For long stretches of my Christian life, the Bible has seemed dry and inaccessible. Reading it has felt like a chore, something that I have done out of habit (to ‘check off the list’, as it were), or something that I haven’t done at all. There have been patches that I have been enthusiastic about it, and have read it with real energy and excitement, but those patches have felt pretty insignificant compared to my less enthusiastic periods.
I have always enjoyed looking through the Bible in a group setting, and bouncing ideas off other people (which I still think is one of the best ways to engage with views of the Bible and God outside of your own experience), but I have struggled to find something that matches that joy when I’m on my own.
Recently, however, I’ve been learning and practising a method of reading the Bible on a regular basis that I have been able to consistently enjoy and engage with God through. My enthusiasm for the Bible has been maintained over a period of almost a month since I really started practising this, and the more I do it and think about it and talk about it, the more my enthusiasm grows. Yes, some days are easier than others, but I wanted to share my experiences with you because it may fire some of you up the way I feel fired up.
This practice has a fancy Latin name: lectio divinia. In English, that means ‘divine reading,’ and, in practice, it means praying and meditating as you read through a short passage of Scripture. I was introduced to the idea by author and podcaster Mike McHargue, who describes lectio divinia as a method of prayer in his book, Finding God in the Waves.
To show you what this all is in practice, I’ve taken a bit from McHargue’s book, that tells you how to start off, and then adapted the transcript of some daily guided readings that he has put together for patrons of The Liturgists podcast.
From Finding God in the Waves, p. 184: “Begin by selecting a Scripture passage. Not anything too long – one ‘scene’ in a narrative book or one chapter in Psalms will do. A scene in the Gospels where Jesus interacts with someone words well, too.”
Adaptation of The Liturgists meditations: “Read your chosen passage. Note any words or phrases that catch your attention.
“Take a few moments to reflect on those words. Which words or phrases caught your attention?
“Now read the passage again. Meditate on (think about) what those words or phrases may say to you in your specific circumstances.
“What does this scripture passage say to you, today?
“As you read the scriptures a third time, think about what action God may be inviting you toward.
“Take some time to pray, asking God to lead you using this passage of scripture.”
I’ve found that the practice a more contemplative, meditative process, which simply allows the words of the Bible to wash over you as you sit in God’s presence, or a more active, thinking practice that let’s you think through the implications of the scriptures. Depending on my mood and energy, it can be one or the other for me. Sometimes I use a study Bible, and engage with the footnotes as I pray into the passage, other times I look at nothing but the text itself.
I can’t put my finger on exactly why I find this approach to the Bible so refreshing. It’s probably partly to do with my growing love for Christian meditation, which has been an ongoing thing for the last few months. I find that meditation allows me to engage with God in a relational way that I haven’t typically found in things like sung worship or other ways of reading the Bible. In this way, the engagement with the Bible that the lectio divinia encourages is, for me, real engagement with the living word of God, not just a hollow reading.
I will say that this isn’t the only way that I read the Bible, but I have found that at least starting out at this way has led to more engagement with longer passages, when I want to read in such a way that is less focused on a small section, and more focused on the themes that emerge from a larger section. I think it just gives me a clear direction in a way that the vague instruction to ‘pray before/as you read the Bible’ doesn’t.
Interestingly, I have found this practice to be a great way of studying the Bible in a group setting. I have led sessions in both my discipleship year group and the small group that I lead where we have spent 15-20 minutes looking at a passage of scripture in this way on our own, and then come together as a group to discuss what God was showing us. This allows people the intimacy of hearing from God individually, while also allowing our ideas of the passage to be broadened with the insights of others. I would recommend it to anyone else who is looking for a way to do prayer and Bible study in a smaller group setting.
To finish, I’ll just summarise the process of the lectio divinia as I practice it in 3 short steps (one for each reading of your chosen passage), and then I’ll leave you with a Psalm that, for me, has captured this whole experience.
- As you read the passage, note any words or phrases that jump out at you or you resonate with.
- As you read a second time, consider those words or phrases more carefully, and ask what, in the context of the passage, they mean to you.
- As you read a final time, ask God to show you any action he might want you to take, based on all that you have read and reflected on so far.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from wilful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.