A call to pray before studying or hearing the Word (with a resource)
One of the best ways we can prepare to hear from God is through prayer. The Bible teaches that we need God’s grace for us to have a spiritual understanding of his Word. It is not enough for us merely to read the Word. We must have a spiritual understanding of its message, and this only comes through God’s grace.
Both Testaments teach the importance of God’s grace for spiritual understanding. The psalmist in Psalm 119 repeatedly prays that God will graciously teach him his word. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psa 119:18). Evoking the priestly blessing in Num 6:25, the psalmist later prays, “Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes” (Psa 119:35). The prophet Jeremiah tells us that this is part of the new covenant’s blessings (Jer 31:34; cf. Heb 8:11).
In 2 Cor 4:6, Paul attributes spiritual knowledge specifically to God. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In the book of Acts, it is in the midst of prayer that the Spirit often comes with a revelation to the Christians (see, for example, Acts 9:11-12; 10:3, 9-16; 22:17-18).
Indeed, the Apostle Paul prayed that his churches would have this same kind spiritual understanding:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe . . . (Eph 1:16-19).
It is presumptuous of us to think that we can obtain this spiritual understanding on our own or that we do not need our God’s help in studying, preaching, or hearing his Word. In the spirit of Psalm 119, we ought to ask the Lord, “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works” (Psa 119:27).
So let me encourage you to be someone who quietly prays and asks the Lord’s blessing on your private Bible study. Pray before you go to hear the Word of God preached to you in your public worship with other saints. Pray that God will use the ministry of the Spirit to help you “understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). We need to have more than a mere intellectual or notional understanding of Scripture, but we must have heart knowledge–a spiritual understanding–where our will is drawn toward the glory of God and Christ revealed in the text. Pray that you will be perpetually “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10).
To that end, I want to make available for you a simple tool that might be helpful to some readers. I have taken several verses from Psalm 119 and reworked them slightly into prayers for receiving the Word of God (some required no reworking at all). I realize that some people are against written prayers of any kind, but here are prayers lifted from the Bible itself (similar to Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer).
I used the King James Version as a base, modernizing the pronouns and verb endings. I also changed some of the verses into imperatives directed to the Lord. On occasion, I added a word or two to help fit the prayer to the context of Bible study. The numbers at the end of the prayers show the verse from which the prayer came. There are four bookmarks to an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. I recommend printing this on a heavier paper (even cardstock), and cutting it into fourths (at 2.75; 5.5; and 8.25). This bookmark can then be placed in one’s Bible and be used as a tool for giving Biblical shape to one’s prayer for spiritual understanding in their personal Bible study.
Whether this tool is used or not, the bottom line is that believers should seek God’s grace to help them see the spiritual significance of God’s word. Bible study is more than an exercise in the interpretation of literature. Hearing preaching and teaching is more than an exercise in learning to stay awake for 45 minutes. God designed his word to accomplish real spiritual change in the lives of the saints (see, for example, John 17:17; Rom 10:17; 1 Tim 4:16), and we ought to ask our God in prayer to use his word accordingly.
About Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).