A Prayer to Pray before Studying God’s Word
By Christina Patterson
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:5
The Bible compares the Word of God to a double-edged sword showing its ability to cut the heart and change lives forever. (Hebrews 4:12) Whenever I pick up my Bible I feel the weight of this sword and its power. It makes me feel like a little girl holding a weapon too big to carry. Handling something so powerful is exciting yet intimidating at the same time.
So I never go into studying God’s Word lightly. We never should. The Word of God has the power to change minds, heal hearts, and cut out sin. However, something so powerful handled the wrong way can also cause harm. I never want to be the one using God’s Word to cause hurt, pain, or confusion. And I’m sure you don’t either.
For this reason, before I open my Bible and heart to the Word of God I first open my mouth in prayer to request specific things from God. And over years of studying my Bible God has faithfully answered this prayer. I want to share my prayer with you in hopes it will increase the quality of your time in God’s Word and help you to handle it’s truths with clarity and confidence.
I always start off praying for discernment and wisdom. James 1:5 tells us:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (NIV)
Coming across a scripture I do not understand can be discouraging. But I’ve found that unlocking the mysteries of scripture starts with prayer. All wisdom, knowledge, and correct understating come from God and He is ready to grant us understanding if we are willing to ask. This also ensures that I am receiving God’s understanding and intention about a scripture and that I am not relying on my own understanding.
“Lord, thank you for this time you’ve given me to open your Word and discover who you are. Thank you that you don’t leave us in the dark about who you are and what you are doing in the world, but that you have revealed yourself and your will through the Bible, your sacred words to us. Lord, I need wisdom as I read your Word. You promise us in James 1:5 that we only have to ask for wisdom to receive it. Lord, please give me your wisdom now as I approach your word. Help me discern the truth of this text. Help me not rely on my own understanding. Thank you God for the clarity, encouragement and hope your Word brings. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”
Editor’s Note: Portions of this devotional were taken from Christina Patterson’s article, 3 Prayers You Should Pray before Reading Your Bible. You can find that article in full here.
Table of contents
January, February, March 2001
Want to learn more about Prayer? Use these Bible Studies for personal devotion, group Bible studies, or teaching a church class. Below are links to the lessons in this 13-part series.
Lesson 1: The Model Pray-er and the Model Prayer: Christ (Luke 11, Matthew 6)
I just finished reading the book “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” by Jim Cymbala (Zondervan, 1997). It is a terrific book about prayer. The thesis of the book is that if you want a church to grow you need to cultivate the prayer life of the members. My timing for reading the Cymbala book was perfect because this quarter we begin a study on prayer. I need to improve my prayer life. If you need to improve your prayer life, let’s jump into our new study!
Lesson 2: Prayers of Despair: Job (Job 1, 6, 9, 13, 38, 40)
A first grader in my wife’s class was discouraged because his little life was not going well. He confided in my wife, “I don’t know why this is happening to me, I pay my tithe!” Does this little guy express your feelings sometimes? Something bad is happening in your life and you cannot understand why God is allowing it to happen? Do you pray and it seems that God is not answering or not giving the answer you deserve? One of the most encouraging stories in the Bible is the story of Job. Let’s jump in and see what we can learn about his prayers in times of great discouragement!
Lesson 3: A Prayer of Supplication: Moses (Psalm 90)
Moses did so much for the Israelites. Do you think he taught them to pray? I’ll bet he did. Our study this week is a unique opportunity to study a prayer that is attributed by most scholars to Moses. The NIV, along with many translations, begins Psalms 90 with the script: “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” Let’s dive into our study of this important prayer of Moses!
Lesson 4: Prayers of Triumph: Hannah and Mary (1 Samuel 1 & 2)
So far this quarter we have explored the prayers of Jesus, Moses and Job. Are there any women in the Bible whose experience can teach us about prayer? This week the title of our lesson turns our attention to two of the most blessed mothers in the Bible. Because of the amount of material involved, we are only going to be able to cover Hannah in this study. Let’s jump in and see what can we learn from this saint!
Lesson 5: Prayers of Penitence: David (2 Samuel 11 & 12, Psalms 51)
Do you fear that your prayers are not heard by God because of some past sin? Does sin cause you to think you cannot approach a Holy God? This week we look not only at the prayer of King David after he committed some of the worst sins, we gain an insight into avoiding those kinds of sins. Let’s jump into our study!
Lesson 6: A Prayer for God’s Dwelling: Solomon (2 Chronicles 6)
Is the God who created the universe interested in us? Is He willing to personally interact with us in our worship? This week we study the prayer King Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple. It is a prayer that teaches us more about the relationship we could have with God. Let’s jump into our study!
Lesson 7: Prayers for Reformation: Elijah (1 Kings 16-18)
At work do you sometimes feel you are the only one, or just one of a few, who serve God? Do you feel that God has placed a burden on you to reveal His greatness? Our study this week is about how God partnered with Elijah to reveal God’s power and greatness. This partnership involved prayer. Let’s jump in!
Lesson 8: Prayers of Desperation: Hezekiah (Isaiah 36-38)
A preacher told the story about a man who wanted to be sure he ended it all. Carrying a rope and a gun the man crawled out on a branch over a deep river. He tied one end of the rope around the branch and the other around his neck. At the instant he jumped off the branch, he planned to shoot himself in the head. He figured that if the bullet didn’t work, the rope would. If the rope broke, he would drown. Sort of a triple back-up system.
Our study this week is about the prayers of Hezekiah. Hezekiah did not want to kill himself – he desperately wanted to live. But he could sympathize with the man on the branch. We will discover that Hezekiah faced a triple threat. Not only was he faced with losing his life work as king, he was in danger of getting himself and a lot of other people killed by enemy soldiers. Then he found out that if the soldiers didn’t get him, he would die of a terrible disease. Let’s jump into our study!
Lesson 9: The Prayer of Intercession: Daniel (Daniel 9)
This week we turn our attention to a prayer of Daniel – a hero of the Old Testament. If your life was severely disrupted when you were a child, you can sympathize with Daniel. His young life turned lousy when he was taken into captivity by the Babylonians and dragged away from his homeland. Although he was a captive, through his faithfulness to God, he rose to become the highest-level government official. Daniel had such a great reputation that he remained in power even when his captors were defeated and the government changed.
Lesson 10: Prayer: Listening to Jesus (John 14)
Is prayer just a one-way communication? We talk and then we talk some more? If you say, “No,” prayer is both speaking to God and listening for His answer, then you will want to jump into this lesson with us. Last week, we discussed how Daniel prayed to God to be able to go home. This week our study is John 14 where we find Jesus answering the “how to go home” prayers of His disciples before they even feel the need. These words are part of God’s message to His disciples in all ages when we face confusing and trying situations.
Lesson 11: The High Priestly Prayer: Jesus (John 17)
Do you wish you had someone to watch over you? Someone who really cared about your problems and your future? Do you show this kind of care and love for others? This week we see God’s unselfish compassion for us as we continue our study of Jesus’ last hours on earth. Last week we studied Jesus’ words of comfort to His disciples before He was taken from them. This week we look at His prayer for His disciples. Let’s dive in!
Lesson 12: Prayers for the Church: Paul (Ephesians 1)
How is your local church? Does it need help? Do you feel the problems are too big for you to handle? This week our study is the first chapter of Ephesians. Paul, while under house arrest in Rome, writes a letter of encouragement to the church in Ephesus. Although the letter is not a prayer, it reveals the nature of Paul’s prayers for this church and the type of prayer and attitude we can have towards our local congregation. Let’s jump into our study!
Lesson 13: Prayers of Praise: Revelation (Revelation 4 & 5)
Do you remember what we discovered about the beginning of all the famous prayers we have studied so far this quarter? They started out with praise to God! In our last study of this quarter, we look more closely at this idea of praise in prayer. Let’s dive in!
The Lord’s Prayer may be the most familiar prayer that exists. It is found in the Bible, in Matthew and in Luke, and came from the very mouth of Jesus Christ. This prayer is actually instructional; it is a model prayer that is meant to teach us the correct focus and emphasis of prayer. Although it is commonly called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, it should more correctly be called ‘The Disciples’ Prayer’ because it is meant as a model prayer for those who follow Jesus.
The context of the Prayer
We find Matthew’s recounting of Jesus’ delivery of the Lord’s Prayer set amidst Jesus’ teachings against hypocritical religious acting. Jesus was contrasting the way the false religious leaders acted with how true followers of God should behave. Jesus had cautioned His disciples not to call attention to themselves in prideful ways when they went about living out their faith. He said that the false religious teachers like to call attention to themselves, instead of pointing to God, when they did things like giving to the needy (Matthew 6:2-4) or praying (Matthew 6:5-8). After Jesus had finished describing the wrong way to pray, He illustrated the right way to pray by using this model prayer.
Of course, if this prayer is simply memorized and repeated without a heartfelt commitment and earnest sincerity, it becomes the same sort of hypocritical mumbling that Jesus had just condemned. This prayer was never meant to be mimicked; it was to serve as an outline, or guide, for the sincere devotee to God. As we will see, this prayer requires an honest love for God on the part of the one praying for it to be anything more than a superstitious poem that will not even reach the ceiling.
The content of the Prayer
“Pray then like this…” (9a)
Jesus had railed against the false religiosity of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He had pointed out that they do their religious duties for selfish reasons, to steal the glory that rightfully belongs to God for themselves, not out of love and service to Him. How often do we do the same thing today? How many times do we do something good for someone simply to make ourselves look good? Rather, we should be doing everything for Jesus’ sake; out of love for Him and for His glory and honor.
“Our Father in heaven…” (9c)
This phrase recognizes our allegiance to God. He is our Father; He created us, He sustains us, He gives us spiritual life. Everything we have and everything we are or ever hope to be, we owe to Him. The all-powerful Creator, Who lives outside of time and space, in the realm we call ‘Heaven’, is our Father, our God, our life, and our Savior. When we pray, we must be aware of exactly Who it is to Whom we are praying. “Those who pray like this are members of a family, and they look to God as the Head of the family, one who is bound to them by ties of love” (Baker, vol. II, p. 1350).
“…hallowed be your name” (9c)
In Jesus’ day, a person’s name was indicative of his character. This phrase means that we realize, and acknowledge, that God is holy, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3 ESV). There are too many people these days who think too little on God’s holiness. We do not realize that God is perfect, He is our Creator, He sustains us, and He deserves our worship and love. Too often, we do not approach Him with the reverential awe, or fear, that the Bible commands, “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Proverbs 19:23 ESV).
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (10)
This phase means that we should want God’s plan to be carried out by humans on earth the same way it is carried out by the angels in Heaven. As believers, our hearts should be set on furthering His Kingdom any way that He asks of us. We should be agents of change, whose mission is to share the good news of God’s love for humanity with all those we can, so that this world would be more like His Kingdom. “The servant of God looks for the rule of God to become actual in more and more lives” (Baker, vol. II, p. 1350).
“Give us this day our daily bread…” (11)
The believer should be living in a daily dependence on God’s provision. After Jesus had told His followers that they need not worry about having the necessities of life, He said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). “…the prayer is for the simple and present necessities of life. Jesus is counseling his followers to pray for necessities, not luxuries, and for what is needed now, not a great store for many days to come. By confining the petition to present needs Jesus teaches a day-by-day dependence on God” (Baker, vol. II, p. 1351).
“…and forgive us our debts , as we also have forgiven our debtors” (12)
Because we are believers in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. Therefore, this is not saying that our sins are forgiven because we forgive others. Rather, we forgive others because we have been forgiven. It is easy to forgive others when we truly understand how much God has forgiven us. If we claim to have had our sins forgiven by God, yet we refuse to forgive others, there is a problem with our relationship with God, and that problem needs to be dealt with.
“And lead us not into temptation…” (13a)
We know that God does not tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13). Therefore, this phrase must be a request for God to guide our paths away from temptation and testing. It is a request for protection against that which might cause us to fall into sin. The Bible tells us that everything that happens is either caused by God, or God allows it. As such, we believers realize that God is in control of every second of our lives, so we pray for God to guide our steps away from temptation and towards holiness.
“…but deliver us from evil” (13b)
God is the only one Who can protect us from evil . It is by His strength that we are enabled to stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV). The Bible also tells us that God will not let us be tempted or tested more than He will also supply the ability for us to endure, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13 ESV).
Conclusion: Important Principles from the Lord’s Prayer
When we pray to God, we must understand that He is the Holy Creator, and Sustainer, of the universe. Our basic motivation in prayer must be for His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom. We can surely ask Him to supply our needs and comfort our afflictions, but we must always recognize that His will trumps ours. We should desire that His will be done here on earth, and we should be willing to submit to His plan, rather than expect Him to submit to ours. We must always remember that every good thing comes from God (James 1:17); He lovingly supplies our needs. We must forgive others as we have been forgiven. We must trust God to deliver us from any temptation or testing that we should encounter, knowing that we are unable to resist temptation on our own. When we pray with this attitude, we can say with the apostle John, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (I John 5:14 ESV).
Here are some more Bible study articles for you to read:
Are Christians saints?
Bible study on joy
A Bible study on friends
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Walter A. Elwell, ed. Baker Book House, 1988.
YouTube video: “Our Father” by Don Moen
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Identify Your Frustration
… while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
1 Kings 19:4
In this passage, Elijah’s frustration is clearly expressed to God in his prayer.
- Have you ever felt like you’ve had enough?
- Can you relate to his frustration and anxiety?
- Have you ever expressed this to God?
- What was the result?
What are the things that drive us to frustration? Make a list.
- Frustrated with life’s problems?
- Frustrated with other people?
- Frustrated with God, feeling like He doesn’t care or has abandoned us?
Reaction to Frustration
11 “Therefore I will not keep silent;
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.12 Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep, that you put me under guard?13 When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint,14 even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions,15 so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine.16 I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning.
17 “What is mankind that you make so much of them,
that you give them so much attention,18 that you examine them every morning and test them every moment?
Take a look at Job.
- How does Job deal with his frustration? Is this the way you deal with yours?
- How honest are you with God in prayer? Is there bitterness toward people or toward Him that you’ve refused to pray about? When you answer this question, think about those closest to you and about how God has moved in your life recently.
- When you’re frustrated, do you shut down or do you become determined to work it out through your relationship with God?
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
- When Moses was frustrated, who did he speak to first, God or the people?
- Think about the last few problems you were frustrated with. Who did you go to first to solve them?
The Lord detests lying lips,
but he delights in people who are trustworthy.
In our frustration, God would rather us be honest with Him and express how we feel—even when we have negative emotions towards Him. Fear can drive us to be dishonest with God about our emotions, not wanting to be shunned or cursed by God. However, the scriptures teach us that God desires honesty above superficial worship.
- Finish reading 1 Kings 19 and answer the following questions:
- What is God’s response to Elijah’s frustration?
- Does God answer Elijah’s prayer?
- Will He answer yours?
- Memorize these two scriptures:
- Matthew 11:28-30
- 1 Peter 5:7-9