Praying the Word

This is not an article; it is an invitation to pray…

An invitation to personal prayer
In a period of my life that was marked by many struggles, questions, and uncertainties, Psalms 42-43 became very precious to me. These psalms (closely linked through a recurring chorus) helped me to pray both my questions and my trust.

Read Psalms 42-43 slowly and prayerfully.

Reread the passage. What resonates with you and your life? Stay with those verses. Let them guide you into your own prayer. Some examples:

_v. 2 “my soul thirsts for God, for the living God” – a deep appetite for God runs through this Psalm. What is it you are seeking? How thirsty are you and how can you pray your thirst for God?

_v. 9 “I say to God, my Rock, why have you forgotten me?” – what a confession of faith right next to a hard question! The Psalmist confesses that God is his Rock, the foundation of his life. At the same time, he prays his questions and cries out his pain. Who is God for you? How can you pray the tension between your faith and your questions?
And so on…

You might want to close by writing out one verse from this prayer that particularly resonates with you. Let these words from Scripture become your prayer in the weeks and months to come.

An invitation to communal prayer
Recently, the programme team for World Assembly 2019 met to continue planning the conference. One of the Scripture passages with which we will engage at World Assembly is from Acts 4: a prayer spoken by the early church in the face of threats and pressure. Martin Haizmann, the conference director, led us in a time of prayer for World Assembly as described below. It was a rich experience. I invite you to let this prayer lead you in a communal time of prayer for the student ministry in your context.

Read Acts 4:23-31 aloud. Leave a time of silence for everyone to reread the passage. Then enter into a time of communal prayer inspired by this prayer from Scripture.

Reread Acts 4:23-31. In a time of silent reflection everyone is asked to make notes of how – in light of this scriptural prayer – they want to pray for student ministry in your specific context. It is also possible to put up posters on which to write these prayer requests so that they are visible for everyone. Have another time of communal prayer in which you bring these prayer requests to God.

Praying the Word. Not only prayers from Scripture, but all of the Bible invites us to pray. As we read and study God’s Word, we are invited to respond in prayer – to respond by praying our awe and praise, our questions, our pain, our commitments, our confession… God’s Word invites us into an honest conversation with the Living God.

Sabine Kalthoff
IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement

Reflections on Scripture Engagement in Prayer

“Blessed are those who keep his statutes, and seek him with all their heart” (Psalm 119:2). Scripture invites us to ‘seek him’ and by doing so invites us to pray – since this is the essence of prayer.

Many years ago, someone remarked that we should “Pray the Word”. Agreeing with what God has already said regarding issues that I prayed about (choices, fears, finances and so on) made sense to me. As I reflected on how praying has evolved within my environment, this statement came to mind again. Many people seem to have developed a new prayer language and posture. Certain words seem more powerful than others and walking around, claiming ground and casting out the devil have become the focus of prayer. Is praying the Word an imperative or a mere suggestion?

Christians often define prayer as communication with God, suggesting that not only do we speak to God, but that God also speaks to us. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bible as God’s Word has great relevance for this communication.

As we examine Scripture, we become more aware of God and can respond to him according to his revelation. It is through the Word that we get to know God and can answer with praise, love and trust. As this relationship grows, a meaningful friendship is established and we increasingly get to know the heart of the One to whom we pray. This helps us to pray with confidence according to God’s will. As we enter into conversation with God, we can enter into his desires for us, and see more clearly how we fit into his plan.

As a young believer in my early teens, I wrestled with the question of how I fit into God’s plan. In my prayers, I asked God what gift he had given me. I remember saying that all I do is help – assisting with Sunday school, sporting activities, singing and other areas of church life. It was through Bible study that I realized: being a helper was actually me using my gift! I was overjoyed. Since then, I have often experienced how during times of prayer, God gave me assurance by guiding me to Scriptures.

There are many ways in which God’s Word can shape our prayers: inviting us to seek God, deepening our relationship with God, guiding us in the content of our prayers, revealing sin so that we can deal with it and clear the communication channel to God, clarifying our thoughts, giving direction, revealing truth…

There is no doubt that engaging with the Word enables prayer and that praying provokes us to turn to the Scriptures.

Cheryl Jessemy, ceejessemy@gmail.com
staff worker with ISCF, Grenada and regional prayer coordinator for the Caribbean

“I am a servant of the light that never goes out”

David Bahena’s piligrimage with God’s Word


I became a Christian when I was 16 and my life was turned around – I experienced joy and suddenly had a purpose in life. At the same time, I was hungry for reading the Bible and my journey with Scripture began then and there.

At COMPA (IFES movement in Mexico), I learnt how to study, share and contextualise God’s Word. I belong to a generation who grew up studying the Bible inductively and taking part in workshops with Ada Lum. Samuel Escobar, in “Así leo la Biblia”, describes it like this: “learning to observe the text with clarity, interpreting its message and applying it to our personal lives.” Then came the time to share the Word with my fellow university students. It was such a joy to see my friends meeting Jesus in these small groups and being transformed by God’s Word. Also, because of our reality in Latin America, we were taught how to apply it to our context. It is relevant to the academic world, and to our country’s social, political and financial reality.

After serving as student staff we went through a time of spiritual dryness and renewal. As the staff had to prepare so many workshops, sermons and Bible studies, we were risking turning the Bible into a mere work tool. We read and studied God’s Word but we weren’t feeling passionate about it anymore. So much so that after serving for three years as General Secretary, I confessed to Douglas Stewart that I didn’t feel like reading the Bible or praying, and that I didn’t understand what was happening to me. God opened a new spiritual path of renewal centred on his Word. This new way of approaching Scripture included meditation, prayer and retreat. It was a time of learning how to pray with God’s Word and in the Spirit, and I was gradually transformed and renewed.

My calling in life has also been shaped by Scripture. In summer 2003, at Cedar Campus, whilst God was restoring our marriage, we were invited to cultivate the kind of spirituality that is humble, rooted in the Bible and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:18-21). Years later, God rebuilt my sense of identity, helped me to see that I was much more than just a member of staff and invited me home to cultivate the kind of spirituality that makes you a better parent, friend and citizen (John 4:46-54). Once again, last year in Pasadena, God renewed us and gave us rest, and we were invited to cultivate the kind of spirituality that flourishes through adversity and the desert (1 Peter 1:3-5). God is calling us to work alongside a generation of emerging leaders, to facilitate an encounter with the Lord that is Bible-centred, modelling humble and transparent leadership, strengthening basic relationships in life and the family, and persevering even through adversity.

David Bahena
David serves in IFES as Regional Secretary for Latin America

“Having my ears opened”

“Be still, and know that I am God….” (Psalm 46:10)
“By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me….” (Psalm 42:8)

Hearing the Word. Hearing my life. Hearing God’s still small voice!
Much of life is an experience of living with cramped-ness. Many experiences whizz past us – the people we have met, the ministry we do, and the life that happens to us.

2017 was such a year for me… taking many flights to the movements in my region; giving numerous Bible expositions and sermons; listening to many people as they went through tough pilgrimages; 4 deaths – one of my own dear mom, another my campus room-mate & 2 colleagues in East Asia; taking on the role of IFES Regional Secretary, East Asia.

Cramped, unexamined lives begin to leak out impatience, weariness, anger, bitterness and self-pity. I could not stop any of these experiences of life and ministry. But for sanity’s sake, I found the still, small voice of my Lord calling me away… to solitude! I managed seven spiritual retreats in 2017 (some of which I both facilitated and participated in). Two of them were for 3 days; four of them were merely 3 hour retreats; one was for 4 days.

In the facilitated retreat, small portions of Scripture were given to chew on and listen to [Psalm 42; 1 Corinthians 4:7-16; Exodus 19:1-6; Joshua 3]. As I waited with these passages… the space I created in waiting with the Word began to speak to me. I was ‘hearing’ the Word watering my life. I began to also ‘hear’ my life – the grief I had accumulated, the questions that were arising. The greatest gift was ‘hearing’ God, who had been there through it all. He began to impress His promises and His healing in a new way.

After each of these ‘retreats’, I came back with a fresh mandate! A clearer calling of how to proceed. For me, these retreating times are not an option, but an oasis where I can drink deeply and make space for life. So, I know for myself, 2017 was a year of ‘hard knocks & tough schooling’, yet it was the year I am certain ‘he carried me on eagle’s wings & sang his song over me by night.’

So, how do I go away on my retreats?

  • I bring the issues / concerns / experiences in my life that I want to examine.
  • I ask the Lord to nudge me to a Scripture passage to hang out with.
  • I pour out my heart, and wait & listen.
  • I listen to His Word, His voice & listen to my life. I listen as I walk, or as I sit, listening to nature, images or words that He brings to my heart and mind.
  • In listening, I respond from where I am. Conversations with God.
  • All these go into my journal, which acts as my back-up listening tool!

Happy retreating, dear friend!

Annette Arulrajah
IFES Regional Secretary for East Asia

Becoming a Listening Community

For the past few years I’ve had the privilege of investing in leaders through the Young Staff Network. This is a network of new staff serving with IFES in Europe. Our aim is to be a community that enables staff to grow and lay good foundations at the beginning of their ministry. This time last year I was challenged to think about what it might mean for this learning community to be a listening community — a community that is being transformed by the Word. This touched on a feeling I already had: we spend a lot of our time teaching the Word to others, but I wasn’t so sure whether our own personal engagement with the Word had the same high priority.

So we set a challenge for our young staff. We asked them to soak in Peter’s story over a period of 6 months. This involved reading Mark, Acts and 1 Peter as well as completing some exercises both individually and together with others. We wanted them to look at how God formed Peter as a leader, and through that to reflect on how God is forming them.

At the end of this challenge we met together to reflect and share about the experience. This meeting was both discouraging and encouraging.

It was discouraging because it confirmed that personally engaging with God’s Word is not very high on our agenda. There were exceptions, but most of the staff had struggled to make time for this. They were so busy doing that taking time to soak in God’s Word seemed like a luxury they couldn’t afford. I don’t think they are unique in this struggle. There is the temptation for all of us to focus on what we do, on the aspects of our ministry which others see. Then we start to neglect our need to have our own hearts and minds constantly renewed and transformed by God’s Word. This is an incredibly dangerous place to be in.

But this experience also showed me something else: when we do give time to listen to the Word together in community, God speaks and his Word transforms. As we reflected together on what we had learned, there was one common theme: God is patient in how he develops leaders. As we reflected on Peter’s failure, we saw again: it is not our competency that enables God to use us, but rather it is his grace.

Just like Peter, we are prone to failure – as our lack of engagement with God’s Word shows. But God is just as patient with us; he is just as willing to offer us grace. God longs to speak to us, so let’s keep listening.

Heledd Job
Heledd is from Wales, living in Italy. She is part of the IFES  Europe Leadership Development team,primarily responsible for co-ordinating the Young Staff Network.

My Psalm: “I’ve Read the Book”

Guinea, July 2017. We were given training in Scripture Engagement. After thinking about our motivations and convictions about God’s Word, each participant wrote their own psalm. After writing for 30 minutes, we gathered back together and each person read out their psalm. It was a powerful time of worshipping God. When we had listened to all the psalms, we shared our experience. Here are some of our reactions: “I was led into a spirit of prayer.” “As each person was reading theirs, I wished it would never end.” “It was like being in direct contact with God.”

Read one of these psalms, written by Axel Aurenche Gbelia, a student from the Ivory Coast:

I’ve read many books
I’ve been civilised
I’ve read many books
I even try to be wise

But I’ve read the Book
God’s handicraft, his work of art
His own album, His manuscript
Transcending prehistory into the future

I’ve read the Book
That heavenly writing, heavenly design
The story of God relating to man
And of men and women experiencing God

I’ve read the Book
I know now where I am from
Who God says that I am
Who I am, where I am going

I’ve read the Book
God’s brochure, His paper
My deserts are flowering again
My tears turn to laughter

I’ve read the Book
God’s decree and sculpture
I can cry for joy
And even laugh in adversity

I know who He is
God of letters, the one glossator
Historian of the ages, supreme author

I’ve read the Book
I’ve read His Book
Beyond training
Beyond education
Beyond teaching
Beyond conviction
I am changed for life.

Empowering students to study the Word

Listen to the testimony of one of the student participants in the FCSI Israel Bible Study Conference:
“Last year, I faced the most difficult circumstance in my life – the loss of my mother after a long battle with cancer. She was my best friend, my role model, my source of support and the greatest blessing God has ever given to me. I could not imagine my life without her. When I went to the conference, she had stopped responding to treatments and her condition was deteriorating very fast. At this Bible study conference, we studied the story of Jesus calming the storm; through it, Jesus met my paralyzing fears, sorrow, and brokenness and calmed the raging storms within me. His strong presence and overwhelming peace embraced me, carried me above this crushing situation and helped me overcome what seemed to me insurmountable.”
Our vision for the Mark Manuscript Bible Study Conference started in 2014; we wanted to see students who are both passionate about the Word and who know how to study and engage the Scriptures. We wanted students to meet Jesus through his Word and be transformed from within. Yet, the reality showed that our students were lacking the tools to study the Bible as individuals and with one another. So our desire was to offer them a study method which can help them feel comfortable studying the Bible with their friends and within their student groups. We believed that through this our students would also have the courage to start inviting their non-Christian friends to study the bible with them, offering them the chance to meet Jesus in his Word.

As we look back at these beginnings, we are filled with gratitude and joy to see God’s vision for the Christian students in Israel unfold. When we first invited students to meet Jesus through the book of Mark at this conference, less than 20 students committed to joining us. This year we had the third consecutive annual conference – for the first time, we had 110 participants altogether! Students have been sharing how this conference has shaped their faith and given them new eyes to see Scripture. More and more students are reading the Bible, leading to noticeable change in their personal lives.

Our prayer is to see the love of the Scripture and the passion we are witnessing among our students influencing the body of Christ in Israel.

Rasha Saba, rasha@fcsi.ws
Arab students’ ministry and training coordinator FCSI Israel

Invited into God’s Mission

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (…)
(…) As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
John 17:18; 20:21

These two small verses changed my life. It happened when I joined the student group of ABUB Brazil on my first day at the University of Sao Paulo. I had just started to study Agronomic Engineering.

I was already a Christian believer. Actually, it was my privilege to grow up in a family whose faith gave me love for the Lord through the Scriptures. During all my childhood and adolescent years, I remember well the family tradition of reading the Bible and praying together before going to bed. My dad was a pastor for more than fifty years; as soon as I was able to read, he would ask me to read the Bible in the frequent pastoral visits he did to so many families.

Yet going to university in another city, away from my family, when I was only 17 confronted me with some big challenges. In this situation, the student group of ABUB Brazil became the place where my faith grew and connected to mission, particularly to God’s mission in my context. Together with my Christian brothers and sisters, I grew in the love of our Lord.

Slowly, but continuously, three key truths began to grow and take root in my life. Firstly, God is the origin of our mission; it is his mission in the first place and a great privilege for us to participate in it. It somehow touched me deeply to understand that first Jesus was sent into the world and then he sent us, giving us his own mission as a model. Secondly, that in order to understand what God wants from us, we need to enter more deeply into a personal and saving encounter with Jesus through the Scriptures. Thirdly, that obedience to God’s call means being sent by him to fully connect with the world around us, with our own context, with the people and the challenges we face in our reality.

God is the centre and origin of mission. Jesus is both our Saviour and the paradigm for us in mission – modelling for us a mission that connects deeply with the people and the context around us. These small, yet deep lessons have been an important part of my life and obedience in mission throughout these years.

Ricardo Borges, Ricardo.Borges(at)ifesworld.org
Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement

Scripture Engagement: A plant nursery for trainers

Over the last three years, I have participated in a continuous Scripture Engagement training. The idea behind this training was to invest in young people who would in turn invest long-term in others. The aim was not to establish a specific programme for Scripture Engagement, but rather to train men and women who would translate what they learned into their own contexts.

Ten of us, from different French-speaking countries in Africa, took part in this training. The training happened over three sessions from 2015 to 2017, in Togo, Guinea-Conakry and Mali respectively; these sessions were key in enabling us to grasp the concept of Scripture Engagement and to improve how we approach the Bible. In between sessions, we had homework to do, such as studying the Gospel of John, reading a theological book, writing Bible studies, surveying students about how they perceive the Bible.

For me, one of the most important topics dealt with the convictions we have about God’s Word. I realized: Firstly, this topic allows us to relook at what we state about God’s Word and ensure that our beliefs are not simply abstract statements but alive with meaning. Secondly, it enables us to lay good foundations for engaging with God through His Word. I think it is essential for everyone to have strong convictions about God’s Word. Then we wouldn’t constantly have to chase people to ask if they are meditating every day, because they would be doing it anyway.

These training sessions impacted my ministry and my life. In terms of ministry, I have improved in how I ask questions when writing Bible study guides, I have set up a support group for my ministry (for financial, material and spiritual needs) and I have started to invest into a youth group. With this youth group, I am soon planning to survey students to find out how we can introduce them to God in the light of Scripture.

In my personal life, my way of engaging with God through his Word has changed. I now always try to establish a bridge between my biblical knowledge and my everyday life. And I have set myself the challenge of always sharing my discoveries in God’s Word with others whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Salimou Traoré,
high school teacher and leader of the Bible study department in GBEE Mali, trasa_86(at)yahoo.fr

Healthy Cooking

Introduction to a different kind of recipe book written by the global Scripture Engagement team

BildkochenkleinIn our student movements, we are committed to training our staff and students in Scripture engagement. How do we decide on the content of our formación events? What ingredients are needed in order to prepare a nutritious and tasteful dish?

The answer to this question will depend on the context and on the specific target group. For example, the dish we prepare will be different for students than for staff. The answer to this question will also depend on our overall vision. What do we want to see as the result of the totality of our formación in Scripture engagement? And what does this then mean for individual training events?

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19, NIV) “Until Christ is formed in you…” – a beautiful expression of what is on Paul’s heart for these churches!

What do you want to see as the result of the totality of your formación in Scripture engagement? Take a moment to put your vision into words. Please think specifically in terms of your target group.

My impression is that we often focus on only some of the ingredients needed to attain the overall vision while neglecting others. Sometimes…

  • We teach Bible study methods, but fail to address the expectations and attitude with which our staff and students approach God’s Word;
  • We train how to build and run Bible study groups, but fail to stop and reflect on what is actually happening in these groups;
  • We talk a lot about the Bible, but spend a disproportionately small amount of time listening to God’s Word and allowing it to speak to us. At many training events, the morning starts with a Bible study or Bible exposition, but then there is hardly any time to digest what was heard, to soak in the Word, to meet Jesus.

The global Scripture Engagement team of IFES has written a cooking help for you. This new resource does not propose a standard curriculum. Instead it seeks to help us plan carefully what we include in our training programmes.

Scripture engagement formación – a resource for planning and developing training programmes: You can download this material here.

Sabine Kalthoff
IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement