Yesterday I gave you a list of books to use for devotion. Today I want to talk about probably the most intimidating part of devotional time, reading scripture. A lot of us have tried to read scripture and made no headway, we’re left confused or feeling as if we may have learned something but have not experienced the transforming presence of God. My experience has been that I scour it for facts like a text book. Learning to meditate on scripture has completely changed the way I read it and has, in turn, helped me grow spiritually.
Meditation on scripture has a single purpose: to fill ourselves with the words of the Bible. To do this gives us a language in which to think and operate as Christians. We do not seek a language that is removed from the way we live, but a language that is bother sacred and secular. Finding this language is essential to the lives of Christians, and being filled with scripture is the only way to do so. Jesus says, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” for Christians to have mouths that speak the language of the scriptures that language must fill their hearts. The best way to guarantee this overflowing is meditating on scripture. As much as possible, the first words in the minds of Christians each day should be the words of scripture.
For me the best way to read scripture for meditation has been the 800 year old practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading. Lectio divina has four movements: lectio, meditato, oratio, contemplatio. Another way to put these four stages is Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest and the exercise to be practiced in each one is simple.
Read: Read a short passage of scripture aloud over and over until a phrase or word begins to stick out. This may take one reading, it may take 15, but be slow and deliberate, absorbing every word of the passage waiting until God ignites in you a resonance with the words of the scripture. These words are a precious gift from God for that day. Another day God may have different words from the same passage, but each day God speaks.
Reflect: Repeat the phrase or word given by God until it fills your mind. Ask yourself, “Why these words?” Journaling on the meaning in general and for you specifically is helpful here. The purpose of reflection is to internalize the words of scripture and their meaning. God is speaking through scripture to you, if you will only listen.
Respond: The third movement is a time of prayer. It is a response to God for the gift given in reading and reflecting. Because of the uniqueness of each reading the time of response cannot be prescribed. You can thank God for the insight you have received into grace and mercy, you can pray for strength and discipline to correct a flaw in yourself that was illuminated in the reading, you can pray for others. The response is based entirely on the previous movements.
Rest: The final movement is the simplest and the hardest. Resting in the goodness of who God is. Just as physical exercise requires rest at its completion so does physical exercise. Rest is a time to sit quietly and be in the presence of God before the day is begun. Tomorrow I’ll post more about rest, or contemplative prayer.
Some helpful passages to meditate on would be Matthew 5-8 (broken into smaller sections), James 1:19-26, Galatians 5:16-25, 1 John 1, Romans 8. Take one of these and read it each day for 30 minutes using the method described above. I promise your love of scripture and your sense of God’s moving will grow.