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.
I am a huge fan of reading the Bible and understanding its grand plan – and in fact I would even say that today it’s getting rarer to find people who are attempting it. Yet while 12-month reading plans have many positives, it encounters a number of significant 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 get the big picture of the Bible through a 12-month reading plan, but they don’t really get to see themselves in it and engage themselves in the reading process. Consequently, reading the Bible this way leads to the problems that the reader faces being ignored in the ‘broad sweep’ of the Big Salvation Plan; 4) 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 knowledge) but 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 used very legalistically (I’ve tried it over 21 years since becoming a Christian and I’ve rarely 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 (which I describe 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 delights in me” (חָפֵץ בִּי). 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 Divina compliments the one-year plan: the one-year gives me the broadest scope of looking into the Bible; for me personally, Lectio Divina takes me 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).
So 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 Divina is a practice that is very much a formational reading of Scripture. The four Lectio Divina steps are as follows:
- Silencio (silence): Prepare your heart, mind, and soul by being silent and removing all distractions, like phone internet, background music, and chatter.
- Lectio (reading): This 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 to you.
- Meditatio (meditation): In this 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 might be resisting the truths that you’re reading. 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.
- Oratio (prayer): In this next 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.
- Contemplatio (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 as we think on Him and His goodness. 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.
It’s important to not over-think this method or be legalistic about this. The essence of Lectio Divina is slowing down in your reading enough to prayerfully consider what God may be saying to you right now in your circumstances. 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.)
Here is an example of how this works. Take this passage from Isaiah 41:8-10 (NKJV) and write your own name into these beautiful words. Then read it aloud. How do you feel about yourself and God when you do this? Where do you find it challenging or difficult? Does it speak to any wounds that you may have been carrying?
“But you ________________ are My servant,
________________ whom I have chosen,
The descendants of Abraham My friend.
________________, whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its farthest regions, and said to you ________________ ,
‘You ________________ are My servant,
I have chosen you________________ and have not cast you away:
Fear not, for I am with you ________________ ;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you ________________ ,
Yes, I will help you ________________ ,
I will uphold you ________________ with My righteous right hand.’
You can now try Lectio Divina using with John 15:1-8.