Many lace knitting patterns (and cable patterns, for that matter) are much more easily expressed in chart form than they are in words. It takes many, many words or abbreviations to explain what can be shown in one small chart.
But lace knitting charts can be intimidating to people who've never used them before. The good news is that, just like everything else with knitting, a little education and practice will make it a lot easier to work from a lace chart.
First off, you'll want to make a copy of the chart you're working with if it's in a book or a pattern online (this isn't a copyright violation so long as you own the book or have purchased the pattern or found it for free online). This will make it easier to carry the instructions around, as well as making it simple to use your favored method of keeping track of where you are in a pattern.
Now you need to understand that you read a knitting chart from bottom to top, and from right to left on right-side rows and left to right on wrong-side rows. This makes sense when you consider that the chart is always showing you the right side of the work, so you have to work backwards to make the pattern line up properly on the right side.
The other key to understanding knitting lace from a chart is knowing what the symbols in the chart stand for. There are many common symbols used in lace charts, but you'll also find a key to the chart published with the chart so that you're sure to understand what the pattern is asking you to do.
In the sample chart pictured here, blank squares are knit on the right side and purled on the wrong side. Circles stand for yarn overs, and the left-leaning slashes are slip, slip, knits. If you think about it, all of this makes sense, because knit stitches are a smooth, blank canvas, yarn overs make holes and slip, slip, knits slant to the left.
To begin knitting, you start on row 1 and work from right to left. In this example that means you'll knit 1, then work a yarn over followed by an SSK all the way across until you knit the last stitch.
On the second row, you're on the wrong side of the work, so you'd read this row from left to right. In this case it doesn't matter because all the squares are blank, which on the wrong side means purl every stitch.
This is about as basic as chart knitting gets, but it illustrates that all lace knitting from charts is just a series of symbols that show you what to do instead of telling you in words.