In the introduction to his small but powerful book Handbook to Prayer, Kenneth Boa (1993) states, “Spiritual growth is impossible apart from the practice of prayer… The key to a growing relationship with the personal God of heaven and earth is time invested in speaking to Him in prayer and listening to His voice in Scripture.”  

As we pray God’s words, we grow and those we pray for do, too! Boa continues, “Praying scripture… will enable you to think God’s thoughts after Him and to personalize them in your own thinking and practice.”

In Revelation 8:4 we see the results of such faithfulness: prayers going up like incense before God, shaping His world! The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.  What happened next affected the entire earth! Prayer is powerful because God responds to it.  Scripture is powerful because it comes from the all-powerful God of heaven and earth, who cares deeply about every aspect of our lives.

Do you believe that you can make a difference in international students’ lives simply by praying for them? Read on!

IFI staff Jim Hanes shares one story that demonstrates the power of prayer: “Our family lived as missionaries in Senegal for 16 years. Long ago I learned from a Senegalese colleague that you can’t force anyone to do anything. As Christians, our mission is to live a life that exemplifies Jesus Christ and to share why we have hope in Him. But we cannot force anyone to believe our message. However, when we pray to God, somehow barriers are removed that would prevent people from hearing and accepting and believing the good news about Jesus.”

“Our volunteers at Illinois Central College in East Peoria prayed for us for many months before we ever stepped foot on the campus.  Therefore, although I was pleasantly surprised, I was not shocked when a Brazilian student on a soccer scholarship turned to me after new student orientation in August and asked, ‘Do you think someone can take me to church while I’m here?’  Since then, he and I have discussed faith, Old Testament Bible stories, luck, the Holy Spirit speaking to us, and who Jesus is. Because we know that God accomplishes through prayer things that we could never do on our own, we go forward in faith on our knees.  Praying is an act of faith for those who pray and a testimony to those who will eventually believe in Jesus.”

This story of the Brazilian student’s openness to the things of God is just one example of answered prayer. Jim continues, “It is obvious to me that our people are praying for themselves, each other, and for the ministry. Weekly we hear stories of people who showed up at just the right time to see the right people under the right conditions.

Maybe you want to pray for international students you know, but are not sure where to begin or what to pray. If so, consider praying God’s words instead of your own. Praying the scriptures can be a great way to benefit the internationals in your life.

An Introduction to Praying Scripture

What is praying scripture? IFI staff Karen Oliver explains “It’s taking scripture and turning it into a prayer.” For example, you can pray Psalm 23 for a new believer or for an international student who wants to know more about Jesus. “Dear Lord, please lead ________ to want You as his shepherd who watches over him with love and brings him rest and refreshment.  Help him know that You give your sheep everything they need, that You will guide and protect him as he follows Your laws and decrees, and so forth.” Karen says, “When we pray God’s word back to Him, we are praying the most powerful words we can pray.” Karen believes that it honors God when we pray His words.
Psalm 33:6-9 shows how powerful God’s words are:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars he puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord;  let all the people of the world revere him.  For he spoke, and it came to be;  he commanded, and it stood firm.  God’s utterances create.  His words are eternal (Psalm 119:89) and do not fade away.  

Because we have His written words in the Bible, we can pray God’s words back to Him!   
Dave Mann (IFI Columbus staff) provided this overview of praying scripture: “The principal verse that guides praying the scriptures is Hebrews 4:12.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

“We believe that the Word of God has power, but it is not a power that we wield by our own whims, even against the enemy.  As we pray the scriptures, we, the pray-ers, also come under its power and authority. It is a double-edged sword, working its power both on behalf of the one prayed for and also for the one doing the praying.  Sometimes, we begin praying the scriptures for someone in a certain direction and with a certain intent, but by the end of the prayer we ourselves have been changed and the focus of the prayer may have changed as well.”

Dave Mann provided this example of how to pray scripture, using Psalm 1, which can be modified as the Spirit leads: “As you pray, you read and meditate on the scripture, putting the person’s name in the meaning of the verse.  ’O Lord, I pray that _______ would be so blessed by You that she would not walk with the wicked, nor would she stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the company of scoffers. But, Lord, we pray that _______ would find her delight in the law of the Lord and that she would meditate on it day and night.’”

Getting started praying scripture for international students

Pray: Ask God to show you what scripture to pray and whom to pray it for.

  • Use Bible Gateway or another online scripture service and search “pray” or “prayer” to find the prayers that are in scripture. As you read one of those prayers, ask God to show you an international student to pray it for.
  • In your daily devotions, in whatever you are reading in the Bible, ask God to bring to mind international students for He wants you to pray that scripture for.

Make it personal.

  • Try praying scripture for yourself before praying it for others.
  • Use the name of the student you are praying for and apply the scripture to him/her.
  • Don’t merely read the text; use the ideas in the scripture you are praying and ask God to give him/her those experiences, as Dave Mann suggested above. Use the scripture as your prompt for praying.

Find what method of praying scripture works for you.

  • Praying alone or with others
  • Praying out loud, it can help ward off distraction
  • Praying while taking a walk: To do this, you may need to put scripture on note cards that you can refer to easily as you walk and pray.
  • Memorizing scripture can help with praying scripture. Karen finds that she can pray scriptures she’s memorized more easily and more often than scriptures she must read. However, a perfect memory of the scripture is not as important as having a general idea of the meaning and/or wording of the scriptures you pray.


  • Build the habit of praying scripture for international students.  Experiment with different methods to pray scripture and find what works best for you. It may take time to build a habit of praying scripture.  Dave encourages that, as you get to know scripture, it will make sense to blend your prayer life with scripture.

In his book, Praying the Scriptures A Field Guide for Your Spiritual Journey, Evan Howard (1999), provides a wealth of practical advice for anyone interested in praying scripture. Listed below are some of the ideas you can use to pray scripture, which Howard discusses in greater detail in his book.

Read slowly: Take your time.  Ask God to show you what He wants you to see in His word.

Use repetition: Repeat words or phrases that you are struck by as you pray scripture. Take time; think deeply about them.

Feel: “When no specific word or phrase gets your attention, sometimes a feeling will.” (Howard, 1999, p.19). Emotions are present in scripture; reflect on the emotions you might feel as you pray scripture.

Use other resources: There may be parts of scripture that you want to learn more about in order to gain a better understanding of the passage. Using Bible discussion resources such as commentaries can help.

Use music: Today many scriptures have been set to music, as they were originally.  Find music that incorporates scripture and sing along!

Paraphrase: Put the passage into your own words.

Act: Respond to what you learn from praying the scriptures with action. For example, suppose you pray Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  

In response, you could build the habit of rejoicing or expressing delight in God by thinking about God’s character and the different ways He has shown His love for you personally. You could do this in your mind or write it out in a journal. Taking this step further, you could choose to rejoice in God even in difficult situations.

Suggested scriptures to start praying

Praying scriptures for international students

You can serve the international students in your community by praying scripture for them. International students face many issues while in the United States. Here are some examples and scriptures you can pray for the international students in your heart.  

  • Provision: For school, career, or relationships. (Matthew 6)
  • Loneliness: Passages on fellowship. (1 John 1 and/or Hebrews 10:24-25)
  • Homesickness: Needing a sense of belonging, struggling with many things being unfamiliar. (Psalm 139)
  • Pressure to perform: In school, in work, in life. (Romans 8:1 and/or, Matthew 11:28-29)
  • Temptations of college life: Drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity.  Pray that God uses students’ curiosity to draw them to Himself and away from life-damaging sin.  Pray that God’s word will guide their lives. (Luke 11, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Psalm 119:9-16)
  • Spiritual attack: Pray against disinterest in being around Christians or attending Bible discussions.  Pray against their feeling ill at ease, that they don’t really belong here, that they don’t deserve kindness from the people around them. (Ephesians 6)
  • Misconceptions about what it means to be a Christian: Many internationals view religion as an intrinsic part of one’s ethnic identity, so they may think that being a Christian means that you have to be “Western” or “American” or that you must act in a certain way.  Pray that internationals will be attracted to God, not to Western culture. (Matthew 28:18-20, John 12:20-23, John 12:32, Revelation 7:9-10, and Isaiah 60:1-3)
  • Dealing with different beliefs: Some internationals might be startled when Christians introduce God into everyday conversation. Pray that they will grow in their knowledge of God (see Paul’s prayers for the churches: Ephesians 1:15-23, Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 1:9-11) and pray that your international friends will have a teachable spirit and listening ears (Matthew 13:14-16, Mark 4:1-20, Job 5:17-18, Proverbs 3:11-13, Hebrews 12:9-11, Psalm 51:16-17).

Boa (1993, p. 7) urges us to pray, pointing out that “The quality of our vertical relationship with God has a direct bearing on the quality of our horizontal relationships with others.  As we grow in Him, we will have an enhanced capacity, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to respond to others with the Christlike qualities of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance (Ephes. 4:2).”

Resources on praying scripture


  • Boa, Kenneth (1993), Handbook to Prayer. Atlanta GA: Trinity House Publishers.
  • Howard, E. B. (1999). Praying the Scriptures A Field Guide for Your Spiritual Journey. Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press.
  • Sire, J. W. (2005). Learning to Pray Through the Psalms. Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press.

Online resources: