talk about how important prayer is. You nod because you agree, but you’re also anxious because you know when you go home to try and pray, you don’t know where to start!

I’ve been there. I also need to confess I’ve been that youth minister who talks about prayer without teaching where to start. The starting place is simple, but its also intimidation. The starting point of prayer is Scripture.

Just like the world began with God’s voice, so does our prayer. We need to read scripture to pray. What usually stands in our way is not the Bible itself, but the way we look at it. (That’s called a “hermeneutic” for all my smarty-pants friends out there). We tend to think of the Bible as a rulebook or a textbook. At first, these make sense. The Bible tells us how to live well and tells us about who Jesus is and how He lived. But “rulebook” or “textbook” isn’t good enough to describe what the Bible is. It really a storybook. Rulebooks and textbooks give us the plain facts of what to do and what to know. If God was only concerned with what we did and what we knew on Earth, He would’ve given us one of those. But instead, He inspired the Gospel writers to write the story of human lives, particularly Christ’s life, in all the glory, suffering, and drama.

You see, stories teach us things in roundabout ways. “The Tortoise and the Hare” teaches us a lesson about perseverance, even though on the surface it just looks like a story about the recreational exploits of woodland creatures. We figure out the moral “slow and steady wins the race” before its explicitly told. Similarly, through the stories in Scripture, we figure out who God is (and meet Him) long before we see Him face to face in Heaven.

Scripture exists for us to know Jesus personally. That’s the purpose of prayer, as well. When we take Scripture to prayer, we should read it one story at a time, entering into that story and letting our own lives reflect it. Focus deeply on the human element of God’s work on Earth. Christ became Incarnate to encounter people in the flesh. The Gospels are there for you to encounter Him in the flesh as well.

How to Pray with a Bible Story

If you’ve been to a Vacation Bible School, you probably can think of a few Bible stories off the top of your head. Noah’s Ark, The Prodigal Son, Balaam, and the Talking Donkey. (Yup, that last one is real).

But even if you know a ton of Bible stories, it’s still possible you’ve never prayed with one before. That’s okay, I was in the exact same position. Once I let myself slow down when reading these stories, it started to open up who Christ is. We just need to go over it a few times, like a carpenter sanding down wood.

The steps are super simple:

  1. Read it once to get a lay of the land. (It helps to pause and mentally put the story in your own words).
  2. Read it again and look for a word or phrase that sticks out to you.
  3. Read it one more time and focus on that word or phrase.
  4. Spend time in silence and ask God why that word or phrase sticks out to you.

Example: The Rich Young Ruler

Let’s take the story of the Rich Young Ruler for example (Luke 18:18-23). Feel free to pop that verse in the search bar (in a new tab) and follow along.

First time through, I want to get a lay of the land. It helps to focus on the nouns and verbs (In this story, who does what and why?). Then think through the story as if you’re going to retell it to someone else. Like this:

A rich young man comes up to Jesus and asks Him, “What good things do I need to do to go to Heaven?” Jesus answers, “Why do you ask me what is good? Only God is good. If you want to go to heaven, keep the commandments.”

The young man says, “I have! What else should I do?” Jesus replies, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then come, follow me.” The man became sad and left, because he had many things.

When putting the story in my own words, I have a few questions. Why did the rich young man approach Jesus in the first place? Why did Jesus answer the way He did? What was Jesus’s attitude towards the man (stern, loving, angry, patient)?

Second time through, I take these questions with me. It helps to put myself in the story. The Gospels are written to help you encounter Christ, so enter into them as if you were there with Him. For some reason, the words, “come, follow me” are sticking out. So, I pause for a few moments and read again.

Third time through, I know what I’m looking for. The Lord wants me to focus on those words, “Come follow me.” So, I pause when I get to them and I sit in silence for a moment asking, “Lord why these words?”

This third read-through is the most important. It’s a springboard into contemplative prayer, the kind of prayer Theresa of Avila called, “A close sharing between friends.” It’s the point where God’s word leaps off the page and into your life.

Only He can answer the question “Why these words?” because He wrote them for you before you were born.

Over time, you may notice a pattern. For instance, one of my students kept seeing themes of fatherhood in our bible studies. He said he felt God reminding him that He is his Father. Another kept seeing the word “believe.” He said he felt God calling him to grow in faith.

If nothing sticks out, persevere. Sit in silence for a while longer and recognize God’s presence I can’t promise you you’ll have a life-changing prayer experience the first time you do this, but I can promise you this: God wants to speak to you.

You just need to be still.

“Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

Below, I included some stories to get you started. Sometimes, it helps to pick a story based on its theme. Some stories repeat, so I listed them, but just pick one and focus on that writer’s words.

The Big Stories

The Annunciation
Luke 1:16-38
The Nativity of Jesus
Matthew 1:18-2; Luke 2:1-14; John 1:1-5, 14-18
The Baptism of the Lord
Matthew 3:13-17
The Last Supper
Matthew 26:20-31; Mark 14:22-31; Luke 22:14-23; John 13:1-20
The Crucifixion
Matthew 27:33-56; Mark 15:22-41; Luke 23:26-43; John 19:17-37
The Resurrection
Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18
The Ascension
Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11
Acts 2:1-13

Stories about Discipleship

Call of Levi
Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32
Call of the Disciples
Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-42
Call of Phillip and Nathaniel
John 1:43-51
Jesus and Nicodemus
John 3:1-21
I Am the Bread of Life
John 6:22-59 (Feel free to read this in chunks)
Walking on Water
Mark 6:45-52
Carry your Cross
Mark 8:31-38
The Cost of Discipleship
Luke 14:25-33; John 8:31-38
The Rich Young Man
Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-30
The Summary of Jesus’s Teaching
John 12:44-50
The Way, Truth, and Life
John 14:1-14
Doubting Thomas
John 20:24-29
Appearance on the Sea Shore
John 21:1-14
The Great Commission
Mathew 28:16-20
Life of the Early Church
Acts 2:37-47

Stories about Healing

Healing of the Paralytic
Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26
Man with the Withered Hand
Mark 3:1-6
Healing Jairus’s Daughter/Woman with the Hemorrhage
Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56
Healing the Official’s Son
John 4:46-54
Healing a Blind Man
John 9 (Short Version: Jn 9:1-12, 35-41)
Healing the Deaf Man
Mark 7:31-36
Healing the Crippled Woman
Luke 12:10-17
Healing the Ten Lepers
Luke 17:11-19
Raising of Lazarus
John 11:1-44

Stories about Mercy

The Woman at the Well
John 4:1-42
Pardon of the Sinful Woman
Luke 7:36-49
The Good Shepherd
John 10:1-18
The Good Samaritan
Luke 10:25-37
Prodigal Son
Luke 15:11-32
The Lost Sheep
Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:1-7
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Luke 18:9-14
Luke 19:1-10
Simon, Do You Love Me?
John 21:15-19

Stories about God’s Power

Calming the Storm
Mark 4:35-41
Feeding of the 5,000
Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:34-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15
Wedding Feast at Cana
John 2:1-11

Stories about God’s Justice

The Unfaithful Servant
Luke 16:1-13
Lazarus and the Rich Man
Luke 16:19-31
Parable of the Talents
Luke 19:11-27
The Widow and the Unjust Judge
Luke 18:1-8
Wedding Feast at Cana
John 2:1-12

Stories about the Kingdom of God

Parable of the Sower
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-8
Who is the greatest in the Kingdom?
Matthew 18:1-5
The Narrow Door
Luke 13:22-30
The Banquet
Luke 14:15-24

Stories about Faith

Parable of the Mustard Seed
Matthew 13:31-32
Peter’s Confession
Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 9:18-27
Healing of a Boy with a Demon
Matthew 17:14-21; Luke 9:37-43
The Syrophoenician Woman
Mark 7:24-30

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash