The Thomas Merton Guide to Prayer: 4 Reasons Why Skimming Is Not the Best Way to Read the Bible

Last summer I picked up a copy of Thomas Merton’s little book, Praying the Psalms, in a Mennonite bookstore in Newton, Kansas, for 85 cents. (It’s still in print 57 years after publication…) I’ve been reading a page or two per day devotionally. Here are four things I’ve learned from it:

1. Merton quotes Augustine, that God has taught us to praise through the Psalms in order that we may be made better by it, not so God gets something out of that praise. I once heard a Benedictine monk say that St. Benedict thought the best way to soften up tough old monks was to have them recite the Psalms over and over together.

2. “One of the best ways to learn to appreciate the Psalms is to acquire a habit of reciting them slowly and well.” My usual pattern of reading as fast as possible may not be the best way.

3. Merton suggests using any psalm as a prayer “that will enable us to surrender ourselves to God.” Surrender, or letting go, doesn’t happen in a hurry. I’ve been working on letting go (if that isn’t an oxymoron…) for about 20 years.

4. “…it is not so much what we get out of the Psalms that rewards us, as what we put into them.” I’m thinking if I spend more than five minutes with a Psalm, it will be more of a resource for my life and growth.

I’m going to try to slow down my daily reading of Scripture at least a little.

Is studying the Bible for preaching helpful to you spiritually? What do you find is the best way to engage with the Bible for your own growth in life and leadership?

1 replies on “The Thomas Merton Guide to Prayer: 4 Reasons Why Skimming Is Not the Best Way to Read the Bible

  • Anna Dietrich

    I think the best way to incorporate the Psalms into the deep heart and to really make their words your own true words is to memorize them . At one point in history , all bishops had to know the Psalter by heart and many monastics were required to know the Psalms as well . There just isn’t anything as beautiful (baring exceptional spiritual experiences ) as just sitting quietly , eyes closed and letting the Psalms wash through the mind and into the heart….to have these divine words just come spontaneously to you in times of need , in times of joy on times of fear etc.


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