You have your Bible before you. You know which verses you want to read and begin. Within a matter of minutes, questions flood your mind.
What does that mean? Am I doing this right? Should I read it slower or faster? Should I make a note of that? How do I hear God? What now? How long do I have to sit here?
If you're wholly frustrated with the Holy Bible, consider this way of reading it that can turn your questions into life-giving experiences with God.
At the start of my first year of seminary, the school assigned me to a mandatory spiritual formation group of about ten fellow first year students. Our leader, a nearby pastor recruited to lead us, introduced us to the practice of Lectio Divina, which in Latin means divine reading.
Lectio Divina is an ancient way of reading Scripture many Christian monks started using in the fourth century. It was the first method I had ever learned, and the first time I had ever been taught how to read Scripture.
This fourfold approach to reading scripture resonated with me. You can find many other teachings and resources based on this practice. Here’s an overview of Lectio Divina based on my understanding.
First, read the passage. If you’re following a devotional that gives you multiple readings, read through each and pick one to focus on. With Lectio Divina, less is more.
Read the selected verses as if they came from a loved one. Not like a letter from the IRS or an enemy. You shouldn’t read it like a homework assignment either.
The term “Study Bible” can conjure up images of long reading assignments, research papers, and tests. Set all of that aside. Our goal is not collecting information. It’s communicating with God.
Read the Bible verses as if they were a message from someone you love and treasure, who feels the same about you, and from whom you are glad to hear.
Read the scripture deliberately, neither too slow nor too fast. As a rule, read the text four times. Pay attention to words that catch your attention. Mark anything that strikes you, catches your attention.
Now focus on the words, phrases, and ideas that caught your attention. Consider why these emerged as significant and what they may mean. What might God be communicating to you?
There’s a saying that captures the essence of this: “We not only read the Scripture; the
Scripture reads us.”
Listen for words of love, encouragement, and reassurance. You may also hear a word of rebuke and a call to action. As God’s Spirit searches you, listen and be open and receptive.
What is God’s word saying to me? What might be God’s personalized message for yours truly? What’s my takeaway? How does this apply to my life? Right now?
After Janet’s cancer diagnosis, she opened the Bible and read these words:
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...will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
These were not just words from a letter Paul wrote in the middle of the first century to a Christian church. She knew they were God’s message to her - guidance of what to do and not to do - in her situation. More than that, they were an open door for God’s presence and peace.
Having discerned God’s message for you, or at least a general sense of it, the next step is to respond. God’s word is like seeds that are expected to grow.
Very likely you will sense God’s Holy Spirit nudging (or shoving) you in some way? There’s something you need to do or say, action to take, or a change to make. It may be a change of thought or perception.
Prayer is one way to respond. Perhaps your reflection has prompted a conversation with God. You need to share with God your thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears, praise and thanksgiving. The time has come to confess sins and receive forgiveness.
God may call you to concrete action. I remember an argument with my wife that had left me angry. I retreated to the Bible and quickly saw how I had been wrong. I also knew I needed to respond by apologizing and asking for her forgiveness.
Lastly, spend a few moments in the presence of God. Don’t rush off, unless you must. Stay awhile if your schedule permits.
You may want to read more scripture or spend additional time reflecting. You may enjoy journaling about your experience. There may be a response you want to accomplish or plan now. Or could choose to close your eyes and rest your mind.
You’re in the sweet spot. Soak in God’s love. Let God’s mercy minister to you and strength empower you. Allow God to fill your cup to overflowing.
Lectio Divina for Life
Lectio Divina has been and remains the most important spiritual practice of my life. So much of my prayer life flows out of engaging with the Bible this way.
After you practice Lectio Divina for some time, you will likely find as I have, that it becomes a natural way of reading Scripture. You won’t even have to think about it. More than that, it will become a way of viewing your life and our world.
As you practice Lectio Divina, I believe you will experience an ever deepening and abiding connection with God.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:103, NIV
Question: Did you try Lectio Divina? Please let me know how it went. I’d love to hear from you.