Praying for a Real Meal
The study of Scripture and the proclamation of its message to the world and the Church are not accomplished merely through hard work and the application of coherent exegetical methods. Prayer is also vital and essential to the process of reading the Bible. It is ultimately the Holy Spirit who gives life to the words on the pages of Scripture. The same Spirit who inspired the original authors and preserved these books through the millennia now brings the Word of God to us anew. I learned from Ellen Davis in her book Wondrous Depth: Preaching the Old Testament to pray for astonishment whenever I sit down to read and ponder the Scripture.
As I’ve prayed for astonishment, I’ve found some poignant and profound prayers from the ancients that I am beginning to incorporate into my own prayers for illumination as I read and ponder the life giving words of Scripture. I hope that you find them as helpful as I have.
Bede (c. 673-735) was a great scholar in the early English church. He lived as a monk in Jarrow. Here is a prayer that he composed for use when studying the Bible:
May your Spirit, O Christ, lead me in the right way, keeping me safe from all forces of evil and destruction. And, free from all malice, may I search diligently in your Holy Word to discover with the eyes of my mind your commandments. Finally, give me the strength of will to put those commandments into practice through all the days of my life. Amen.
Gregory of Nazianus (329-389) was one of the key early Church fathers who worked during the pivotal fourth century. Here is a prayer that he wrote for help in interpreting the book of Psalms:
Lord, as I read the psalms let me hear you singing. As I read your words, let me hear you speaking. As I reflect on each page, let me see your image. And as I seek to put your precepts into practice, let my heart be filled with joy. Amen.
Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) was one of greatest of the early church fathers. He was a skilled interpreter and theologian. Here is a prayer that he composed for use in the study of the Scriptures:
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.
The last prayer that I will share comes from Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274). Aquinas was the most prominent theologian of the medieval period. This prayer was intended for use before Aquinas preached or wrote. I find this one particularly profound:
O Creator of the universe, who has set the stars in the heavens and causes the sun to rise and set, shed the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my mind. Fill my thoughts with the loving knowledge of you, that I may bring your light to others. Just as you can make even babies speak your truth, instruct my tongue and guide my pen to convey the wonderful glory of the Gospel. Make my intellect sharp, my memory clear, and my words eloquent, so that I may faithfully interpret the mysteries which you have revealed. Amen.
May God grant you His grace and peace this day!
All of these prayers may be found in HarperCollins Book of Prayers: A Treasury of Prayers Through the Ages(Edison, N.J.: Castle Books, 1997).