Better Bible Study Tip #39: Prayer Does Not Guarantee Correct Interpretation

Resist the temptation to believe that you have prayed yourself to a correct interpretation of scripture. Be careful not to think “I’m confident I can’t be wrong on this subject, because I’ve spent so much time in prayer about it.”

Of course, it should go without saying that we should continually surround our Bible study with prayer. We should be asking God to guide our thinking as we study, to help us to study with a humble and honest attitude, to help us to think clearly, and to help us to understand the text rightly. But as we pray about our study, we need to remember that God is not like a magic genie in a lamp. Although God does promise to answer our prayers, he does not promise to automatically grant us every wish.

Most of us already know that God doesn’t always give us what we pray for. When God answers our prayers with a “no”, we trust that God has good reasons for doing so. Paul prayed three times that his thorn in the flesh would be removed, but the answer was no (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Even Jesus was denied his request when he asked God to “let this cup pass from me” (Mt. 26:39).

Although it can be disappointing to not receive what we pray for, upon just a little bit of reflection, it’s easy to understand why this might be the case. Maybe what we have asked for isn’t actually good for us. Maybe our motives aren’t right. Maybe God has something better planned. Maybe by denying our request, God is providing an opportunity for us to grow.

But why would God ever deny someone’s prayer to understand scripture correctly? Why wouldn’t God want that? How could God possibly answer such a prayer negatively?

Of course God wants us to understand scripture correctly. He desires us to understand scripture correctly just like he wants us to worship with a reverent attitude, to treat our spouses with love and respect, to love our enemies, and to be generous with our money towards those in need. But all of these things also depend on our own will, our own commitment to obedience, our own wisdom, and our own efforts. For example, if we pray that a person in need will be warm and be filled, but we refuse to give them the things they need, what good is that? (cf. Jas. 2:16).

It’s the same way with Bible study. Yes, we should pray that God will guide our thinking as we study scripture. But we still have to make sure we are studying with a humble and honest attitude. We still have to make sure we are meditating on the scriptures day and night. We still have to make sure we are reading scriptures in context. We still have to put in the hard work that good bible study requires. It is good to pray about out study, but prayer must never become an excuse for a lazy and sloppy treatment of the text.

This is obvious if you think about it. All you have to do is find two people who have arrived at different conclusions from their study, both of whom have prayed about their Bible study. This happens all the time.

The point of this is not to suggest that we shouldn’t waste our time praying. The Bible teaches that God does answer prayers. The point is that prayer doesn’t guarantee that our conclusions are always correct. We must continue to put in the effort of continually doing good and intellectually responsible Bible study.