Prayer and reading the Bible must be mixed together in equal parts for a genuine and balanced Christian life.
Christianity is neither primarily a philosophy to be understood intellectually nor an indescribably mystical experience without cognitive content. A nonconceptual experience of God is meaningless; theologically correct belief without a corresponding experience of God is empty.
Life and Truth in Balance
The mystic and scholastic elements of Christian experience—life and truth— must blend together and equally shape us if we are not to end up in extremes. These are not mutually exclusive departments! We don’t have to choose between the head and the heart. Peter identifies believers as “living stones” (1 Pet. 2:5), indicating that intense spirituality (living) AND substantial content (stone) can and must coexist. For a balanced experience of life and truth, we need prayer and the Bible.
However, both prayer and reading the Bible have their pitfalls. Prayer can easily deteriorate into fanciful reverie or the reciting of memorized formulas, and reading the Bible can easily remain an academic pursuit in the interests of analysis, criticism, and knowledge. Certainly we must make our request known to God and certainly we must study the Bible, but this is not all, and this is not primary. The primary thing in the Christian life is the experience of Christ for God’s glory, God’s expression, and the venue for that glory is transformed humanity (Eph. 3:21; 2 Thes. 1:10; 2 Cor. 3:18). Pray-reading the Bible safeguards us from these pitfalls and leads us to this destination. We need prayer that is rooted in the experience of the divine life and Bible reading that is filled with the realization of the divine truth. By combining prayer and reading, we assimilate the truth by prayer so that it becomes our organic constitution. Then we spontaneously live out the truth that we have been constituted with for the expression of God.
Goal and Issue of Pray-Reading
Mariano Magrassi describes the goal of this kind of pray-reading:
The image of eating expresses well the overall goal: to take the word in ourselves in order to assimilate it. By means of the Word we are assimilated to God so that we might live by Him.
Anyone who’s read the Gospel of John should notice the strong similarity to Jesus’ own words here. In John 6 Jesus says, “He who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me (v. 57). A few verses later He explains that He is speaking about eating His words as spirit and life (v. 63). Eat My words → live because of Me.
Magrassi’s quote also matches the progression in Peter’s thought in 1 Peter chapter 2—we feed on the milk of the word (v. 2), we are transformed into living stones (v. 5), and then we tell out (ἐξαγγέλλω) God’s virtues (v. 9). Telling out God’s virtues here is more than simply telling others great things about God. It is the expression of God’s attributes through our entire living.
God has favored us with these immense benefits and constantly manifests them, that His glory might by us be made known: for by praises, or virtues, he understands wisdom, goodness, power, righteousness, and everything else, in which the glory of God shines forth. And further, it behooves us to declare these virtues or excellencies not only by our tongue, but also by our whole life.
Witness Lee also understands “telling out” God’s virtues as more than mere verbal proclamation:
Telling out the virtues of Him is a matter of expressing Him. To tell out the Lord’s virtues simply means to express Him according to what He is. God is rich in virtues. For example, He is loving and kind. Both His love and His kindness are virtues. Actually, all of God’s attributes are His virtues, and we should tell out these virtues.
In 1 Peter 2:9 the virtues, or excellencies, are the divine glory, the divine attributes, and the human beauty, the human virtues. If we live Christ and Christ lives out of us, Christ will be expressed. If we have such an expression, others will realize that in our living there is something glorious. At the same time, they will sense that in our daily living there is a beautiful expression of human virtues. In the expression of Christ both the divine glory and the human beauty can be seen.
In this way, the expression of God can be traced back to a proper interaction with the word of God. This is the glorious issue of pray-reading.
If we are to receive the word for our growth and transformation and for God’s glory, we must do so by prayer. The inspired and authoritative injunction is, “Receive the word of God by prayer” (Eph. 6:17-18). So then, in the words of Jerome, “Let there be study of the Divine Word, mingled with prayer!”
1. Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, p. 611
2. Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible, pp. 104-105
3. John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Peter, 1 Pet. 2:9
4. Witness Lee, Life-Study of 1 Peter, p. 161
5. Witness Lee, Life-Study of Exodus, pp. 1344-1345
6. Marguerite Tollemache, Many Voices, p. 89
In the Magrassi quote, who assimilates who? Interesting.
It’s mutual! The capitalized second ‘Word’ isn’t a typo. 🙂
It’s new to me to see pray-reading as a safeguard from the pitfalls of going too far on the side of either truth or life. Realising how crucial it is to stay clear of those pitfalls, it makes the practice of pray-reading that much more vital and in need of being ingrained to my every day life with Christ.
Yeah, I have had such a renewed appreciation of pray-reading the last couple of weeks. I’ve really been getting into it! Prayer and the Bible are such a compliment to each other. Recently I’ve been opening my Bible during my group prayer if a verse comes up just to muse on it. Of course, part of what the early church fathers talk about is becoming a living library through lectio divina so that the word can be recalled spontaneously in prayer, like in Mary’s prayer in Luke 1.
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