How to Pray When You’re Struggling to Understand the Bible
This article is part of the How to Pray series.
Prayer Changes Our Study
Prayer is the means by which we implore the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our study time. Without prayer, our study is nothing but an intellectual pursuit. With prayer, it is a means of communing with the Lord. Prayer is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself.
You may be familiar with the acronym PART as a memory prompt for the key elements of prayer:
Praise: glorify God for who he is and what he has done.
Admit: confess to God where you have fallen short.
Request: ask God to forgive your sin and to meet your needs.
Thank: give thanks to God for who he is and what he has done.
Pray before You Study
Praise: Begin by praising God for giving us the revelation of his will and character in his Word. If you are in the midst of a book, praise him for specific attributes that your study has already revealed. If you are at the beginning of a book, praise him for being merciful and gracious to grant you the gift of the Bible.
Admit: Know your own set of insecurities and weaknesses as you set out to study, and lay them before the Lord. Confess that you can’t do it and that it feels too hard. Confess any sin that might inhibit your study (pride? impatience? distraction?). Confess your lack of desire.
Request: Ask the Lord for ears to hear and eyes to see as you study. Ask him to help you guard the time you have set aside from distractions; ask him to clear your mind of other concerns. Ask him to reveal his character and your sin. Ask him to make his Word come alive for you in such a way that you know him better and see your own need of him more clearly.
Thank: Thank him that he has revealed himself in the Bible and that he has given you the ability to know him. Thank him for time to study. Thank him for the gift of Jesus Christ.
Prayer is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself.
Pray during Your Study
Praise: As you study, praise God when you make a connection about his character that you hadn’t understood before. Praise him when you notice that you are beginning to ask the right questions of the text on your own. Give him praise when you find yourself enjoying your study, knowing that he is the origin of that joy.
Admit: Confess when you get frustrated with your study. Confess if you find it boring. Tell him what you would rather be doing or what feels more urgent. Confess if you chafe against what the passage is asking of you or showing you.
Request: When you hit a hard passage, ask the Lord to grant understanding. If your mind is wandering, ask for help to stay focused. If you get frustrated, ask him to teach you patience and humility. If you find yourself rushing, ask him to help you slow down. If you are besieged with interruptions, ask him to grant you some peaceful time, or to help you know if it’s time to pack it up for the day.
Thank: Thank the Lord when he brings to mind other passages in Scripture that confirm or reinforce what you are learning in your study. Thank him when you receive correction from the text, or when you are given an example to follow. Thank him each time the gospel reveals itself to you through your study.
Pray after You Study
Praise: Meditate on the aspect of God’s character that your study is revealing to you. Did the passage show God as merciful? Patient? Generous? Wrathful? Holy? Praise God for this aspect of who he is. If appropriate, pray aloud the passage of Scripture that celebrates that aspect of God’s character.
Admit: Confess any personal sin that your study time has brought to light. Confess your temptation to apply the passage to someone else’s sin problem instead of your own. Confess if you let yourself get distracted as you studied. Did your study time heighten your awareness of your lack of understanding? Did you rush to finish? Confess that, too.
Request: Ask the Lord to help you apply what you have learned. Did learning that God is gracious reveal your own lack of grace toward someone? Ask the Lord to help you act on what you have learned. Ask him to bring to mind what you have studied as you move through your day and your week. If your study time felt fruitless, ask him to help you trust that there is fruit you cannot yet see. Ask him to give you the desire to persevere in the learning process.
Thank: Thank the Lord for what he is teaching you. Thank him for the gift of personal insight, and for the men and women who have written the commentaries you use. Thank him specifically for a truth he has shown you during your study.
This article is adapted from Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin.
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