There were multiple times in college when I would pray before taking an important exam. I would ask God to help me to do my best, and, if it be His will, for me to get a good grade. But I still studied.
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that God answers prayers. I believe that God is powerful enough to providentially guide someone to select a correct answer now and then, if that’s what He decided to do. But if I had attempted to go through college without ever studying, and only praying before every exam, I’m pretty sure that God would have answered my request for a good grade with a big no.
It’s the same in Bible study. All too often people want to understand the Bible without putting in the time it takes to really think through what they are reading. And so they pray that God will guide them to a correct understanding of the Bible, and then trust that whatever impressions they draw from scripture must be correct, all because they prayed about it. There’s an unfounded assumption that the Holy Spirit will simply pick up the slack for us when we don’t study.
Now, we could do a careful study about John 16:13 to show that Jesus wasn’t discussing personal Bible study, but rather was addressing his apostles about how the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth. But for the moment, let’s leave that discussion aside. Because even if God answers prayers for a better understanding of the Scripture, we are still warned “do not believe every spirit, but test to spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4.1). We’re supposed to closely examine our ideas, and not simply assume they are from God.
I don’t see any reason to believe that God is in the habit of giving Christians a miraculous download of knowledge without them putting in the work. If God is going to answer our prayers for a better understanding of Scripture, He’s going to use the informational content that we’ve put into our minds.
It’s a good thing to pray while you study (see Psalm 119). But the Holy Spirit is a poor excuse to be lazy when it comes to studying Scriptures which are inspired by the Holy Spirit.