Angela of Foligno, known as the “Mistress of Theologians” in the 1200s, wrote, “Since it is necessary to know the uncreated God and Christ crucified, for otherwise we cannot transform our minds through divine love, we should read diligently in the Book of Life . . . We cannot possibly manage this reading or acquire this knowledge, without . . . constant prayer. . . . We discover God through and in prayer.”1
Reading the Bible isn’t enough. Without God’s guidance, we can twist the words to justify our misactions and harmful behaviors. That’s what happened with the Pharisees. Those men knew Scripture backward and forward, but, neglecting God’s guidance, they ended up with a vulgar idea of God’s kingdom.
When we accompany our reading with prayer, the Holy Spirit uses the Bible to shape, encourage, convict, comfort, and sanctify us. Without his work, our work accomplishes nothing. Bible reading, and the larger work of sanctification, requires nothing less than constant prayer. It’s the secret ingredient. One of the ways prayer can influence our walk with God is by illuminating Scripture as we read it.
Prayer calls out to God for help and communes with him. Through the centuries, the church has practiced different types of prayer. One is intentional prayer, time set apart to talk to God. For this type of prayer, get on your knees, girl. Who hasn’t fallen asleep praying in bed? Kneeling to pour your heart out to God and seek his will keeps us physically alert and reminds us through this posture of who we are—humbled before him and dependent on him. We cling to our almighty God as we wrestle in prayer and bring him our requests.
A second type of prayer is the constant conversation in our heads. This mental prayer focuses us on God during everyday tasks. We direct every thought, question, and hurt to God and listen for the answering nudge of the Holy Spirit. The more we fill our minds with Scripture, the more the Holy Spirit reminds us of these bits and pieces throughout our lives to guide our responses, emotions, and reasoning. When we feel overwhelmed or frustrated, we can repeat the Lord’s Prayer, which fills our minds with God and calls out to him for help.
A third type of prayer practices the presence of God in our lives.2 This prayer may begin with meditation on a Bible verse or through a prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer and moves to silence as we sit in God’s presence like a child cuddling in her father’s lap. This prayer centers us, reminding us that we are God’s child.
These different types of prayer help to form us into Christ’s image. They guide our understanding of Scripture and make us aware of the Holy Spirit’s voice. Without prayer, the task of sanctification is hopeless. After all, only our creator can reshape us.
1 Angela of Foligno, Liber visionum, quoted in Invincible Spirits, compiled by Felicity Leng (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Co., 2006), 95.
2 Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.