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 Targum for Today

(written by: Yohan Abeynaike, General Secretary FOCUS Sri Lanka)

After a few generations in exile, the Jewish leaders faced a serious problem. Hebrew was being replaced by Aramaic as the common language of the people. With the change of language and context the leaders wondered how to communicate the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures to the next generation in a manner that was easily understood. This was the beginnings of the Targum.

SriLankasmallInitially, the Targum consisted of a simple paraphrase of the Scriptures in Aramaic. Later, it started to include explanations and expansions of the text so that the listeners could clearly see the relevance of the Scriptures in their context. In December, members of FOCUS Sri Lanka, decided to try their hand in writing a Targum using Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). We began by dividing the song by phrases and then developed each phrase more broadly in the explanation to achieve different aims. Here are a few examples of the aims we sought to achieve:

1. Understanding the conflicting thoughts and feelings of Mary and seeing her through modern eyes. (Lk 1:48-49)

“I cannot believe it! Thousands of Jewish women throughout history have wanted to be in this position. In the years to come people from everywhere will read and hear about my story. They will play my part in dramas and movies, they will preach sermons about me, they will sing songs about me. So many would wish they were me… but who am I? I am nothing…

…But, I am scared sometimes. I don’t know what the future holds for me. What will my relatives say about the pregnancy? What will the neighbours say? Will they mock me, ignore me or stone me?”

2. Applying the implications of a text broadly. (Lk 1:51)

God laughs at the boastful claims of the knowledge producers in our society. Can the scientist uncover all the mysteries of life? Can the economist satisfy all the people’s needs? Can the lawyer make a society more moral? Isn’t the claim that ‘all truth is relative’ – an absolute claim in itself? Why are they puffed up? Don’t they know that human knowledge will always be limited? It is only God who knows all things.

3. Using phrases and situations familiar to people today. (Lk 1:52)

All that is hidden will be exposed. He is the divine Wikileaks. The dark web will be lit up. The hate speech and tweets will be silenced.

The full text of our Targum for the Sri Lankan context can be found here.

The whole process was creative and fun. More importantly, it helped us to see and apply the text in fresher ways. Why not try it?

Yohan Abeynaike, yohan(at)focus.lk

Being Formed Through the Psalms

The Psalms Project started in October 2010 as a seven-year journey. Those participating meditate on twenty-one Psalms each year and memorize at least a few of them. The aim is for the psalms to transform one’s worship, prayers and understanding of Jesus. As part of this journey, those involved share brief meditations each month on what God is teaching them. Each year, they also read one book on the Psalms. In the first years, these have been:

  • The Psalms, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer;
  • The Conquest of the Inner Space: Learning the Language of Prayer, by Sunder Krishnan;
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson (on the Psalms of Ascent: 120-134).

Polina, a staff worker from Central Asia, participates in this journey. When asked about her experience, she shared:

The Psalms Project is a great opportunity for me personally to have a clear Bible reading plan and to be accountable. This project keeps me focused on the Word of God and on God Himself. Memorizing helps me develop discipline in organizing my time and thoughts and to know God’s Word without looking at the Bible. Moreover, every psalm I’ve memorized led to discussions with students and friends that have strengthened their focus on Scripture. Better than any other book, the Psalms describe spiritual life and experiences happening inside a believer. Due to the great variety of psalms (psalms of praise, sorrow, etc.) they can be read anytime and be suitable. The Psalms help shape my prayer as I go deeper into them. All these reasons keep me motivated to go on.

I sometimes struggle with my own laziness, usually not in reading, but in writing my meditations. However, thanks to the clarity of the schedule and the monthly reminders, I have managed to keep going. Exchanging meditations with the other participants is a valuable part of this project. The meditations we send to one another usually reflect our personal understanding of a psalm, something that struck us most or an experience of ours which connects with the psalm.

Tim Berends, IFES staff in Central Asia, facilitates this online spiritual formation opportunity. If you would like to join in this international journey or would like more information, please write an email using the contact form of this website.

Learning to Pray

The Bible not only teaches us that prayer is important, but also how to pray. As we enter into the prayers passed down to us in Scripture, we learn to pray.

One thing which fascinates me about the psalm-prayers is how all of life is taken up in prayer: the bright and the dark sides of life, joy and pain, love and hate. A beautiful psalm of trust follows right after a psalm of lament (e.g. Ps. 23 after 22). Doesn’t that reflect the reality of our walk with God? The psalm-prayers are not all nice and tidy – they express feelings such as anger (e.g. Ps. 137) or painful questions (e.g. Ps. 13). All of life has a place in these conversations with God. These prayers invite us to speak to God about everything, without first editing our thoughts or feelings.

Prayers from Scripture also invite us to pray with a wide perspective. So often, our prayers simply echo the thoughts and feelings which are in us. Biblical prayers help us to pray in light of God’s reality. The Lord’s Prayer encompasses God’s purposes for the whole world (Mt 6:9-13). The prayers of Paul have challenged my tendency to primarily pray for God to change difficult circumstances and solve all problems. Paul’s prayers go far beyond that as he prays for believers to grow in their knowledge of God, to bear fruit, to walk faithfully with God until Christ returns. (See Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 1:3-14).

Let me close with a few simple suggestions on how prayers from Scripture can help shape our communal praying:

  • Pray using prayers from the Bible. You can simply speak the words from Scripture together. Or you can pray a few lines from Scripture and let these words lead you into further prayers before continuing with the Biblical prayer. In this way, your prayers alternate between the words from Scripture and your own words of prayer.
  • Pray for one another using one of Paul’s prayers. Personalize the prayer by inserting the name of the person you are praying for.
  • Read a prayer from Scripture together. After a time of silent reflection and sharing allow this prayer to shape a communal time of prayer.

Similarly, you can let prayers from Scripture shape your personal prayer life. As we enter into these prayers, we will be learning how to pray.

Sabine Kalthoff

A Strange Conversation

Imagine a conversation in which one person shares their heart and mind without getting a reaction from the other person. That would be very strange. Yet, this is sometimes how we treat God.

If the Bible is God’s Word to us, then what is our answer? If this is what God says, then what do we say back to him? Scripture engagement involves hearing and responding to God’s Word. Sometimes our Bible studies seem to be primarily about collecting information. Each time, we add a bit more to our knowledge pool. That’s good, but it’s not an adequate response to the voice of the living God.

What is the response a certain passage of Scripture calls for?

This question is worth asking in every Bible study. It might be a deed of mercy, seeking reconciliation with someone or some other step of obedience and faith. Yet, not every passage of Scripture calls us to go and do something. The most appropriate response might be to worship and praise God for who he is or to receive his love and grace anew.

How can we help students respond to the Word of God with their lives?

Including a time of response in our Bible studies could be a first step. This goes beyond talking about possible applications of a Bible passage. Depending on the passage, a time of response might consist of worshipping God together, silent reflection, communal prayer, going and doing something as a group, etc. At the end of Bible studies, I’ve often experienced that prayer requests were shared which were all completely unrelated to the passage just studied. A strange conversation. This can be changed by introducing a time of prayer with the question: How can we pray for you in light of this Bible passage? As we pray God’s Word back to him, we are giving it room to shape us. God’s word will unfold its power in our lives as we give an answer – in word and deed. We are called to be not only hearers, but doers of the Word. As James says: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Scripture engagement is not complete until God’s Word is translated into life.

Sabine Kalthoff