There is another approach to Bible study that is so tightly integrated with prayer that I don’t know what to call it. It absolutely energizes my prayers and often points me to either blessings or problems I have been ignoring. I call it plagiarized prayer. You can call it something else if that word feels uncomfortable.
I came upon this idea many years ago when I read a novel the name of which escapes me now. It was about a man who suddenly and inexplicably began to take the Bible seriously. When a problem in the city required his testimony in court, he took the oath every witness takes, “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Then he did exactly that. He amazed himself and everyone else. He put the name of Jesus in front of a community. People began to care for one another in amazing ways. It all began with a plagiarized prayer. (I wish I could remember the name of this book. Does it ring bells with anyone?)
I plagiarize a prayer by putting my own name in it. Here is an example.
Read Philippians 1:9-11
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Now, insert your own name in every possible location in this prayer. Make it a prayer that is all about you.
And this is my prayer, that Katherine’s love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help Katherine to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ Katherine may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
This is a prayer that motivates. The Apostle Paul prayed this prayer for the church at Philippi, where one of my favorite Bible characters lived. Lydia was already a spiritual leader when Paul arrived, and she was among the first people who heard him and met Christ and started the church. When this letter came back after Paul had left, Lydia was among the people for whom Paul was praying.
I see my own name in this prayer, and I think first of Lydia. When she heard this prayer read in church, she must have asked herself how she could grow in knowledge and insight. Somebody needed to do that, because a church without mature leaders will flounder. She had no church history to teach her about that problem, but I do. How, I ask myself, will my church thrive if I fail to grow in knowledge and insight? What will God ask of me if I do grow?
Oh, the answer is that I will be able to determine what is best. That is the point of growing – to become able to discern the best. The best for my church, the best for my family, the best for my country? What? Well, I may need to do some growing before I see where God will have me use my gift of seeing good choices and good strategies and wise words. This is huge. This is not the sort of prayer I pray once and move on. I may need to dwell in this prayer for a few days.
The prayer continues. I want to know what is best and make the best decisions because I want to be ready for Christ’s return. It is like the story Jesus told about people being ready for the return of their master. He wanted to find them busy about the work he had given them, not dawdling and napping and taking advantage of each other. Or the one about the foolish maidens who failed to have oil to light their lamps when the bridegroom arrived. When I know what is best and do what is best, then I will be busy about the work Christ wants me to do. I will be ready for him to appear at any time. He will be pleased with me, and I certainly want that.
The prayer concludes. It isn’t really all about me. The point of it all is a harvest of righteousness that points people to God. If I am doing what Christ calls me to do, I will inspire people to praise and glorify God. I can’t expect a Nobel Prize or a big appreciation dinner at church. I can expect what Paul received – stonings, beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck and curses. When God called Paul to do the work he was created for, God told Ananias to tell Paul that he would have to suffer for Christ. I feel confident that if I actually mature in faith and choose what is best and serve Christ to the glory of God, then I can expect suffering and sorrow along the way, too. It won’t all be victory parades.
So I need to live in this prayer. I need to examine what it means to have knowledge and discernment, two very different things. I need to learn how to grow up and become an adult servant of Christ, eating the meat of the word, having moved past milk and pablum.
Putting my own name into this prayer makes it personal, but amazingly, the prayer is less about me than most of my prayers. This prayer is not “I,” “me” “mine.” Rather it points me at all times to Christ and to the great commandments to love and serve God and to love and serve people.
Try putting your name into a prayer, and see where it leads your Bible study. As you meditate, I recommend you write down the things you discover. They may lead you to look up words and check out cross-references and commentaries, in other words, they may lead you to do some research. That is how you will grow in knowledge. Immersed in prayer is the very best way to research the Bible in order that your study opens your heart to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.