By Brock Bondurant
Psalm 1:2 – “but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
As Christ followers, we believe the Bible to be a sacred text. As Paul explains in a letter to his “true son in the faith”, Timothy, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore we hold all of Scripture to be worthy of our devotion and adoration. Jesus reflects this in his lifestyle, frequently quoting Scripture and spending time reading God’s Word on Sabbath days in the synagogue (Luke 4:18).
To follow Jesus is to know God’s Word. But sometimes I think we miss God’s heart for us in his Word by the way that we approach it. Bible study is no doubt crucial to following Jesus. It is good to read God’s Word in a way to prepare to teach it – Paul even says that. But if you’re like me, always approaching Scripture to learn in order to teach or study in order to be knowledgeable, you miss out on what the Holy Spirit may like to say to you personally to communicate love, extend invitation, and inspire action.
Given the roles I inhabit in my life, I frequently read God’s Word in order to teach it to someone else, or write a devotional, or just appear smart and biblically literate. This is good, but it isn’t everything. I frequently miss out on the heart of God’s Word because I’m always approaching it to arrive at an end, rather than enjoying it for the gift that it is.
In her book, “Sacred Rhythms”, Ruth Haley Barton explains that we should also take time to approach God’s Word as if reading a love letter instead of like reading the newspaper. Think of the difference.
A couple weeks ago, I received a letter from my fiancé who lives in a different city. I dropped everything and immediately sat down to soak up every word she wrote. With joyful expectation I tore it open, cherished every word, and then read it again. What if I approached Scripture that way? What if with joy I opened up a Psalm and read it as a love letter written for me personally, not just a textbook to study and learn from? No, Scripture is not literally written to us. But it is written for us.
There is a practice of Scripture reading that can help our approach. It’s called lectio divina, or “divine reading”. In this practice we choose a short passage of text and 1) Prepare to meet with God (silencio), 2) Read (lectio), 3) Reflect (meditatio), 4) Respond (oratio), 5) Rest in God’s Word (contemplatio).
Without all the Latin, it plays out like this: sit in silence for a short time, quieting the mind; relaxing. Then read the passage and listen for a word or phrase that really resonates, causes a feeling of resistance, or sparks any emotion. After a brief silence, repeat the word or phrase and explore without judgement why this word resonates at this moment in your life. Then, read the passage again to meditate on the word or phrase, asking why this particular word is for me right now. Is there an invitation that God is asking me to step into? Is there something I’m withholding from him? Is there stress or doubt in my life that He desires to speak into? Reading the passage again, enter into conversation with God, responding in a sincere and honest way of how you feel to what he is saying to you. Then, after reading it one final time, rest in his presence and love for you through this word.
Following this, we want to live out what we have heard in our time with Him, stepping into his invitation. What does the Spirit want to say to you through God’s Word today?
Practice: Start out by trying this method with a short passage like Psalm 23:
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.