Transformed by the Weeping Prophet – how God used Jeremiah to change the way I pray

(by Paula, Eurasia)

When I was asked to try and write about my journey with the book of Jeremiah, I must admit to having some feelings of hesitation… it meant revisiting what for me was painful growth – even if it was a good struggle!

The book of Jeremiah accompanied me as I was trying to work through some difficult family memories and intergenerational hurt. Jeremiah’s call and life were of course different to my own, but Jeremiah’s story, and in particular his relationship with God over several decades, called me to deeper discipleship as I met with the Living God in these ‘texts of disaster’.

Jeremiah was called in youth and weakness to preach to rebellious Israel. He endured what looked like fruitless ministry as well as loneliness, imprisonment and mockery. Despite the personal toll, Jeremiah kept going: in relationship with God, loving his own people (while tearing his hair out!) and serving the God of hope even when he could not see how salvation could come.

How do you speak to God when the usual frameworks of familiarity and survival are opened up, pulled apart and shown to be no more than straw? What words can you reach for when you hit those moments of despair?

Jeremiah’s poetic descriptions of God (eg 2:13, 2:32, 18:6, 50:44) and his colourful, unrestrained, honest, even rude, complaints to God (his ‘confessions’ throughout chapters 11-20) were like a can opener – opening me up to my own pain and enabling me in raw honesty to bring my own experience to God in words I had not dared to pray before. Perhaps my British reserve had held me back, or maybe I hadn’t really wanted to deal with some of those deep struggles that God loves to redeem?

I needed to learn the language of lament – beyond praise and petition, to engage with God in the reality of pain and struggle. I needed the reassurance that the God I meet in Jeremiah – robust and unthreatened by the fist-waving of His people – is the same God who brought hope and transformation to His people in Christ. I began to call on God to be to me who He says He is.

The bitterness of Jeremiah’s experience with his people, and his struggle with, not against, God, taught me to grieve past wrongs in my family. I was able to mourn what was lost and allow myself to feel sorrow over injustice – not allowing the old order of things to continue, at least not in my own heart. The book of Jeremiah shows us that as believers, we call on a God who is able to transform the hearts of people; the Living God can bring newness out of nothingness, repentance out of rebellion, right living after regret.

Books for further reading:
Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile.
Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best.

“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

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

My life is God’s project

(written by Daniel Bourdanné, IFES General Secretary)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me
were written in your book before one of them came to be
.”
Psalm 139:13-16

BildDanielkleinIn 1982, I was a student at the University of Lomé in Togo. The course was very hard (only 7 or 8% of students succeeded in passing the end-of-year exams). For me, it was also a time of personal crisis: What should I do with my life? What was the purpose of my life? I had grand dreams. One of my dreams was to become a professor and be appointed to a chair by the time I was 32. But my “grand dreams” had been disrupted by the civil war in my country. I had spent two years without going to school. Even once I started studying again, I was still struggling with the question: “Why did God allow my studies to be disrupted?”. Actually, despite my faith in God, my future plans had always been centred on myself.

One day, I received a message from a sister and friend. We were both members of the CU. We used to share and pray together from time to time. That day, she wrote me a letter to encourage me. It contained these words from Psalm 139.

I had obviously read this passage before. But, that day, the words took on a new meaning for me. As I read these verses, I felt at first as if I was frozen to the spot, unable to move, just as if I had made an important discovery. A river of sense, understanding and meaning was at last pouring out from this passage. It was an overwhelming revelation for me and was to change the course and meaning of my life. At last! God had enlightened me, had opened the eyes of my heart to the real meaning of my life.

I am neither the product of natural chance nor the expression of life’s vanity. So much more! I am particularly loved by God, by the infinite God. As I am created in his image, I reflect his beauty, despite the ugliness the traces of sin’s bites have left upon me. My life is God’s project. It is also a great and good project in God’s eyes, even if I had not been fully aware of it until then. For I was making my own plans; I was dreaming of becoming someone important without really taking God into account in my plans.

This passage was also a clear and specific invitation made to me by God to place myself entirely at his service. If God knows me so thoroughly, if my life is his project, is he not the best guide for my present and my future, which he unfolds? I felt it was a passage of calling and consecration to God.

This passage is still a source of encouragement for me today. When faced with the choices of life, this passage reminds me that I need to turn my eyes to my creator to be guided into the right path. He is the one who unfolds our lives.  This passage from the Psalms surrounds me again and again. May God be praised for his living and life-giving word.

Daniel Bourdanné, daniel.bourdanne(at)ifesworld.org

A Journey with the Lord’s Prayer

(written by Savithri Sumanthiran, Regional Secretary for South Asia)

“பரலோகத்தில் இருக்கிற எங்கள் பிதாவே” was the first Christian prayer I ever learned. I don’t know whether my memory serves me right, but as I recall, I learned the Lord’s prayer first in Tamil from a Lady Bird Book! From then on The Lord’s Prayer has been one of my favourite scriptures.

Shaping a relationship of intimacy with God…

In my early years, this prayer established a routine of prayer for me – no questions asked of it, no answers demanded from it. A a child, I simply prayed it. As I grew up, this prayer became the mainstay of my prayer life: the place where I have conversations and arguments with God; the platform from which I can pray during times when God seems distant and prayer impossible.

Shaping of character in the presence of God…

In my teens, I grappled for the first time with a phrase in this prayer; I had experienced hurts at a personal level, culminating in being confronted by a world that suddenly was no longer safe. I struggled to understand what it means to pray “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” – What did ‘debts’ mean? Who is the ‘us’ in this prayer? Was I to learn to forgive only those who are fellow Christians or was I to forgive the “other” who did violence to me and my community as well? I began the journey of learning what it means to forgive by taking the first steps. And I started to learn the freedom of self-talk that is able to say to myself: “I was wrong; I need to say ‘I am sorry, please forgive me.” And to enter into the scary process of meeting the person I offended or was offended by. This journey continues.

Shaping of a world-view in the presence of God…

Just a little older, praying this prayer introduced me to the idea that somehow Jesus is telling us to want His Kingdom to come, His will to be done – not at some future place but on earth. Until this time, I had internalized this phrase to mean that Jesus desires holiness in my personal life. Another journey of understanding Jesus and His mission began for me! Right now, I am trying to come to terms with why this prayer is all in the plural – “Our” Father, Give “us” this day our daily bread; Forgive “us” our trespasses …; Lead “us” not into temptation; Deliver “us” from evil…

Matthew 6: 9 – 13

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

SavithriThis Scripture for me:

  • is my safe space – a place to be open and intimate before the Lord;
  • is my discomfort space – a place to bring my real world questions and challenges
  • is my learning theology space – a place which invites me to enter the world of Jesus; to have conversations with fellow believers; to read what others have written.

Savithri Sumanthiran, Savithri.Sumanthiran(at)ifesworld.org

A Word of Encouragement

(Written by Martin Haizmann, IFES Associate General Secretary)

 “…  but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

A word from God to his people in history
For around 50 years, the Israelites have been in Babylonian exile. They were conquered and deported, losing everything: the land, the temple…. And now God announces through his prophet: I will take action and lead you out of captivity! But the message earns skepticism: Is our God able to rescue us – have not the Babylonian gods proved to be more powerful? And if he can, is he even interested in helping us? Why did he not intervene when the Babylonians conquered us? After everything we have experienced, does he truly care about us (see v. 27!)?

Isaiah 40 is a powerful plea for God: Yes, HE can! And – equally important, Yes, HE deeply and truly cares about his people. God invites them to persevere and keep trusting. As he cares for their daily bread, he promises to provide them with the daily portion of strength which they need to face life – so that they do not lose hope and do not lose heart.

A word from God for my personal journey
Throughout my life, God has spoken to me again and again through this word from Isa 40:31 – often in unexpected ways. I was given this verse at my confirmation when I was 14. From then on, this verse has been like a red thread which God has woven into my life – showing me that my life does not just depend on my own plans and decisions, on my achievements and failures. There is a God who is bigger than me. There is a story line which he writes into my life!

Just two examples:
_I submitted my final thesis in engineering after working on it for a full year. I was about to marry and then start working with SMD Germany a few weeks later. But my supervisor wrote to say: “You made a mistake… you will have to re-write huge parts of the thesis.” I was devastated. That night I attended the meeting of our student group. It closed with a devotion on Isa 40:31. I heard it as God’s personal word to me, as his invitation to keep trusting. His word assured me: I will not let you down.  A few days later I was able to prove that I had not made a mistake – my supervisor had. So I was happily able to celebrate my wedding and start serving with SMD.

_After five years on staff, I was asked to become the national coordinator for SMD student ministries. A daunting challenge! I was the youngest in the staff team, it would mean moving my family to an unfamiliar part of Germany, often leaving the family in order to travel, and taking the risk of never being able to enter into my job as an engineer. There were so many questions and concerns; it was difficult to find out if this was God’s plan and calling for us. With “fear and trembling,” we said yes. Right after being interviewed by the board of SMD, I was offered a five-year contract – and then a Bible exposition followed: on Isaiah 40:31. Again God was assuring me that above and beyond all of my own thoughts, HE is leading me in HIS ways.

Martin Haizmann, Martin.haizmann(at)ifesworld.org

A New Perspective on Scripture Engagement

My experience of Scripture is related to the Christian context of my country. In some churches, we are constantly being taught that we are forgiven sinners and that we therefore have a debt towards God. As a result of seeing God in this way, I understood his Word from that point of view. At that time, I felt drawn to the Bible, but it had a crippling effect as my behavior was motivated by the fear of offending the One who died for me. I walked in fear.

All started to change during a retreat for multipliers of Scripture engagement. As I was listening to the various expositions on John’s Gospel, I was struck by the real and tangible relationship that was depicted. That experience helped me realize that in reality, the Jesus of the Bible is truly alive today, as he was when he walked this earth. Since then, my prayer has been the same as Paul’s, when he says that his only goal is to know Christ (Philippians 3: 7-14).

Last April, the UGBB (Union of Biblical Groups of Burundi) held a retreat on Scripture engagement, with approximately 70 participants. The goal was to reconsider the way we study the Bible, but also to invite into a relational perspective on Scripture engagement. From the first day, we noticed that when the students studied the Bible, they were used to answering a list of questions – for many of them, a Bible study was mostly an exercise in finding the right answers. So they didn’t know what to do when they found themselves in front of a text for an hour and a half, without any questions.

BurundiretraitekleinHowever, that challenge was an opportunity to introduce them to a new perspective on Scripture engagement. After showing the participants a short video comparing meditation of the Word to eating, we invited them to meet and discover the person of Jesus Christ through his Word. To help them, we presented a biblical exposition on the same text they had found hard to understand during their personal time of reflection.

At the end of the retreat, the testimonies were moving: some students wrote letters as a response to how Jesus had met them, others repented of not trusting the Lord with their daily life, etc.

We want to continue helping students develop their relationship with the Lord through his Word. We ask the Lord to give us a good strategy to enable students to love, study, live and share his Word.

Roland CUBAHIRO, member of GBU Burundi staff
bukuja(at)gmail.com

Surprised by Jesus

I used to believe that the Bible is an old book that nobody reads. But then in October 2012, I met José, a Christian graduate who became a good friend. One day we started talking about the Bible. For me, this was a very sensitive topic. I thought that you had to avoid talking about politics and religion if you want to have a good relationship with others.

Then José invited me to a COMPA Bible study. I came away with more questions and doubts than before. José had given me a Bible, but I did not know how to read it. So, I asked him to teach me. He agreed and in the following week, we had our first official Bible study.

The approach which COMPA Mexico used to study the Bible was similar to the study technique which I used in science. This attracted me. I was surprised to realize that it is possible to take a rational approach to the Bible.

I was even more surprised by the person of Jesus. I discovered a new face of Jesus; I met a different Jesus. Previously, I thought that Jesus was one of many smart people in the history of our world – the smartest in his time. But I did not know that he has a big heart full of love. I used to think that Jesus was just a human being, but discovered that he is God.

BiblestudyMexicoReading John 1 was particularly significant for me. When I first read this passage, I was very confused: How can Jesus be God? How can he be both a person like me and fully God? These questions made me want to investigate more.

As I got to know Jesus better through other biblical stories, I started to understand. My vision of the world changed and I started to believe in a personal God. I became aware of my sin and the darkness in me. And what is most important: I met the love of God through the grace and hope which he gives us in Jesus.

I’m a scientific person. I want to be sure of something before I believe in it. If somebody had shown me a miracle, I don’t think that I would have believed. But I love to read; I love words. Jesus came into my life through his Word. I discovered that all the evidence necessary to believe in Jesus is there in the Bible, the Word of God. Early 2014, I started a Bible study group in my own school (see picture).

Sara Medina, student of chemistry and physics in Mexico
(sara.medinagom (at) gmail.com)

God’s Word in My Life

This is a very concrete and practical suggestion, encouraging you to reflect on your story with God’s Word.

Draw the story of the Bible’s role in your life
The following questions can help you decide what to include in a drawing. Focus on those things which are most relevant to your story. Your drawing can be a simple timeline with comments written on it or something much more creative.

  • With what view of the Bible did you grow up? (This may well be related to the image of God with which you grew up.)
  • How did your relationship to the Bible change over the course of your life?
    • How did love for God’s Word grow in your life?
    • How did you learn to study and obey God’s Word?
  • Which people and/or experiences had a significant influence on the way you see and handle God’s Word?
  • Which Bible passages had a strong impact on your life?

You can do this on your own. You will benefit from it more if you then meet in a small group to share some aspects of your story with one another.

What is the value of doing this?

Remembering is one way of cultivating thankfulness. We can praise God for his revelation and its impact on our life. We can also praise God for the people who invested into us, helping us to love, understand, and live God’s Word.

The positive example of those who shaped our approach to God’s Word can inspire us to look for people in whom we can now invest. How can we pass on to others what we received?

Remembering can also be painful. Maybe you need to relook at some negative thoughts and feelings towards God’s Word which shape your story until today. Maybe you will realize that you hardly know the content of the Bible or never learned to trust God’s Word. With whom can you talk and pray about these things? Honestly looking at our struggles and weaknesses can help us see the next step of growth more clearly.

As we remember specific Bible passages which had a strong impact on our lives, we are encouraged to keep going in our walk with Jesus. Maybe we are reminded of certain gospel truths, promises or commands which were meaningful for our journey. Reflecting on how God met us in the past through Scripture strengthens our motivation to keep engaging with him through his Word.

Sabine Kalthoff