Author and speaker Amy Boucher Pye delves into different ways of hearing God speak to us through the Bible
This article was published in the January to April 2022 edition of Rapport magazine.
I was 13 when I first sensed God speaking to me through His words in the Bible. I’d been at summer camp and felt rejected as the only girl not to be paired off. When my group leader tried to comfort me, I pretended to be asleep. A few days after I arrived home, I was surprised to receive a letter from her. In it she quoted from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, saying how she thanked God for me and that she prayed for me:
‘… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’Philippians 1:6
Touched by her words, I found my Bible and looked for Philippians, reading the whole passage more than once. For the first time I felt as if God was speaking to me through the Scriptures. The words sailed off the page and landed in my heart, penetrating the places of hurt and rejection. I started to believe that God had started a good work in me and that He wouldn’t leave me. With the pages blurry through my tears, I pondered the promises in Paul’s letter and began to make them my own.
The knowable God
God always makes Himself known to us, and a primary way He reveals Himself is through His Word. When we pray with the Bible, God infuses the experience with His Spirit. As with my memorable encounter after camp, God comforts us through what we read. Sometimes He corrects us or convicts us; often He teaches us as He imparts His wisdom.
The Bible’s story of God and His people is one of intimacy and communication. It started when God spoke directly to Adam and Eve in the Garden as He delighted in them and instructed them. When sin marred the relationship between Him and His people, He called them back to Himself, speaking to the Israelites through the prophets by the inspiration of the Spirit. Later, God the Father sent Jesus the Son to be ‘the Word [who] was with God, and … was God’ (John 1:1–2). God then sent us the Holy Spirit to dwell with us and in us as He comforts and teaches us. The unreachable, unknowable God reaches down and makes Himself known.
God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has also given us the Bible, limiting His words to a level we can understand. Thus, the church fathers spoke of the Bible as the ‘abbreviated word’. God our Creator meets us with grace and love in a form we can grasp. Jesus the Word fills the pages of Scripture with His acts of grace and redemption. And just as the Holy Spirit breathed the Scripture itself into life, so the Spirit breathes life into us as we read it.
God longs to meet with us, and delights when we pray with His Word.
What follows are some ways to pray with the Bible, all of which I’ve employed during various seasons of my life. As one who enjoys writing, I tend to focus on the practices that involve creating a Scripture poem or putting the text into my own words. You, of course, may resonate differently. Why not have a go with one of these?
After her beloved dog died, Susan received a visit from her lifelong friend Cheryl, who came to support her as she grieved her sweet canine companion. Susan had prayed for years that Cheryl would come to know Jesus, but Susan had always hesitated to talk about her faith with her. But when they went for a walk in memory of their furry friend, Susan felt moved, several times, to personalise Scripture, speaking it out to her friend, such as with John 3:16: ‘For God so loved Cheryl, that he gave his only begotten Son . . .’
Susan later felt God was at work when she read that day’s devotional from Our Daily Bread, which was an article I’d written entitled Called by Name. I wrote of how Mary Magdalene’s attention was arrested when Jesus spoke her name at His tomb, and how God similarly calls us by name. Susan delighted to give Cheryl the article, pointing out how the topic fitted so well with their conversation on the walk. She told Cheryl that God cared not only for the big things in her life but also for the little things, because He knew her and called her by name. Susan found her experience of personalising Scripture for her friend profound and moving, and Cheryl felt that God cared for her.
I, too, have used the act of personalising Scripture. After a break-up, I needed a practice that wouldn’t overwhelm me, but would penetrate to the tender places within. I began writing out some of what Jesus said in the gospel stories, adding my name again and again so that the words would move from my head to my heart:
‘Amy, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will open’Matthew 7:7
‘Amy, my peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Amy, do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid’John 14:27
Seeing my name in these familiar words helped me realise that God could intend them for me.
I recommend this simple practice, which can have profound results. Wonder where to start? Here are some suggestions:
- Matthew 6:25–34 (Don’t worry)
- Mark 13:32–37 (Keeping watch)
- Luke 13:22–30 (The narrow door)
- John 14:15–21 (The promised Holy Spirit)
- John 17:20–26 (Jesus’ prayer for us)
Write Bible-inspired prayers
I like to give myself permission to put the Bible into my own words. As I write, I ask God to slow me down and help me engage with the meaning. I seek the Holy Spirit to highlight words or phrases that especially resonate with that moment in my life. Here’s how I engaged with Jeremiah 46:27 some years ago, first typing out the words of Scripture to let them sink into my heart:
‘I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid.’
From this passage, I wrote a prayer that reflected my own journey:
‘Lord, you will certainly save us out of a distant place. Today even after nearly eight years, England feels like a distant place. Celebrating my son’s second birthday, not with my family of origin, but here in this distant land. You said to the Israelites long ago that you would save them from the land of exile. Well, their descendants, that is. And no one would make them afraid. Save me, Lord, and make me not afraid. Give me peace and security, I pray.’
Select a passage to engage with; for example, if you’re reading through a book of the Bible, take the next section you’re reading. Put it into your own words, as a prayer of intercession, a cry of the heart, or a prose rendering. You may wish to pray through the content and apply it to your life or to something you’re concerned about in the world.
Pen a Scripture poem
For many years, I’ve taken the bit of the Bible I’m pondering that day and turned it into a Scripture poem. This practice helps me consider the words and their meaning slowly and meditatively. Through this stripping-down process, I turn the ideas over in my head and my heart.
Here’s an example from when Jesus taught His disciples and the crowds, adapted from Luke 6:37–38:
and you won’t be judged.
and you won’t be condemned.
and you’ll be forgiven.
and you’ll receive.
Into your lap
will be poured
a good measure –
and running over.
With the measure you use,
it’ll be measured to you.
Writing the words of Scripture in this condensed form helps us get to the heart of the passage. The process of winnowing the words, shaving them down to the few needed to convey the meaning, helps us grasp their wisdom at a deeper level. And it’s fun.
As we pray God’s words to us in the Bible, we find Jesus the Word meeting us and the Holy Spirit guiding, comforting and convicting us. Praying with the Bible provides a foundation for our lives as we follow God, receiving and extending His love.
Amy Boucher Pye
Amy Boucher Pye is a retreat leader and spiritual director and enjoys running the Woman Alive book club.
She is the author of 7 Ways to Pray: Time-Tested Practices to Encounter God (Form, 2021), from which this article is adapted. She’s written several other books, including the award-winning Finding Myself in Britain (Authentic, 2015).
Find her at: amyboucherpye.com