Today I attended the Kentucky Baptist Religious Education Association annual meeting prior to our state convention annual meeting. Educators from across the state were there: ministers of education, preschool/children’s ministers, youth ministers, associate pastors, denominational leaders, and others. In fact, it was the largest crowd that I can recall in my years of experience with KBREA.
I believe the topic and speaker contributed to the great group size. Dr. Donald Whitney was the speaker. Whitney has been the Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Senior Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2005. He is also the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. The theme for the KBREA meeting was “The Minister and Spiritual Disciplines.” So many are realizing the importance of that theme for their personal discipleship and their ministry.
Whitney focused on “Praying Through Scripture” in the morning sessions. Honestly, I am fairly jaded as a conference attender. I have attended so many conferences that it is easy to think “been there, done that.” I have heard so many speakers, so many stories and illustrations, and so much content that little content is new. Added to that is presentation style and methodology; I have encountered so many of the ways that content is delivered.
But today was different. I think God had prepared me. I already had a great interest in the subject. It is so needed. I already had a hunger for a simple answer to a great question that disciples everywhere are searching for. Dr. Whitney’s style was not flashy but my attention never waned. Dr. Whitney’s content was not new, revolutionary, or controversial. Instead, it was simple and right on.
As a pastor, director, or Sunday School teacher, do you want your attenders to grow as disciples? Do you want them to grow in their relationship with God and their knowledge of His Word? Do you want them to grow in their quiet time? Do you want them to grow in the practice of the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study? Whitney offered a simple, practical solution: teach them to pray through scripture.
Whitney made several observations:
the two most important spiritual disciplines are intake of the Word of God and prayer (in that order–more important to listen to God);
people don’t pray because they are bored; they don’t feel like it because they say the same things about the same things over and over again (the problem is not the person but the method);
there are six main things people pray about that are included in the same old things: family, future, finances, work or school, church or ministry, and “current crisis;” and
the solution must be simple; otherwise, almost no Christians around the world would have a meaningful prayer life.
Whitney’s solution to lack of prayer, to boredom in praying, to people not feeling like praying is so simple that many miss it. Whitney suggested teaching people to pray through a passage of scripture. Don’t just tell them to do it. Tell them, show them how, and then lead them to practice it. Repeat. He noted that there is a difference between studying the Bible and turning every thought God-ward when we are reading it. Whitney suggested teaching people to practice praying through scripture by doing so through the Psalms. He noted that the Psalms were written to be used in worship w hich is what happens when we pray.
Whitney suggested dividing whatever time you have daily for your quiet time between intake of God’s Word and praying through it. Spend whatever time you have on whatever verses you have until you run out of time or run out of Psalm. Whitney showed us how. He had the group call out phrases of how to do so. Then he gave us 9 minutes to do it ourselves. At the end of the time, the group was not ready to stop. We had enjoyed the encounter. It was fresh. It was simple. It was a method that each of us wanted to share with someone else. We wanted to teach others to teach others.
I believe every disciple needs to learn this practice. Every teacher should teach his/her class how to do this. This would help new and old disciples to grow in their daily quiet time. As class members learn this practice, they could teach their families, new Christians, and others. This could revolutionize most classes, families, and churches with this simple but powerful practice.
Teacher, practice this yourself. Show your class how. Lead them to do it. Watch the light bulbs go on. Listen to the stories of their encounters with God. Watch as lives are changed. Be revolutionary!