A Plea for Prayer for Bible Translation
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
"Never stop praying."
1 Thessalonians 5:17, New Living Translation
We know that translating the Bible into every language is no small task. To produce a good Bible translation, each project needs the right people, resources and training, partner funding, and supportive community. It can be easy to get bogged down in gathering all of these pieces and making sure they function together well to produce a translation for a people group who needs it. Translation projects usually take years if not decades to complete. They are a serious investment of time, people, and financial resources.
But first and foremost, a good Bible translation requires a serious investment of prayer.
Whose Project Is This?
King Solomon, most remembered for his request to the Lord for wisdom, is believed to have authored Psalm 127 for pilgrims journeying to worship in Jerusalem. It opens with the words:
Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the LORD protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.
This verse reminds us that the best laid plans, even when executed by skilled professionals, will fail without the Lord's involvement. In the case of Psalm 127, those professionals are builders and sentries. In Bible translation projects, they might be translators, field partners, translation consultants and advisors, and church or community leaders.
It's interesting to me that Solomon does not recommend asking for the Lord to help in these activities. It's not that the builders and sentries can complete their tasks competently but would do them better with God's help. This verse also does not suggest in the least that the builders and sentries are incompetent at building or guarding. Rather, Solomon states that unless God himself is completing the task, the people's work is "wasted" and "no good."
In terms of Bible translation, wasted resources that produce bad results are the last thing we want. I don't want to suggest that such projects fail due to a lack of God's involvement or prayer - we also know that His Word never returns void, but accomplishes all that He intends it to (Isaiah 55:11). But we do want to make sure that we're not asking God to merely help our human efforts, but to fully direct and accomplish his purposes in every translation project we undertake.
Pray, Pray, Pray
Praying for Bible translation is not merely asking for God's help. Teams must put in lots of time and resources to plan wisely, train translators to complete the task, ensure community and church support, and be diligent in the work. But even if all of this is done well, we cannot expect to sprinkle God's blessing on top like a bit of good luck seasoning on our own elaborate recipe for success.
Every step of the process must start, be carried out, and end in prayer. Prayer is a way we communicate with God and he with us. You wouldn't expect a construction crew to build your dream house without ever asking what that dream house should look like and checking in with you along the way. They could probably build a decent house without consulting you at all - but it wouldn't be your dream house unless you were able to give input into its design, building, and finishing touches.
Praying for God's direction, wisdom, insight, and power to complete Bible translation for language groups who still need it requires the same constant communication. In fact the need for prayer is so great that Bible translation organizations and workers ask those who support them first and foremost to pray. The founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators put it this way:
"The task of getting the gospel in an adequate way to every ethnic person is tremendous. There is but one solution. I'm sure that it isn't man, money, surveys, nor talk. They all have their place, but if the basis of it all isn't fervent, believing prayer, they are all in vain. And prayer should not only be the basis, but it should permeate and vitalize the whole work."
-William Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators
The Bible translation effort's need for prayer is great, and you can help fill it. International Prayer Connect hosts an online 24/7 prayer room that anyone can join to pray with Christians from around the globe, day or night, and their schedule includes specific hours to pray for Bible translation. You can find even more specific ways to pray for Bible translation here, or sign up to receive regular prayer requests in your inbox.
As Paul encouraged the Thessalonian church 20 centuries ago, "Never stop praying!"