Esther Parsons served on the mission field for more than a decade with her husband, Don, first in Ukraine and then in a Central Asian country. In this second story in our Flourish series, she shares about the spiritual practice that helped her the most while she was on the field — praying God’s Word.
Before we moved to the field, I was pretty used to praying God’s Word in adoration and praise. In church we often offered up “popcorn prayers” listing who God is — gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love, and on and on. We want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. What better way is there to know him than to rehearse who he is in the Scripture?
It wasn’t until I arrived on the field that I realized the value of praying scripture in other ways, too.
Praying scripture for confession and spiritual growth
There are many times in the Scripture when God’s people went into the desert, when they had an experience that was really hard. For many people, the initial time on the mission field reveals a lot about getting right with God.
When our family moved to Ukraine, I felt set. The money had come in; people were cheering us on. I thought I could do whatever I put my mind to — but then we hit language school, and I found out I wasn’t good at ANYTHING.
I wasn’t as good of a wife as I wanted to be, because when I went to the market and saw all the meat hanging there, I got scared to buy it and walked right out. So, over and over, we had peanut butter for our protein, because that’s what I had shipped over.
To attend language school, I had to leave my two babies at home four morning a week with a Russian-speaking woman I barely knew. I felt like I wasn’t the mom I set out to be.
I had homework every day. But I had two young children at home! I couldn’t do all the homework. I wasn’t the student I wanted to be.
I wanted to build community — but I couldn’t talk to anybody. I wasn’t the friend I wanted to be.
Everything I thought I was good at was taken away. And guess what started to happen? My mouth started to spew out things that were NOT of the Lord. I was complaining. I was yelling at my kids. I was impatient.
I needed the Lord’s help, and this is where I realized that it’s important to use the Word of God in confession and in spiritual battle.
I started going through Proverbs, listing verses about the tongue, about my mouth, about speech. I plastered these verses all over the house. Above my sink. By the door. And I meditated on them. My favorite was, “Where there are many words, sin is not absent.” Proverbs 10:19
The Lord gave me victory in this area, but I realized that we can’t just get rid of a sin — we need to replace it with truth.
My strategy for praying against sin:
- Identify a stronghold that I need to see God change.
- Find verses that specifically speak against that sin.
- Consistently pray those verses until I see victory.
This same technique can help us pray for spiritual growth for ourselves or for our friends or family. This is helpful because when we pray God’s Word for ourselves or our friends or family, we know it’s God’s will. We’re not guessing. We see in Scripture what he wants for each of us.
Praying scripture for salvation
“The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
We worked in two vastly different contexts on the mission field. It was harvest time when we moved to Ukraine. If you built a church building, people would come. We were just hanging on because God was moving so fast.
Then we went to Central Asia, and it was a drought, not only in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense. During this time, I was reading Isaiah, and came across these verses:
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’;
others will call themselves by the name of Jacob;
still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and will take the name Israel. Isaiah 44:3-5 (NIV)
I knew this was a promise to Israel, but I felt the Spirit telling me, “You need to be praying for Central Asians.” I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “Please, Lord, just let five people in this country know Jesus this year.”
We actually got to see more than five people give their lives to Jesus that year! But sometimes it takes years and years; still, we need to keep praying for the salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus.
Praying scripture for protection
We had a friend who was kidnapped with her cousin by terrorists in another country. Every half hour, my children and I would stop and pray this verse for them.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. Psalm 91:9-12 (NIV)
And then we found out they had been murdered.
I was so upset with the Lord. I thought, “I prayed your Word! I held on to your promises! What are you doing, God?”
In times like this, when I don’t understand what God is doing, I have to go back and consider who God is, what his character is, that he is sovereign. He did lift our friend up; she’s with the angels in heaven, she’s with God in eternity.
Of course, it’s hard when the Lord doesn’t answer as we expect! But when we remember the Lord’s character, we can confidently pray for his protection, trusting that he will do what’s best. I would pray verses of protection for my husband when he would go on long trips in very remote areas. I decided, if the Lord answers by keeping him safe on this earth, or if the Lord answers by taking him to glory, I’m going to trust in God and keep praying.
A few practical prayer tips
- Place scripture all around your environment: In your office, above your sink, in the shower, in the car.
- When you type up verses, use interesting fonts or colors to help you focus and memorize.
- Add verses to the reminder function on your phone or computer, and set them to pop up throughout the day.
- Record the victories you see in a journal.
- Ask your prayer partners to pray specific verses for you.
- When you’re reading the Scripture, allow the Spirit to guide you to pray specific verses for specific situations or specific people.
- Pray for what seems impossible; remember, God is the one who brings in the increase.
More in the Flourish series
- Step 1: Honest evaluation — Spiritual self-assessment isn’t about guilt. It’s a starting point for growing in intimacy with God.
- Sabbath: A gift that helps us set boundaries on our busyness and adds rhythm to our weeks — ‘Setting boundaries can be particularly hard for missionaries, because we’re also called to sacrifice. Sabbath helps us regain perspective.’
- A menu plan for staying spiritually fed — Ways to keep your devotional life fresh and consistent — especially when you can’t be part of a thriving church community.
- To connect with the Lord, you do you — Recognizing your spiritual temperament — and realizing it might not be the same as those around you — can make for a closer relationship with the Lord and with other believers.
- Your body, your soul: The health of one affects the other — Seeing health as something that includes the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical helps us correctly prioritize caring for our bodies so that we can serve.
- Why it’s better to store God’s Word in your mind, not just on your iPhone — Even in this digital age, Scripture has more potential to transform, guide and encourage when it’s committed to memory.
- Finding friends who help deepen your faith: Deep, mutual, honest, encouraging, faith-building friendships are worth the time and courage it takes to find and maintain those relationships.
Banner photo: Steffi Pereira