Theme: The Connection between Prayer and Bible Study
In this week’s lessons from Psalm 119, we learn how prayer and Bible study work together to increase our faith.
Scripture: Psalm 119:145-152
One person who knows a great deal about biblical meditation is Ronald A. Jenson, former President of the School of Theology of the International Christian Graduate University. In a booklet published by the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy, he tells how he had developed a successful pornography business when he was still in elementary school, buying sexually explicit literature and pictures and selling them to friends at a profit. He ran it out of his basement. When he became a Christian, what he was and what he had been doing changed dramatically. But although he abandoned his pornography business and got active in church work, he still had trouble with his thought life because the strong sexual material he had been feeding on had become part of what he was. He described it by saying, “When you sow a thought, you reap an action. When you sow that action, you reap a habit. When you sow that habit, you reap a character. When you sow that character, you reap a destiny.”1 He had been sowing lustful thoughts, and a lustful character had been formed.
What delivered him from a pornographic pattern of life was discovering how to meditate on the Bible’s teaching. He learned how to be transformed “by the renewing of [his] mind” (Rom. 12:2). Meditation involved thinking what the passage he was studying was about and internalizing it, imagining what it would mean for him in specific acts of conduct. He even worked on singing specific verses to whatever tune seemed to fit them, because singing helped fix the biblical truths in his mind. He was changed. His conclusion was this: “Biblical meditation is hard work, but the reward is worth it—a consistent, victorious Christian life.”2
The third thing the psalmist teaches about prayer in these verses is that prayer is best when it is biblical, that is, when it accompanies and flows from serious Bible study and when it is, in a sense, repeating God’s very words, teaching, decrees and promises back to him. It is when our own prayer words become biblical. The psalmist expresses this when he talks about God hearing him “in accordance with your love” and renewing his life “according to your laws” (v. 149). What distresses him about the wicked is that “they are far from your law” (v. 150).
In his homiletical commentary on Ephesians, Harry Ironside tells about meeting an older, very godly man early in his ministry. The man was dying of tuberculosis, and Ironside went to visit him. His name was Andrew Fraser. He could barely speak above a whisper because his lungs were almost consumed by the disease. But he said, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ, are you not?”
“Yes, I am,” replied Ironside.
“Well,” he said, “sit down a little, and let us talk together about the Word of God.” He opened his Bible, and until his strength was gone he unfolded one passage after another, teaching truths that Ironside at that time had not appreciated or even perceived. Before long tears were running down Ironside’s cheeks, and he asked, “Where did you get these things? Can you tell me where I can find a book that will open them up to me? Did you get them in a seminary or college?”
Fraser replied, “My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.”3
That is the secret. I am not disparaging education, of course. I have received a great deal of it myself and have profited from it. But it is possible to have a great deal of theological education and still know very little about God, if that learning is only intellectual or academic. What counts is time spent prayerfully in the Bible.
1Ronald A. Jenson, Biblical Meditation: A Transforming Discipline (Oakland, CA: ICBI, 1982), p. 11.
2Ibid., p. 41.
3H. A. Ironside, In the Heavenlies: Practical Expository Addresses on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1937), pp. 86, 87.
When is prayer best?
What does the story of Harry Ironside and Andrew Fraser teach about the methods of learning spiritual truths?
How are prayer and Bible study linked?
Reflection: Are there thought patterns you need to change? How can biblical meditation help you accomplish this?
Application: Begin incorporating a time of prayer after your Bible study to ask God to plant his Word in your heart and mind.
Prayer: Ask God to show you any worldly things that have shaped your thinking and to replace them with biblical meditation.