What is the Judeo-Christian Bible? It’s more than being a voluminous instruction manual which tells people about God’s character and how to relate to Him, it is a series of 66 love letters. It’s the oil in the engine of the Christian.
There are different ways to read these love letters. Most Reformed Christians try to read them in a year, particularly for the purpose of helping Christians to understand the entire salvation plan of God in toto. While this is good in many ways it encounters a number of bad pitfalls. 1) The Bible gets treated as something to be read and mastered, rather than the reader being read and mastered by it; 2) it treats the Bible as a knowledge bank that is to be stored only in the head, rather than the heart; 3) readers are not taught to slow down and meditate on the Word- it’s about cramming it (like an exam) and then playing catch-up when we haven’t read our ‘chunk’ for the day. Worse, you can be a Christian who is a kilometre wide (lots of Bible trivia) and a centimetre deep (not feeling the full weight of the Word, getting joy from it, and living a closer walk with God). Trust me, 12-month reading plans can be very legalistic (I’ve tried it over 18 years since becoming a Christian and I’ve never read it all in a year)!
There is a form of reading – and meditating upon – Scripture that was established by Benedictine monks; it is called Lectio Divina which, in English (translated from Latin), means ‘holy/divine reading’. It focusses on reading Scripture less as an instruction manual and more as a means of deeply connecting with God the Father in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. I am a huge fan of it and I recently found a blog post that aptly captured what the approach does (below).
How does it work? Well, here’s an example. In the 12-month Bible reading binge, I might read Psalm 18 and get to verse 19, which says “God delight in me”. If I read the verse just to get through the plan, it’s just another verse that I got through. But Lectio Divina makes you stop, ‘chew the cud’ of the verse and get it deep in the heart. I ask questions like “Do I REALLY feel like God’s treasured possession? Why not? What’s the blockage in my heart? Am I getting in the way?” Then it moves you to pray about those things and to feel God’s presence in the Word that He has spoken to you.
In many ways Lectio D. compliments the one-year plan: the one-year gives me the broadest scope of looking into the Bible; for me personally, I am taken deeper into God’s Word than the merely academic study of it. It is thoroughly Spirit-lead, and while it involves methodical steps, its true effectiveness is in it not being mechanically, and legalistically applied. Rather, it is about letting God do the work rather than relying on mental process (Prov. 3:5). Here is what it involves:
A well rounded approach to scripture involves what I call both informational and formational reading. Most Bible studies tends toward the informational side of the equation. Informational study is predominantly about getting to know the Bible stories and the principles presented therein. Formational reading involves taking time to encounter the text in a way that shapes us as disciples. One approach isn’t better than the other. In fact, they feed one another. Lectio is a practice that is very much a formational reading of Scripture.
The Stages of Lectio Divinic Prayer
The four Lectio Divina steps are as follows:
- Reading: This first movement consists of slowly and attentively reading a portion of Scripture several times, or perhaps a devotion. You may want to jot down words or phrases that seem to stand out.
- Meditation: In this second movement, as the name implies we meditate on the text. This “meditation” is not like Eastern meditation traditions that focus on emptying the mind; rather, the intent of meditation is to engage with the Scriptures with an active mind. For example, you may ponder a phrase or word that arrests your attention in your first readings of the text and ‘sit with it’, wondering how it speaks to your life right now. You may imaginatively place yourself in the story all the while listening for the Holy Spirit to speak within you about the meaning of this text for your life. Another suggestion is to depict what you have read to an artistic representation.
This section is not about merely intellectual digestion of the Word, but engaging the emotions. That is, it is to involve us deeply, even the parts of us that we may be reserved about surrendering to God. To do this, we need to engage all our senses as is possible.
- Prayer: In this third movement, speak to God from your heart about what you discover in the text in heart-felt, honest prayer (Ps. 62:8). The Word may convict your heart about something, if so confess and ask for God’s forgiveness. Perhaps confess where you disagree with God’s Word, or with God Himself, to wrestle through with Him all those issues. If the Word touches a hurt, you may seek God’s care. If the Word reveals a calling then from you might pledge yourself to God or ask for guidance.
- Contemplation: When all is said and done, this process comes to an end by simply joyfully resting in God’s presence. We offer back to God our loving focus and attention with a heart full of gratitude. This movement focuses in particular on what we need to do in response to what we have learned, which may be something God wants us to do, to enjoy a new revelation of God’s grace, or something to share with others.
Don’t over-think this method or be legalistic about it. The essence of Lectio is slowing down in your reading enough to prayerfully consider what God may be saying to you right now. Chat with God about what you are hearing and then just tarry a few quiet moments in God’s presence. Just prayerfully follow the four stages; the Holy Spirit will do the rest. In some ways I have found this form of reading more valuable to my growth as a disciple than my more academic studies of scripture. Nevertheless, I will repeat what I said earlier, formational and informational reading enhance one another. A mature and holistic study of God’s Word will include both approaches. I hope this post has helped you understand better how to pray through Scripture.
(This is adapted from an article sourced from The Practical Disciple.)