Prayer—A Necessary Ingredient in an Effective Bible Study

Young man praying with Bible

Learning to pray while you study the Bible can supercharge your spiritual growth, opening the door for God to guide your understanding of His powerful principles.

As you begin your study of the Bible, it can be both exciting and a bit mind-bending. Some things you read might even sound completely crazy.

But it’s the Bible, right? Shouldn’t it be good, helpful, and easy all the way through?

That’d be nice—but then it wouldn’t be telling the complex story of humanity, the plan of salvation against evil, and the unfathomable power of the Almighty yet All-loving God. In an epic account such as this, things are bound to get messy. 

Fortunately, God has provided the ultimate “study guide” to carry you through your process of reading the Bible and growing spiritually. 

Prayer.   

Yes, the simple act of talking to God before you read His word helps with memorization, application, and deepening your relationship with Him—which is the whole point of the Bible!

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Woman praying

What does prayer do for you when you study your Bible?

It allows for deeper understanding. As you read through Scripture, you will come across things that are hard to understand. And even when you do understand it, you’ll most likely want to talk to God about what you’ve just read. 

(“What in the world do You mean by this?” might even be your first prayer!)

All throughout the Bible you’ll find examples of prayer for understanding, wisdom, revelation, direction, etc. How appropriate for when you’re getting serious about studying your Bible, whether this is your first time reading it or your 11th. 

The most famous prayer for wisdom is by King Solomon, and you can read about it in 2 Chronicles 1:7-10:

“That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’  

Solomon answered God, ‘You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. … Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?’”

Then there’s David, Solomon’s father, whose resumé included shepherd, King of all Israel, giant killer… but his life wasn’t all full of great things. David is also known for being a murderer and adulterer. Yet when he saw the great error of his ways, he wrote one of the most beautiful psalms about the power and importance of reading, studying, and knowing God’s word in the context of daily prayer. You can find it in Psalm 119, noting verses 9-16.

Here David pours out his heart in praise to God for His Word, the Bible, then goes a step further by applying it to his life and sharing how he talks to God (“praying”), acknowledging how good and merciful He is.

In the New Testament, the book of James also encourages us to ask for wisdom as we continue on our Christian walk.

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, CSB).

It’s a nice perk to have this kind of “access” to the very One the Bible is written about! And when you pray, God even promises to send His Holy Spirit to help you.

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:26, CSB)

“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. …”  (John 16:13, NKJV)

“…Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God,.  (1 Corinthians 2:10-11, CSB)  

This wisdom, revealed by His Holy Spirit, comes to you by knowing God.

“The fear [awe/respect] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  (Proverbs 9:10, ESV)

And that is accomplished through prayer and study.

Man kneeling in prayer at a pew with Bible

Communication is crucial for a growing relationship. You started your journey through the Bible becauseyou want to connect with the God of the universe, the creator of all things. But rather than just knowing about Him, prayer helps you connect with Him while you study His Word for His children (which includes you).

Prayer and study are equal components in building a relationship with God. The Bible is the information while prayer is the connection

In fact, rather than only praying before you begin your study for the day, pray the whole time! After all, the Bible can be like God speaking to you. If you feel like it, stop and talk to God about each verse you read. 

Or, if you don’t yet know what to say about it, just sit quietly with God, intentionally reflecting on what you just read. That is also praying. And that kind of biblical meditation can provide lasting effects on your life and your faith. It can also quiet the “noise” of life allow God to help those spiritual principles you read about sink in.

Woman outside

It allows for change of heart. When you pray before and during your Bible study, it’s not only opening up a communication channel—it’s also an act of submission to the one and only higher power. Each time you begin a prayer, it is an act of faith that says, “God, I’m believing that you exist and that you want a relationship with me.”

Prayer opens yourself up to God’s will. And when you read His Word while praying, you are letting His will into your life. 

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)

What does this mean exactly? 

Well, we all want things. And it’s perfectly natural and encouraged to pray for things we want. But as we read the Bible and continue a prayer life with God, sometimes we can find things that aren’t congruent with His will. Things we probably wouldn’t have thought about if it weren’t for our prayerful reading of Scripture. 

But that’s OK—that’s part of spiritual growth. You will find things in your life that might need some fine-tuning. And if that’s the case, the God you’re in prayer with will help you through it.  

Man praying in church

This all sounds great—so how do you begin a strong, vibrant prayer life? 

Prayer can be incredibly easy. At the same time, however, it can be intimidating or awkward if you’re not used to talking to someone you can’t see, or who doesn’t “talk back” in the way we typically think of a two-way human conversation.

Prayer is a conversation with the divine.

But when hearing the word “prayer,” images might come to mind of a child kneeling by their bed, reciting, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

You might think of a family gathered at a table, holding hands, and saying “grace.” 

You might even be reminded of a troublesome situation in which someone uttered, “Well then God help us…”

Those are indeed prayers… but certainly not all there is to prayer. In fact, those situations hardly scratch the surface!

Prayer is, by definition, talking personally to God. But God is… God! So much bigger, greater, and incomprehensibly powerful. Plus, the Bible says God “already knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). 

Young woman praying in group of people

So what’s the point, then?

Well, God wants you to. He asks you to pray. And not because He needs to know what you want, are afraid of, are happy about, etc. He knows those things already, just like a close friend who is with you every day, notices your reactions, and has been through tough times with you.

That friend may know almost everything about you. But does that mean you don’t need to talk to them? Does that mean there’s no use in starting a conversation about something he or she (or you) might already know the answer to?

Of course not! You talk to your friend because they’re your friend. It’s a relationship, a connection. You are actively communicating. And you may learn new things you’ve never thought of before just from having that conversation with your friend, even though you already knew almost everything about them.

Of course, with God, He truly does know everything about you. He knows what trips you up in life. He knows what motivates you. He knows what you’re up against every day—things you might not even be aware of that could harm you—and He’s consistently keeping you safe. 

And to have that all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God be willing to read His Word along with you, guiding you through the tricky concepts in His timing… it’s one awesome privilege.

Man praying while others have hands on his back

It may help to make prayer a habit—not reserving it for just before meals, bedtime, or if you’re about to get in a car accident. Even if it seems like an obligation at first, it’s still meaningful to God and will be to you. 

Whenever you have a quiet moment, pray. Pray while you’re sitting at a stoplight. Pray while you’re waiting in the dentist’s office. Pray for a few minutes before you roll out of bed. Pray right while you sit down at your desk at work. 

It doesn’t have to be a prepared speech. Tell God what’s on your mind… that you hate the smell of the candles in your co-worker’s cubicle, or you love it when a song on the radio ends right when you turn off the car. 

Tell Him you wish you could adjust something in your morning routine so you’re not perpetually 5 minutes late to work each day. Tell God how grateful you are for your friend’s odd sense of humor, or the fact that your favorite smoothie shop is right next to your kids’ school. 

Even if you think these things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, they matter to God—because you matter to God. 

Woman praying with Bible

The Bible says to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). And the more accustomed you are to talking to God regularly, the easier and more natural it’ll feel to pray throughout your Bible study.

While prayer itself isn’t a magic decoder ring that instantly reveals the “answers” to the Bible’s trickiest topics, prayer is actually better than that. 

God knows how human beings learn, how they grow, and what needs to happen first, second, last, etc. As you pray—even if you’re not sure what to say—you are submitting to the Almighty God on your quest for wisdom. You aren’t just telling Him things, you are also telling yourself the buck doesn’t stop with you…. It stops with God. Prayer is an act of choice, of willfully reaching to God for understanding, guidance, and purpose. As you study His word in this fashion, the things you learn could very well be life-changing. 

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A Biblical Way to Pray While Studying the Bible

The Old Testament prophet Daniel was a Hebrew living under Babylonian captivity. His story is one of countless answered prayers as Daniel diligently studied God’s Word. 

Read Daniel chapter 9. Notice that while he read the scriptures written by the prophet Jeremiah, he found them pretty depressing. Some of what he read he couldn’t even comprehend!

But instead of wallowing in confusion, he prays hard, asking God for wisdom and understanding as to what he’s reading. And looking at his prayers, we can find 5 crucial principles that uphold the connection needed between prayer and Bible study:

1. Daniel first submitted himself to God 
“So I turned my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and petitions, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (vs. 3, CSB) 

2. Daniel gave God praise for who God was
“Lord, the great and awe-inspiring God, who keeps His gracious covenant with those who love Him and keep His commands…” (vs. 4, CSB)

3. Daniel repented and confessed both his own sins and the sins of others
“We have sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned away from your commands and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings… and to all the people of the land.” (vss. 5-6, CSB) 

4. Daniel prayed scripture back to God
“Therefore the curse and oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God has been poured out on us, because we have sinned against Him. … As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand your truth” (vss. 11-13, NKJV)

5. Daniel asked for something specific
“O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. … O Lord hear; O Lord, forgive. … Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name.” (vss. 17-19, ESV)

In the end, God answered Daniel’s prayer and gave him both peace and an increased understanding as the meaning of the specific prophecy he was reading.