When a Christian reads the Bible and understands, it’s because the Holy Spirit is giving them spiritual eyesight. Perhaps you know what I’m talking about. Has there ever been a time you’ve read a verse or a passage over and over again until, one day, it just seems to “open up” and start to make sense? That’s illumination.
Now, the Spirit of God is able to grant understanding any time He wants. I’ve met many believers who make a habit of “Bible-surfing”—when you plop down your Bible, flip it open indiscriminately, and hope that God will speak to you. Now, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that God could use a random verse to speak to you, but it’s not the most reliable or responsible method for sustainable Christian growth.
So how do I begin? It might seem like the obvious first step would be to sit down and throw open your Bible, but, truthfully, the first thing you ought to do is ask for help. Before you start noodling around, I encourage you to begin with prayer.
You may be thinking, Why is he taking time to define and discuss prayer? I know how to pray! That may very well be, but too many believers misunderstand and misappropriate prayer and Bible reading; others skip it completely. In fact, prayer is an essential component to Bible study—perhaps the most important part! So let’s spend some time delving into prayer and its role in Bible study.
We need to start by getting some basics down. What is prayer? At its core, prayer is our talking to God. But it’s more than that. John Piper writes, “Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need.” It is, as David models for us, asking God to “search me . . . and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23–24). When we pray, we are talking to God, asking Him, even pleading with Him, for help and guidance. Our hearts want to be closer to Him and to know Him better.
Sometimes the question is posed: If God knows everything, then why pray? It’s easy to reason this way: When it comes to Bible study, won’t God just help me understand? Certainly, God wants believers to understand the Bible! But again, prayer is humbly asking God for help. It’s an act of faith; it’s an act of looking to Him for guidance. Whereas it would be easy for us to wade into self-sufficiency or even arrogance in thinking we could simply figure it out, approaching Bible study with prayer places our trust in the Author of the Scriptures, and asks Him to give us His spiritual eyesight.
Perhaps the most famous prayer in the Bible is Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6. Known by many as the “Our Father” or “The Lord’s Prayer,” this model of prayer provides Jesus’ instructions to His disciples on how to pray. Now, we understand that His prayer is not a formula to be endlessly recited; otherwise His admonition against meaningless repetition in verse 7 wouldn’t make much sense. Rather, Jesus teaches us how to pray by giving us a model. And in His model prayer, one of the petitions is for the Lord to provide food, even spiritual food—“give us this day our daily bread” (v. 11). And so, if it’s important to Jesus to ask the Father to feed us, even spiritually, we ought to take it to heart as well.
“Prayer isn’t an exercise in wishful thinking. It’s an act of faith.”
But what is it that we’re actually praying for when we ask God to illumine us? In essence, we’re asking that the Father would take His revealed Word and implant it into our souls so that we will grow spiritually. And so, a prayer to God to be fed is a prayer for God to do supernatural work in our heart and soul. Don’t take this lightly—this is a radical concept. We’re asking God to do something in us that no moral self-improvement regimen can do, what no government institution can do, what no earthly interpersonal relationship can do. We’re asking God to remake us from the inside out. Yet too many believers are sheepish with this prayer. Prayer isn’t an exercise in wishful thinking. It’s an act of faith.
When Abraham was first told that he would become the father to a child in his old age, he was overjoyed. At first, his wife Sarah didn’t quite believe it. But the apostle Paul notes that “without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:19). What God was promising seemed impossible, but we read that “he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (vv. 20–21). I love verse 21 because I believe it best summarizes true faith—being fully assured that God is able to perform what He has promised. And when we pray, we need to pray with faith, being fully convinced and assured in our minds that God is able to do the things He has promised to do in the Bible.
What has He promised to do? Among other things, He will sanctify us by the truth of the Word (see John 17:17). He promises to grow us in Christlikeness, from the inside out. But despite His promise to work in us, we are still told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
 John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2003), 161.
by Nate Pickowicz
Loving God means loving His Word. If you’re feeling distant from God, could it be because you’re ignoring His Word? But maybe you...
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