Prayer and the Bible are inseparable. We can’t understand the Bible properly without prayer, and we can’t properly pray without the Bible.
Pastor Warren Wiersbe once shared the following advice with his young pastor son. We can all benefit from his wise words. “If all you have in the church is prayer and no Bible, you end up with lots of heat but no light, zeal without knowledge. But plenty of Bible without prayer gives you light without heat. You don’t have a church; you have a Bible school. Bible knowledge without prayer has a way of puffing people up. It takes both the Word of God and prayer to make balanced Christians and to build a balanced church.”1
In today’s post, we’ll look at this blessed balance. I’ve invited my friend, Lori Hatcher, the author of Refresh Your Prayers:Uncommon Devotions to Restore Power and Praise to discuss the Bible’s vital role in prayer. But first, I want to share the other side of the coin—prayer’s role in understanding the Bible.
Prayer and the Bible
Communicating with the Author
Paul charged Timothy to rightly handle the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). Christ established teachers and pastors in the church to equip Christians (Eph. 4:11–12). Part of this equipping is teaching believers how to properly interpret the Bible. (Don’t teach what it means to you. Teach what God intended it to mean.) We’ll look at this exciting process scholars call hermeneutics in future articles. (Don’t worry. It’s easier to learn than it is to pronounce.)
Today, we’re focusing only on prayer because, while we can all guess what a book’s author intended to communicate, we can all be wrong. Only the author can tell us what he really meant by what he wrote.
Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, isn’t available to explain his best-selling novel. He passed away in 1999. And apparently, there’s a catch to understanding his message because his booktops the list of “Most Confusing Books of All Time.”2 Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong without Heller to tell us?
The Bible isn’t a work of fiction, but we still need help to understand it. Lots of help—especially in a sea of voices who interpret it differently. Fortunately for us, the Bible’s author is eternal, and He’s only a prayer away.
If we want to understand what the Bible truly means, let’s first ask the Author.
Eighteenth-century pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne models how prayer helps us understand the Bible.
Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the First Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel, and pray, “O Lord, give me the blessedness of the man”; “let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly.” This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray.”3
M’Cheyne left a lasting mark on the church even though he died when he was only 29 years old. His fervent—and balanced—devotion to prayer and Bible study transformed him and his congregation. Many today are still transformed as they follow his example.
As we pray while reading the Bible, God’s Spirit illuminates His Word. He pierces our hearts with conviction and encouragement not only to know the glorious truths but to faithfully walk in them. When we read the Bible without prayer, we can find ourselves stuffing the shelves of our minds with golden truths, but not being changed by them. Or properly understanding them.
Grasping all the Bible’s meaning is a lifelong journey, which no one will master on earth. “The secret things belong to the Lord” (Deut. 29:29). Some of these secrets include certain passages we may never fully understand until we get to heaven. But as we prayerfully read the Bible, God’s Spirit opens our hearts and minds to His Word and gives us greater and greater understanding.
The Bible and Prayer
The Author Communicating with Us
Lori Hatcher shares M’Cheyne’s and Wiersbe’s convictions that prayer and the Bible are inseparable. These convictions are why she spotlighted verses from every book of the Bible in the first devotional in her Refresh series. Her second focused on the importance of prayer. I asked her if I could share one of her devotions from Refresh Your Prayers. This excerpt highlights how God designed the Bible and prayer to work together.
What’s the Bible Got to Do with It?
By Lori Hatcher
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any
double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit,
joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the
My daughter and I were enjoying a lively phone conversation when I realized she hadn’t spoken in a while. I shared a few more details of my latest project, then asked, “Are you still there?” No response.
“Hellooooo? Can you hear me? Did I bore you to death or put you to sleep?” Click.
The words Signal Lost appeared on my screen.
I called her back and asked, “What was the last thing you heard before we were disconnected?” I was embarrassed to learn that I’d talked for several minutes with no one listening.
Do you ever feel this way about your prayers? I have.
I’ll pray and pray and pray and get no response. Is God listening, or am I talking to myself?
My prayer life changed dramatically when I learned God intends prayer to be a two-way conversation. There’s nothing wrong with pouring out our hearts to God. He encourages us to bring our thoughts, needs, and concerns to Him. Unfortunately, I was talking so much, God couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I needed to listen at least as much as I talked.
One of the primary ways God speaks to us is through His Word. When I incorporated Bible reading into my prayer time, my somewhat-boring monologue transformed into a never-boring dialogue.
Each morning, I settle into my recliner and grab my prayer journal and my One Year Bible. The One Year Bible divides the Scripture into daily readings that include a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, a portion of a Psalm, and a few verses from Proverbs. Each selection takes about fifteen minutes to read. If I read every day, I can read the whole Bible in a year.
I begin my prayer time by reading from the Psalms. The psalms were the Israelites’ hymns, and they invite us to praise and worship.
Next, I pray Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me.” As I quiet myself before Him, God often brings to mind the sins of the day before—an unkind word, a bad attitude, or outright disobedience to one of His commands. I confess and forsake each sin, asking God to forgive me and help me obey Him better.
After I praise Him and examine my heart for sins, I pray for the people on my prayer list. I date each request and leave space to record God’s answers. My prayer journals have become a chronicle of my faith walk and a testimony to God’s faithfulness.
When I finish praying through my list, I quiet myself and “listen” for God’s response. While God could speak audibly to me, He never has. In this era, God speaks to believers primarily through His Word.
As I read the daily portion of Scripture, I “listen” with an ear toward how God might be responding to what I just prayed about.
James 1:5 promises God will give me wisdom if I ask for it. I often find the insight I need for the day in my daily Bible reading. Other times I find comfort, hope, instruction, truth, direction, or promises.
Sometimes God uses the Bible to remove an item from my prayer list by helping me realize what I’m asking for isn’t His will for me. Other times He shares His heart. I read how He loves His children, longs to bless us, and grieves when we turn away from Him. As I spend time in prayer and Bible reading, God reveals more and more about himself, and I fall more and more in love with Him.
I encourage you not to be satisfied with a one-way conversation with God. Open your Bible and listen to Him speak. Your prayer life will never be the same again.
The God of the universe speaks to us every time we read His Word.
Father, thank you for speaking to us through your Word. What a treasure to have your wisdom, insight, and direction at our very fingertips. I praise you that every time I turn my heart toward you, you meet me there. Help me never take for granted the privilege of prayer, but to approach our time together as the most important appointment of my day, because it is. Amen.
Live It Out
During your prayer time today, follow the format I’ve outlined above. Praise God, confess your sins, and bring your needs to Him. Quiet your heart (and your mouth) so He can speak to you through His Word. Write down what you sense Him saying and think about it throughout the day.
We have the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us through prayer to help us understand the Bible. All we need now is an easy way to study the Bible. We’ll look at my favorite Bible study method next.
1 Wiersbe, Warren. 10 Power Principles for Christian Service, pg. 82-83. Baker Books (e-book)
2“The 10 Most Confusing Books of All Time,” Mental Floss, February 15, 2021, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/641851/most-confusing-books-of-all-time.
3Andrew A. Bonar, Robert Murray M'Cheyne: Memoir and Remains (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1966).