For most of us in the African context, prayer and prayerfulness are an indispensable part of our spirituality. We pray, and we look to God for everything, from medical care to employment and bank loans. Nothing is left for granted or to chance because mostly our systems do fail us!
Prayerful as we are, some of our prayers are very much worrying. Their content is foreign to the language and the attitude of the Bible. The same can be said of the posture of our prayers and the people who pray them. The motivation is often fear and the desire to manipulate everything spiritual to our advantage.
Here are some of Paul’s prayers we looked at in a recent journey with staff of ESWAFES, the movement in Eswatini:
1) Paul thanking God for his people (e.g. Romans 1:8-10, 1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3-4, Colossians 1:3, etc).
2) Paul prayed for their wisdom and knowledge (e.g. Ephesians 1:17, Ephesians 1:18, Romans 15:13).
3) Paul asked people to pray for him (e.g. 2 Th 3:1-2, Phil 1:22) and a range of many other issues.
As we looked at Paul’s prayers in our studies, we saw a lot of both learning and unlearning to do. We need to unlearn a lot of practices with which prayer has become associated in our context, just like how in their context, the disciples needed pray differently to hypocrites and pagans (Matthew 6:5-8).
Here is some of the unlearning:
a) God is not an errand boy we send around as we wish through prayer.
b) Prayer is not a weapon we use to change God’s mind and do our bidding.
c) Prayer is bigger than our own self-centredness; it is not about us.
These were very difficult things to unlearn because they have been part of our prayer economy for as long as our salvation and that of our pioneers! Praise God there were a lot of vital lessons learnt from Paul’s prayers including the following:
(a) God’s priorities must become our priorities in prayer.
(b) God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men and his creation are the basis of our confidence in prayer.
(c) Submission to God’s rule is the ultimate motivation for a prayerful life.
As we think about prayer, I would like to invite all of us to look at some of the great prayers God’s people made in the Bible. Let us try to learn from them. Paul’s prayers are such a wonderful collection for Christians today!
Mukululi Ncube, ESWAFES Re-pioneering Staff and member of IFES Global Team on Scripture Engagement.
The Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path. It is healing for the soul; it is the breath of God himself. Through it, God challenges and comforts, rebukes and restores, exhorts and encourages. It is, in its entirety, God’s revelation of truth to us.
But the Bible can also be misused. That is why the great IFES discipline of inductive Bible study is important: learning to understand Scripture on its own terms; respecting the context and obeying the message, no matter how uncomfortable it may make us feel.
Bible study can also too easily become an abstract exercise. That is why I love that one of the core IFES values is not simply “the Bible”, but “Scripture Engagement”. All Bible study should not ultimately and primarily be about us, but about God, his character and his invitation to use this Holy Revelation to get to know him better.
When Darrell Johnson was interviewed at the 2015 World Assembly, he shared how, before he opened a passage to prepare for preaching, he would ask himself (referencing the Song of Solomon) “what does this passage tell me about him whom my heart loves?”. That should be the question for all of us when we open Scripture at any time, whether we are preachers or Bible study leaders or not.
Speaking personally, my journey with Scripture has gone through various stages. I was privileged to be taught it as an infant sitting at my parents’ feet and was fascinated by it as a listener; it was a bedtime story for me. In adolescence as I committed my life to Christ and read it regularly as a spiritual discipline, I saw it as a story to me; a set of exhortations to help me live well as a disciple.
Then as I grew in the faith, I realised it was a story about me; I saw more clearly my own shortcomings in the lives of its flawed heroes and marvelled at the sufficiency of Christ to cover all my sin. As I studied it more deeply in seminary and embarked on a preaching ministry, it became (not always for the best) a story from me; truths that I felt commissioned to pass on to others. Eventually I realised that these strands all needed to come together and, as I grasped more firmly the depth of God’s grace, they became a story growing within me. As I engage with Scripture, the Spirit who inspired those authors is the same Spirit who is convicting and changing me. That is a journey I am still on, and if I can, I want to bring others with me.
Being alive always includes change. In September 2021 Ricardo Borges took on the leadership of the IFES Scripture Engagement ministry from Sabine Kalthoff. Sabine will continue with IFES as Secretary for Spiritual Formation with 30% of her time, while putting the focus of her ministry on serving in a pastoral role at a local college. Ricardo and Sabine asked each other some questions regarding the upcoming transition.
Ricardo, what was one key experience of yours from the past four years as Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement?
There were so many great experiences. One of them was seeing, in different parts of the globe, so many staff and students opening their Bibles to explore God’s Word in connection with the challenges of their context. It is indeed wonderful to experience that God’s Word is relevant to the whole of our lives.
Ricardo, what motivates you to continue in the global Scripture engagement ministry?
The fact that this is a global fellowship, with such a rich diversity of people, cultures, and different backgrounds. I look forward to seeing us grow in how these different perspectives help us to listen better to the Lord in the Scriptures. And to grow in our partnerships as we witness to the Lord in our different contexts.
Sabine, what is one precious memory from your past ten years as Secretary for Scripture Engagement?
Oh, there are so many that it’s hard to choose. One memory is from an IFES training consultation in Ghana. After I led a Bible study, a colleague from Nigeria came up to me and shared how God’s Word had spoken to him. I was filled with a deep sense of amazement – God’s Word speaks across cultures. I knew that before, but experiencing it was something different. It grew my trust and sense of wonder in God’s Word.
Sabine, what will your new role in IFES look like?
As Secretary for Spiritual Formation, my desire is to help staff flourish in their relationship with Jesus. In IFES, we are good at working hard. And then, we sometimes forget to make space for God to meet us, feed us, shape us – individually and as teams. My desire is to help create such spaces e.g., through leading Scripture engagement sessions with staff, shaping staff retreats and walking alongside individuals. (You can read more here.)
My journey with Scripture Engagement goes back to when I was a student. At that time, I entered into a personal relationship with Jesus as my Lord and saviour and started to connect deeply with God’s Word. Studying doctrine helped me see the Bible as the inspired Word of God and convinced me of the need to reflect on this Word. Simultaneously, I was introduced to the discipline of having a ‘quiet time’ and sincerely started practicing it. Doing this laid a good foundation for my faith.
However, I did not realize that I was only reading & reflecting on a few passages. I applied them to my life, but before long I was getting bored of reading the Bible. I continued to read in the Bible, but only as an exercise, just like physical exercise for my body. Slowly, I started withdrawing and having my quiet time only when it was convenient. Little did I know that even during that time my God was actively working within me and shaping me.
Taking A Break. As we travel, we take journey breaks in order to be refreshed. But for me, the break on my journey was breakdown. My staff colleagues and other students in the fellowship never realized the struggle I was going through. It was during this period that I met Rev. Koichi Ottawa (then IFES Regional Secretary for East Asia). He asked me very directly: “how is your journey with God?” I was taken by surprise, but I responded truthfully. Ottawa helped me to re-start my journey with God and his Word. I realized that Scripture engagement is not a duty or mere discipline, but that it is about the Lord walking at my side and speaking to me – there is fun, there are arguments, expressions of disappointment, joy and gratefulness. Scripture became the framework for my life.
A Renewed Vision. Through the IFES global ministry of Scripture Engagement, my vision was enlarged. I began to understand more deeply that engaging with Scripture is an ongoing journey in an active relationship with our Lord God. I recognized that Scripture is not only about what God has done for me, but that it also places me in God’s grand story. Scripture engagement is so much more than techniques – it is an invitation to continue growing in our relationship with Jesus and his world. As I understood this more deeply, I recognized my responsibility to start building up lives centred around Scripture.
Sharing this vision with individuals and building them up as vision multipliers was the next step for me. I made a conscious decision that in my personal capacity, I would focus on individuals and small group training programs and not wait for the formation of large groups. My journey continues with the vision to see young people actively engaging with God, his Word and his world.
How can we change our old ways of living to that of new ways? Our efforts will not be sufficient to defeat darkness. Even more so if we have memories that will not let us go until we die. I struggled with such memories that haunted me.
As I witnessed fellow friends deciding to follow God fully, I also felt inspired to do so. At the same time, I felt an inner hunger and emptiness; I felt like I was about to drown. One night, I began to desire reading the Word of God. As I walked down the street that night, I reached a crossroad, and I turned in the direction of a staff’s house. I asked him if we can study the Word together and he gladly accepted. Our journey of studying the whole of Luke’s Gospel took us around five months.
Throughout the study I was inspired by the character of Jesus and how people’s lives were changed after encountering him. I saw how Jesus restores dignity in people – like when he healed the blind. I also saw how these people were truly moved by what Jesus did to them. What made a strong impression on me is that Jesus came from above to live a simple life among others. He did not choose to live like a performing magician. I learned that the key to transformation in my life is to have FAITH in Jesus.
Reading Luke’s gospel changed my way of thinking. I understood that life is not just about knowing God in our head but also knowing him in our heart. I learned to open up my life for Jesus to fill me and shine his light in me. I also began to realize that it would be unfair to keep quiet about what the Holy Spirit had done in me.
I started to notice friends around me with the same hunger to read the Word; the topic of life and God kept popping up in our conversations and on social media. So we gladly decided to form a small Bible study group. I have seen changes in my friends – they have new values in life and see life differently than they did in their old ways of living.
As I know Christ more, Jesus is helping to sort through the baggage that I accumulated from my past by sweeping them under the carpet. It is a sweet and painful experience. Although it is a painful, I know Christ is with me and this process is necessary to live a righteous life. It is like an ongoing work in progress with Jesus until the day I meet him. I call this process: “transformation is not just about change but construction”.
I want to share with you how I came to God. I wasn’t seeking him – he found me. He came to me at the most difficult time in my life. I got to a point when I wanted to take my own life.
It was unexpected. I was walking by my university, I saw this student handing out flyers. I went up to her, and in some way this person seemed to shine. After taking that flyer, I thought for a long time, and finally decided to go to that meeting. That evening the discussion was about truth, and it concluded with the thought, “the truth will set you free.” It just hit me.
“But to us, as staff, Alan seemed very suspect. He asked a lot of questions about who we are. But he also seemed to have a lot of genuine questions about the faith. We wondered if he was a spy, so we chose not to meet with him. We told him he could read the Bible if he wanted to find answers to his questions.
So he did! He downloaded the Bible onto his phone, and googled where best to start reading; he started with John’s gospel. It was his own reading of Scripture that let him to the decision to follow Christ.”
I went to the IFES staff l and said: “I want to know God, to know Jesus, and to grow in him”. God started to change everything in my life. My friends rejected me. When I read the Word of God, it led me to forgive my parents. They were amazed – and started to wonder why.
“We later found out that Alan’s father worked in the religious affairs department of the ‘KGB’ in our country, hence why he seemed so well-connected and inquisitive. Yet his interest was genuine; we started meeting with him for one-to-one Bible study.”
When my parents heard I was going to Bible studies, it was a shock for them. “We don’t need a son like that.” I wondered what to do; my father said “family or God: choose.” I began to gather my belongings.
Then my parents said: “Stay, we’ll drag you out of this”. I didn’t go to church for two weeks, I met with different people, with a Mullah, the took me to the mosque, and through all these contacts I understood that there is something in my heart, that salvation is in me, it was amazing. I started to abide in God’s Word, and I understood how much God loves me. I am thankful to God that there is this ministry through which I came to God.
“During this time we studied 1 Peter with Alan, about holding fast to Jesus in suffering. He said ‘I felt that this has been written just for me’. Alan was a final year student, and he said he didn’t want to do anything else in life except help others find Christ. He’s now joined our IFES movement as an intern, in another city where he can have more freedom from his parents, and his passion is to help others meet Jesus in his Word.”
Nina is a remarkable woman. She is a single mother working several jobs to provide for her family. She is a university professor and a private language teacher for both local children and foreigners who need to learn a local language. Even with such a schedule she has time to think and to dream about what life could be like.
Nina comes from a minority ethnic group in a majority Muslim country in Asia. This ethnic group has very few believers… and she is not yet following Christ herself. But hearing her story it is clear that the God of all creation has been pursuing her…
From South American ‘m-workers’ who befriended her and helped her through some tough times, to the chance invitation to work in a private school founded by Christians — and then the many friendships she has formed, the conversations about faith and the way she experienced a different working atmosphere when surrounded by believers in J.
Mary, an older student and mature believer, prayed often for her, watching and waiting for the opportunities to share the Word with her. Mary’s patience did not mean inaction but active prayer. During this time of waiting and praying, friendship and trust grew. Nina began to tell Mary about her family and her history, starting to share her hopes and dreams. When Nina had a bereavement in her family she talked to Mary about death, which gave an opportunity to share a verse from the Holy Scriptures. But Mary’s great desire was to read from the Bible together with Nina, so that Nina could hear about and meet with God in His Word…
After a while, Nina herself asked Mary if they could read the Bible together. Nina invited Mary, not the other way around — and this started a pattern of meeting outside of lessons and reading the Scriptures together.
Mary led Nina through the Bible, starting at the beginning…and taking her through the big story of Scripture, introducing her to God in these stories and seeing His interactions with people. They traced God’s grace through the Bible and led up to the gospel story.
Mary asked Nina to find the passages, read them aloud and then summarise what they had read together. This way she learnt for herself the big story of God’s love and purpose.
During part of the coronavirus pandemic, they were even connecting every day and reading the gospel together. Nina learned to pray and to read with this good Christian friend. And even though the Bible, she would say, is not yet ‘her’ book, Nina shared these stories that she was hearing and learning with her friends because she was so moved by what she was reading and so convinced that these stories would be of help to her friends…
We are happy to share the news that the eLearning course “Foundations of Scripture Engagement” will be launched soon. It is a course prepared for student leaders and staff serving in the ministry of their national movements. The course will be available two times this year, one cohort starting on April 12th and the other cohort starting on August 9th. Each cohort go through Part 1 and Part 2, which last for eight weeks, with a week of break between them. When you sign up, you are automatically signing up for both Part 1 and 2 of the course.
We expect you need to dedicate at least one to two hours a week, ideally two to four hours, to go through the content of the course and to interact with others in the forums, plus one or two Zoom calls during the length of the course.
In this course, we will share the journey of deepening our foundations in Scripture and renewing our vision of the Word and its richness.
This is a special opportunity to learn and grow together with facilitators from the Scripture Engagement global team, to interact with people from across different regions and contexts, and to explore the questions you have, listening and learning from others around the world for mutual enrichment.
If you are a student or a staff and wants to join the eLearning course “Foundations of Scripture Engagement”, please sign in through the following link. Please note you will be signing to the language in which you are reading it here: English, Spanish, or French. In case you want to sign up for a different language, if you have any questions or would like to know more, please feel free to write to: email@example.com.
In December 2019, the global network of Scripture engagement (SE) multipliers met – fourteen people from around the IFES world. During this meeting, we had a work group on SE and prayer with the following participants: Eu Pui Chong (EP, Malaysia), Irena Huseva (IH, Ukraine), Heledd Job (HJ, Europe), Sabine Kalthoff.
The following interview with the work group participants brings life to some aspects of this overview:
What is one new insight that you gained from this work group about the connection between SE and prayer? (EP) Often, we study a passage and after that we pray for each other ‘leaving behind what we just discovered from the passage’ instead of letting the passage guide our prayer needs or shape our prayer items.
(IH) The importance of a prayerful posture in studying Scripture. For me that is not just putting my body in a certain posture, but becoming quiet before him and putting my hand into his to let him lead and walk with me through the whole Scripture Engagement. In other words, being in a prayerful posture means being in prayer before, during, and after the Bible study.
(HJ) I gained a greater awareness that when I come to engage with Scripture by myself or with others, God is present with me in that very moment. The phrase that stuck in my mind is: The author is in the room”.
What encourages you and what challenges you as you reflect on this connection? (EP) In particular, the Lord’s prayer has been invaluable – praying for my nation and the world has been difficult in this period due to what I perceive as an endless cycle of corruption power abuse. Letting the words of the Lord’s prayer lead me has been comforting. It also challenges me not to give up praying, seeing how God is at work and not to insist that God solve problems my way or in my timing.
(HJ) This connection encourages me as I come across passages that I find difficult. As I’m reading and struggling, I can pause and ask for God’s help. I can ask him, what do you mean? What do you want me to understand here? What should I do with this? And I know that when I pray, the Spirit who caused these words to be written is there present with me, ready to answer.
What is one practical step that you have taken or would like to take in order to strengthen the integration of SE and prayer in your own life and/or ministry? (IH) For many years, I studied Scripture by carefully observing the passage, asking questions and trying to grasp its main message. Only after coming up with the main message did we ask ourselves what it says to us. I still use this approach, but I try to be in a prayerful posture during the whole Bible study, letting the Word speak to me not only at the end of the study, but while I am deeply in it. I believe that the Holy Spirit can use not only the main message of the passage, but any parts of it to touch our soul.
(HJ) In my personal devotions, I have tried to be more intentional in praying in response to what I read. At the moment, I’m reading through the Psalms. I try to take the words of the Psalmist as my starting point, taking those words and thoughts and making them my own. Then at the end of the day, I will return to that same Psalm and prayerfully reflect on how what I heard God say to me in the morning has been sustaining and directing me throughout the day.
Please complete the following sentence: “The gift of SE and prayer is…” …waiting to be discovered and savoured. (EP) …being amazed – a sense of wow at who God is, wow to who I am and wow to his boundless love. (IH) …that when God speaks he is not just giving us information, he is inviting us to a conversation. (HJ)
Connecting Scripture and Prayer in Practise:
_Preparing to hear the Word. Most of us cannot just stop and listen to God. We sit down and open the Bible to read, but our thoughts are still elsewhere, busy with lots of things. We read a passage and at the end, we don’t know what we’ve read. We can read without hearing. I know that I need to prepare myself to listen to God. I need help to be present to him and his Word. What helps me most is prayerful silence. How do you prepare yourself to hear the Word both individually and in a group? Prayer helps us enter into a relational posture and awareness of God’s presence.
_Praying the Word – God’s Word teaches us how to pray. We can let prayers from Scripture inspire and lead us in our prayers – both collectively and individually. This video shows what this can look like based on the Lord’s prayer. This article gives further examples of how God’s Word can shape our praying.
_Learning to lament from Jeremiah. After the Covid 19 pandemic started, the Latin American region offered an online session on the topic of lament. For follow up, a resource with three Bible studies from the book of Jeremiah was developed – giving examples of how to lament, helping to reflect on lament and inviting to pray to God in this way ourselves.
_Retreats are all about prayerfully connecting our lives with God’s reality and his Word. They are an invitation to retreat from the business of life, to enter into a time of waiting and listening – holding out our lives and circumstances to God – hearing his Word – and prayerfully giving the Spirit space to speak to us. You can find material for personal or group retreats here. This testimony helps see the value of setting apart such a time.
There is so much more for you to discover… maybe this summary image can serve as a road map on the way. Please do write and share your experience of integrating Scripture and prayer – in your personal lives, but also in communal settings, at camps and conferences. We would love to hear back from you.
Sabine Kalthoff, IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement firstname.lastname@example.org
COMPA had scheduled its highly expected National Student Gathering for April 2020. COVID-19 had already ruined some of my plans and turned my last year as a university student upside down. On March 30th, the Mexican health authorities declared a national lock-down and I went from an on-campus student to an on-line student overnight. What would happen to my plans, my dreams, and my goals for this year? Everything was getting cancelled and it was both sad and frustrating. However, I was able to see God’s hand because my family was healthy, and we had resources.
COMPA announced that they would hold the National Camp online. I was very happy to read that and, at the same time, I felt sad that I wouldn’t be seeing my friends from across the country in person. God surprised me by showing me that He gave us a community despite the distance and these convoluted times. Nearly 1,000 people registered and 700 signed up for on-line Bible studies.
When I was asked to host a Bible study, I accepted and I was more than willing to collaborate since I had a bit of experience in on-line Bible studies, as part of the Student National Convention. However, when I learned the book was Revelation, I felt intimidated as it seems hard to read. We were invited to a 3-session orientation event for 50 Bible study leaders. At the first session, we took a trip down this enigmatic book; in the second, we attended an on-line Bible study; and in the third, they expounded on the methodology.
The book of Revelation then went from a daunting text to a ray of hope in times of uncertainty. I loved stepping into their shoes, and, in a certain way, I felt identified with them. As a student, I like to have everything at hand and under control, but I had lost sight of the essential need to love Jesus deeply.
I grew in my love for the Lord because I saw that Jesus was with us in the midst of these new circumstances. This orientation was key, we had visual aids and a guide to manage time, as well as teaching tools.
Back then, hardly any of us were used to using ZOOM, but they made an effort. Although it was a long-distance call, we felt safe because we were connecting around the Bible. We were all afraid of studying the book of Revelation and we needed hope, and God gave us this hope through this enigmatic book. It was great because it was a true introduction to developing our mission on-line during these semesters. God is sitting on His throne and He has surprised us in the midst of this time of uncertainty by providing us with trust and hope.