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

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.

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