I often feel this: “I am reading my Bible regularly but it is dry and boring!”
If you are a regular reader of the Bible then you will know how it goes. Things sort of run out of steam. There are wonderful Bible reading helps such as the Closer to God or Khula books from Scripture Union and these certainly help deepen our experience. But sometimes we need to allow God, Holy Spirit, to be the guide when we read the Word of God – HOW?
I bet there have been times when you have read a passage, even a familiar one, and zap, a word or phrase or verse jumps out of the page and punches you in the face like a blast of cold refreshing water and all you can say is “WOW!” Then as you chew on this, processing the mystery, allowing it to become a word of life for you…things happen.
Did you know that you can develop a way of reading scripture that allows the Holy Spirit to do that more often? It is an approach to reading that is as old as the scriptures themselves and many Christians have found it to be a powerful help in their spiritual growth. It is a slow prayerful reading of the scripture, called by the ancients in their Latin language: Lectio Divina. Fancy words that simply mean “Divine Reading”. At one time this was the normal way for Christians to read and reflect on the Word of God.
The Bible is full of encouragements to “meditate” on the words and deeds of our wonderful God. “Meditate”, to me, simply means to “chew the cud” on something until it morphs and becomes very personal. Here is one example: Psalm 119:26-27: “I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me your deep wisdom. Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.”
A perspective by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day … Here we are not expounding [the text] or preparing a sermon or conducting Bible study of any kind; we are rather waiting for God’s Word to us … Often we are so burdened and overwhelmed with other thoughts, images and concerns that it may take a long time before God’s Word has swept all else aside and come through. But it will surely come …” (in Life Together, SCM Press, 1954, p.62).
You can do it right now with any passage of scripture! Here is one way of structuring the flow with 5 simple actions. First, ask God to be with you and speak to you and then…
1st Action – Reading 1. The aim is firstly to gain a “big picture” overview of the entire passage. Read slowly twice from different versions if possible. Try not to think about it much or analyse it. Just get it!
2nd Action – Reading 2. Now you read again slowly, listening with your heart and asking the Holy Spirit if there is any particular word, phrase or theme that you should zoom in on and meditate/chew on for a time. This may require a time of waiting on God and as Bonhoeffer says, in the quote above, we may have to ignore distracting thoughts etc. as we listen for the still small voice. When you have it, then focus on it for a while, allowing God to speak to you. Try not to rush this step. Try to go with your gut response to it rather than over-think. This is a listening process.
3rd Action – Prayer. Now turn your meditation into Prayer. This involves personal heart to heart sharing with God of how you understand his word/phrase relates to your life currently and your thoughts, feelings and response to the word/phrase given you at this time. Chat to God.
4th This is a time of silence! Seek to rest in the presence of God, to be silent and still – to BE still and know God. At this point in the process all the mental and even emotional work is suspended. Silence is God’s first language! I try to imagine that God is sitting in the chair near me in the lounge and we are just enjoying being together, no conversation or thinking, just relaxing and chilling and together enjoying each other’s company. Some call this action – contemplation.
5th Action is Action. It is no good if we are touched by God and do nothing about it. So this final action is when we can pause to ask the question – “Do I need to take any particular action in the light of this time spent with God and any word he has spoken to me?”
Now conclude with a prayer, like the Lord’s Prayer, giving thanks and making a commitment to whatever you need to do as a result of your encounter with our Living God today.
Habits are formed when we repeat something until it becomes the “new normal” for us. So use this structure in an ordered way until it becomes an instinctive style for you of being open to the Holy Spirit’s speaking and working in your life.