While I was incarcerated, I spent a lot of time in prayer. I studied prayers in the Bible and what scripture had to say about prayer. I read many books on prayer by both classic and contemporary authors. All for the purpose of understanding how to pray better. I was in a dark place and needed to learn how to prayer rightly. I needed to learn how to not just make my requests before God, but how to talk with Him.
In prison I memorized several hundred verses from Genesis to Revelations. As I power-walked around the track on the back forty I would recite the scriptures adding one upon another until I could speak scripture non-stop for over an hour. I would meditate upon the scripture to understand its meaning and application in my life. I often needed to pray about the scripture because it convicted me of my sinfulness, my failure to be obedient in this or that area of my life.
My Bible became a coloring book as I underlined and highlighted verse after verse. Re-reading scripture gave me new insight and understanding as I connected more and more scriptures together. I wore out several Bibles in the 8 years I was behind bars, but the tattered and worn pages spoke volumes about how I spent my time. In a place where Satan rules God reigned over me. My time in prison wasn’t a cake walk and it certainly had its moments of pain and heartache. Even though I walked through the shadow of the valley of death on a few occasions, God was with me and in me. His Word comforted me, encouraged me, guided me and sustained me.
Every year I read the entire Bible through from cover to cover. I read different translations like the NKJ, NIV, RSV, The Message and several others. Each time I would learn something new as I gained deeper understand about the text I was studying. Even though the translations might use different words to say the same thing, each one I read helped to bring out a more complete understanding of scripture then I had before. I filled journals with notes on my studies of the Word, the commentaries, and the libraries of Christian books that I consumed.
All my education, my enlightenment, my revelations led me to one over-riding conclusion: the Christian faith is about a personal relationship with God Almighty. The only way to have a relationship is to communicate and the only way to communicate is to talk. But what do you say to the one who knows you better than you know yourself? If you do have something to say, how do you say it? What is the right way to talk to God? While I can write well enough, I do not consider myself a public speaker by any stretch of the imagination. I had no idea, so I turned to what other’s had to say in order to figure it out.
There is the model of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. There is the Book of Psalms, the original prayer book. There are acrostics like ACTS; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication that organize prayers. There are the traditional prayers of the Daily Office, some of which date back hundreds or even thousands of years. There are simple popcorn prayers that are spontaneous, short, and to the point. There are earnest cries for help when all hope is gone, and words fail us. There are songs of praise and worship that are prayers set to music.
The Bible is full of examples of both right and wrong ways to pray. Abraham, Moses, King David, King Solomon, Jabez, Job, Elijah, Peter, Paul, and Cornelius to name a few prayed in a way that was pleasing to God. All saw God working in their lives as a result of their prayers. Cain, Nadab and Abihu, King Saul, the Pharisees didn’t pray in an acceptable way and it had disastrous consequences.
One of the most important concepts that I learned was the power of praying scripture. When we speak to God using his own words in the correct context there is power. The power of praise, especially in the midst of battle. The power of repentance in the face of sin. The power of Truth in a world of lies. The power of forgiveness instead of retribution. The power of God’s unmerited grace and mercy to redeem lives. The power of hope in the face of overwhelming odds. The power of certainty in a chaotic situation.
Praying scripture fills us with the Holy Spirit so that we can have the power of love in response to hate. The power of joy in a time of sorrow. The power of peace in the middle of the storm. The power of patience in a moment of haste. The power of kindness in a cruel world. The power of goodness in a heartless situation. The power of faithfulness in a faithless generation. The power of gentleness in a brutal environment. The power of self-control in an impulsive society.
Praying scripture gives us the power to change lives, especially our own. The power to defeat the devil, because he can’t stand against God’s word. The power to heal physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The power to alter the future through divine intervention in the lives and situations of man and nature. The power to forgive, including ourselves. The power to overcome fear, doubt, and the lies that have been spoken at us by others. The power to grow deeper and stronger in our faith. The power to influence others for good. The power to overcome addiction when all other methods have failed. The power to obey God in opposition of man. The power to save the lost.
Praying scripture brought the Word to life in me. Praying scripture taught me the ways of the ancient church. Praying scripture connected me with millions of other people around the world. Praying scripture awoke in me a desire to learn more scripture. Praying scripture changed my way of thinking. Praying scripture set my mind on things above. Praying scripture gave me the answers to life’s questions. Praying scripture taught me whose I am.
Praying scripture is poetry in motion. Praying scripture is faith in action. Praying scripture allows no room for self. Praying scripture leaves our souls bare before the Almighty. Praying scripture is claiming the promises of God. Praying scripture is a child speaking to his Father. Praying scripture is humble obedience to our Creator. Praying scripture is the most honest thing we can say to God.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me. Cast me not away from your presence, take not your Holy Spirit from me, restore to me the joy of my Salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
You have told me through your word to pick up my cross and follow you daily, to crucify my flesh with its passions and desires, to flee youthful lusts and sexual immorality. To put off the old man that grows corrupt and put on the new man made by God in true righteousness and holiness.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart the acceptable in your sight. You have called me to walk by faith and not by sight. To forget what is behind and press on toward the goal that you have called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Lord I submit to you, resist the devil, draw near to you and humble myself before you. You are the potter and I am the clay I cannot tell you what to make me into. However, I would humbly ask that you would make me into a vessel fit for your service whether of noble or common use.
Surround me with your angels. Put a strong hedge of protection around me. Shelter me in the shadow of your wings. Protect me from spiritual attack. Protect me physically. Guard my character and my reputation.
May your love and faithfulness never leave me that I will have favor and goodwill with both God and man.
Spirit of the living God fall fresh on me. I thank you for your unconditional love and generosity. For providing for me according to your riches and glory. I knowledge that all I have comes from you. You have blessed me beyond what I could have ever asked for or even imagined. Thank you! Now to him who is able to keep me safe until the day of Christ’s return, I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ.
I have included an example of one of my scripture prayers that became like breathing for me. I would not just recite my prayers, but rather let my prayers ascend to heaven as an incense offering filling the air like a sweet perfume. Sometimes spoken out loud, other times whispered in my heart but always with the space for God to respond with his still, small voice. I have observed that we often are in such a rush to pray to the extent that we don’t allow God to get a word in edgewise. How can we have a conversation if we don’t take time to listen?
For me prayer has become a special time that I cherish and savor. Like a fine meal, each course brings its own sensation, its own unique flavor and when I’m done, I know that I have been in the presence of Almighty God. He satisfies my hunger and thirst. He gives me more than I dare to ask for. He fills me with anticipation for the next time. His infinite variety means that it never gets old, stale or routine. It is always a balanced meal in which I receive exactly what I need at the time I need it.
Even though I had the support of my family, a prison church fellowship, and a few men I would dare call friends it was prayer that got me through my time. Despite the overcrowded conditions of the housing unit, most inmates experience a deep sense of isolation and loneliness. While the drone of everyday life there made it difficult to sleep and hard to concentrate at times, I was assured that God heard my prayers and that his abiding presence would never leave me nor forsake me. He was closer than a brother and always just a heartbeat away. I trusted Him with my life, I still trust Him, and I will always trust Him because He is faithful.