Building Habits of Prayer and Bible Study
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Good communication is essential to a good relationship. A constant plea from many wives to their husbands is "Talk to me." A wise husband understands this need and enjoys communicating with his wife. Children need encouragement and instruction from their parents, and parents need to listen to the requests, questions and opinions of their children. The basics of good communication include talking as well as listening.
The same principles apply to our relationship with our heavenly Father. Good communication between Him and us is a vital aspect of the godly way of life. God speaks to us through His Word, the Holy Scriptures (Jeremiah 10:1; Isaiah 51:7). We talk to Him through prayer. These avenues of communication between God and us should not become one-way streets—by our merely asking for favors but never listening to advice and instruction. They must together become a two-way, interactive communication pathway.
How often should we talk to God in prayer?
"Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
God wants us to make praying to Him a regular habit. This doesn't mean we will pray without a pause all day every day. It simply means we must not cease making prayer a habit—we should pray regularly and consistently to maintain contact with God.
What were the prayer habits of some of God's faithful servants?
"Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice" (Psalm 55:17).
"Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days" (Daniel 6:10).
"Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, [Jesus] went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35).
The Scriptures indicate it was a fairly common practice among God's servants to pray more than once every day. On at least one occasion Jesus arose early from His night's sleep so He could have some extra time alone to talk to God privately in prayer.
Is God really interested in what we have to say to Him?
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers ..." (1 Peter 3:12).
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).
The book of Revelation compares our prayers with the smell of sweet incense wafting up to God (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4). He is anxious to hear us express our heartfelt concerns. We could compare this to two young people in love conversing often and openly with each other—attentive to every word the other says. God appreciates our having that same enthusiasm and eagerness, that same fervent desire, to converse with Him.
How responsive is God to us when we pray?
"... Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them" (Mark 11:24).
"But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:6-7).
"Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1 John 5:14).
God has promised to hear and respond to us when we pray sincerely and fervently—according to His will—and genuinely put our trust in Him.
Whose prayers will God refuse to consider?
"The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous" (Proverbs 15:29).
"Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2).
"One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Proverbs 28:9; compare Zechariah 7:11-13).
"You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3).
Good communication is a two-way street. Not only must we talk to God through prayer, but we must pay close attention to what He has to say to us. We do this by studying and following His written Word, the Bible (Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:97-100).
God expects us to pay attention to His written Word—especially to His foundational principles, the Ten Commandments—as a prerequisite for His hearing and responding to our prayers. The books of the Bible can be compared to letters from Him, each communicating aspects of His will to us. If we won't listen to His written Word, our requests of Him are futile. He tells us He will simply refuse to respond (Isaiah 59:1-2).
A comparison can be drawn to a wife expecting her husband to lavish love and blessings upon her even while she openly participates in an adulterous affair. Such expectation is unrealistic. It is equally unrealistic to expect God to answer the prayers of one who has no interest in being faithful to Him, who persistently refuses to listen to His Word. Of course, when anyone repents God will again listen to his prayers.
Do the Scriptures explain how to effectively study the Bible?
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11, NIV).
"My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:1-5).
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil" (Proverbs 3:5-7).
A child who pays attention to instruction pleases his parents and makes them happy. In like manner, God is pleased with us when we study His Word in a diligent effort to learn how He wants us to live.
What primary benefit comes from studying the Scriptures?
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Through the Bible God provides us with doctrine and instruction in His way of life. He reproves and corrects us, showing us where we need to change. He also enables us to grow to spiritual maturity and receive salvation. Bible study is our way of allowing God to talk with us. It is our duty to pay attention to His words, to make them a part of our thinking and to act on what we learn.
Husbands and wives who have grown close to each other in heart and mind often spend hours in intense conversation together. They discuss their goals, fears, joys, wants and needs. A close relationship with God requires the same type of open, effective two-way communication.
Will studying God's Word help us better understand our own nature and God's will?
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
"The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130).
This Bible Study Course was created to help you understand the Scriptures. But don't just take our word for what the Bible teaches. Search the Scriptures yourself! Ask questions; become informed. Look up the verses that precede and follow those we quote. Make sure you become acquainted with the context. Let God talk for Himself. Prayerfully ask for His guidance, then drink in His words. Only then will you know for certain that what you have learned here is the teaching of the living God. (If you have questions you are unable to resolve, please let us know. One of our personal correspondents will be glad to help.)
How else does God communicate His will to us?
"So Philip ran to him [an Ethiopian official], and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, 'How can I, unless someone guides me?' And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him" (Acts 8:30-31).
"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!'" (Romans 10:14-15).
No man is an island. No matter how much we study we need teachers to point us in the right direction. God provides them to edify His people (Ephesians 4:11-13), instructing them in the fundamentals of His Word. This is one of the main reasons we should regularly assemble together—so we can hear spiritually mature elders expound the words of life from the Scriptures.