Worship in Reading the Scriptures

In this weeks post I want to take some time to talk about the Bible. We are all aware of the Bible’s importance to our lives as believers, and that we all need to be taking time to regularly be immersed in the Scriptures. But today, I want to introduce you to a practice called lectio divina, which is a way of reading and meditating on Scripture, and teaches us to be attentive to God’s voice as we do so. Think of it as Bible “listening.”

 

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

The Bible can mean many things to many people. For some, it is merely the best-selling and most widely distributed book of all time; for others, it is a tool to look back into an ancient world and learn and study about ancient civilizations, religions, and politics; for some, the bible is a book which outlines the “do’s” and “do nots” of how one is to live their life. For believers, the Bible is holy; we read it as Scripture.

What does it mean to read the Bible as Scripture? When we approach the Bible as Scripture it means that our intent is to know God and to learn how to be God’s people. Scripture shapes us. Scripture changes us. We read to be transformed, and such a transformation is necessary in our pursuit to live a life of worship.

“When we engage the Scriptures for spiritual transformation, on the other hand, we engage not only our mind but also our heart, our emotions, our body, our curiosity, our imagination and our will. We open ourselves to a deeper level of understanding and insight that grows out of and leads us deeper into our personal relationship with the One behind the text. And it is in the context of relational intimacy that real life change takes place.”[1]

When we read our Bibles in this way, it is completely different from how we normally engage with reading material. Instead of seeking to gather information, or engage God on a cognitive level, reading as Scripture allows us to listen and learn from God. We do not rush on to the next chapter, or seek to power through our daily reading assignment; instead, we linger and contemplate what we are reading and how we react to that reading. It is in this context that we can be intentionally aware of what the God is saying to us through the text. It is a move from the head to the heart.

The practice of lectio divina is an approach to reading the Bible that sets the stage for God’s word to speak to us in the present moment. Lectio divina means “divine [or sacred] reading.” It is a practice that dates back to the early followers of the Christian faith. “The practice of lectio divina is rooted in the belief that through the presence of the Holy Spirit the Scriptures are indeed alive and active as we engage them for spiritual transformation (Hebrews 4:12 [quoted above]).”[2]

This process requires that we read slower, and more reflectively. When practicing lectio divina, you will not be reading a large chunk of text, but smaller pieces, maybe only a handful of verses. Whatever section you are reading and reflecting on, you will read the passage several times, with each repetition bringing a new focus to consider.

Lectio divina consists of four movements, or steps. Think of it like learning how to dance. At first, it may be awkward, and you will be very concerned about getting it right and not making a mistake. As with learning anything, it takes time and practice. Eventually, you will stop thinking about the steps (the mechanics of the process) and simply dance and enjoy your dance partner.

For lectio divina, you will select a passage of Scripture that is no more than 6-8 verses in length. Then, you’ll take some time to prepare for your reading and to enter into God’s presence. In the first move, you read (lectio) and listen for a word or phrase that stands out to you. Then, pause to dwell on that word. In the second move you will reflect (meditatio) on that word or phrase. Read your passage again, and ask why that word stood out to you, followed by silence. In the third move, you will respond (oratio), read the passage again, and ask if there is an invitation or challenge for you to respond to. Take some quiet time to respond to the word that’s been given to you. Finally, in the fourth move you will read again and contemplate (contemplatio) what you have received, and rest in God with it.

Below, I have outlined a simple process to follow in order to practice lectio divina. Give it a try. It is likely a very different approach to reading the Bible than you have experienced before. Do it alone, or in a group.

Practice lectio divina

Choose a passage (6-8 verses). It can be part of your normal reading, or something you select.

Preparation (silencio): Take a moment, close your eyes, and relax your body, become consciously aware of God’s presence with you. Tell him that you are here, and you are ready to listen. Offer it up as a short prayer.

Read (lectio): Listen for a word or phrase that stands out to you. Turn to your passage, read it slowly. You may find it helpful to read aloud. Let the passage sink in as you read, and listen for a word or phrase that strikes you, or catches your attention. Allow some space for silence. Repeat the word softly to yourself. Don’t ask questions yet.

Reflect (meditatio): How is my life touched by this word? When you have the word, read again and listen for a way the passage connects to you. What is it in your life that needs to hear this word? If your passage is a story, place yourself at the scene, how do you react to it? How does it touch you? Meditate on this in silence.

Respond (oratio): What is my response to God based on what I have read and encountered? Read the passage again, listen for your own response. How are you reacting to the word you’ve been given? In your time of silence, enter into a prayerful dialogue with God, share with him how you have reacted, what emotions you are feeling, pour out your heart to him. Pay attention to any sense that God is inviting you to act or respond in some way. It may even be helpful to put this step to paper and write it down.

Rest (contemplatio): Rest in the Word of God. In your final reading, return to a place of rest in God. You’ve given full expression to your response and now you’re surrendering to God.

Resolve (incarnation): Incarnate (live out) the Word of God. When you are done resting in contemplation, resolve to carry this word with you into your life and live it out. If you were led to action, or to confession, make it a part of you as you move forward. Allow this time of reading and listening to transform you, and take you further on your journey into living a life of worship.

“Reading is like brining solid food to the mouth; meditation is the chewing of it, while prayer is the trusting of it; and, in contemplation, we take delight in the sweetness we have found.”[3]

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May you ever been willing to listen to his voice, and seek his guidance in your life. May your faith be put into practice and taken out into the world with you, and not kept privately in your heart. Amen.

 

[1] Barton, Sacred Rhythms, p. 50

[2] Barton, Sacred Rhythms, p. 55

[3] Quote from Guigio II, the Carthusian. A 12th century French monk.

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