The young woman’s heart was in tatters; fear and rage and confusion stirred to a toxic mix. She reflected on the Christianity of her youth and recalled only an angry presentation of moralism based on the pending wrath of a terrible God. She told of reading the Bible for herself as an adult. She found the stories of the Old Testament awful, the reflection of human failures in the pages were messed up in her opinion. My heart is sad for her and my prayer is that Spirit would find her with new faith, with the realization that God is for her, not against her. And, I pray for her to come to understand the Bible as the Word of God.
Have you struggled to read and understand the Word as well?
Do you even pick up a Bible on a regular basis outside of a church building?
There is a word for you in the Word!
The Bible is not magical, nor should we come to it superstitiously, treating it like a collection of fortune cookie sayings. But, we can and we should read the ancient words with the faith that the Spirit can make those words become living truth for us. The Psalm celebrates it – “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:130-133, NIV)
One way to engage with the Bible is a practice that is a thousand years old, coming to us from the Benedictine monks. It is called Lectio divina (pronounced “lec-tsee-oh di-vee-nah”), Latin for “holy reading.”
One writer says, “It was originally practiced by monks who spent a large portion of their days praying and reading Scripture. While reading they noticed that at times individual words, phrases, or verses seemed to leap off of the page with a special personal importance. Have you had the same experience? These special words or verses can give a sense of encouragement, comfort, thankfulness, or conviction that often applies to present situations and can draw us closer to God. Lectio divina is an intimate way of communicating with the Lord. All too often in prayer and worship, we talk to God but don’t give him a chance to communicate back to us. Lectio divina employs God’s own words to have a personal conversation with him.” (Phil Collins, Ph.D.)
Reading Scripture in this way is a four step process- Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Thought. It is not the only way we read the Bible as we must study the text in order to remain true to the meaning, to avoid twisting it into saying what we desire. Still we should have an expectation that the Holy Spirit will take the Word and make it alive for us. Is this simple and easy? Not entirely. Hearing the voice of God through the Scripture requires that we apply ourselves to the process, that we learn to ‘rightly divide the Word of Truth,’ that we remain in a harmonious relationship with the Spirit.
The practice will ask you to set aside time, regularly, where you take the Bible in hand. There will need to be focus, a sustained attention to the text for 15 minutes or so. Start with familiar passages that are accessible to your understanding like the Psalms or a Gospel. Don’t attempt to devour long passages, rather choose a paragraph or chapter for your time. Read it first to just understand the words. What is the theme? What is being said? Is it corrective, instructing, teaching, informing, celebrating?
Then, close your eyes and let the Scripture you just read form in your mind, guiding your thoughts, making connections with who you are and where you are. Perhaps it will be a single thought that starts to take shape, an encouragement for you, something God wants to change in you, or even a conviction about some act that needs to be corrected.
As those thoughts form, begin to pray – perhaps repeating a phrase from the passage, or thanking God for something you have learned about Him, or asking Him to give you faith to receive the promise that He’s made alive to you.
Close your time with thoughtfulness. I encourage a kind of journal. No, you don’t have write well, in complete sentences, with great grammar. This is the place where you take what you believe the Spirit is saying and you commit it to text so you can review it or perhaps even share it when appropriate.
Collins observes – “Lectio divina is a process that will take some getting used to. Try not to quit if you aren’t fond of it after your first few attempts. Remember that it is much like learning to play the piano. At first each step may seem rigid and awkward, but after some practice and experience you can learn to have life-giving communication with God.”
Let me ask you again – are you committed to reading Scripture? Don’t let the only Word you hear be what comes across the pulpit from your pastor. Don’t only read about the Word, getting only what someone else has prepared for you. Learn to hear from the Lord. Get an accessible translation of the Bible. As beautiful as that old King James Version in 17th century English language might be, you need to be able to understand the words and syntax. Get an NIV translation, or perhaps if that is too difficult, get a New Living Translation. Then, read it! Use the ancient practice of lectio divina and become a student of the inspired revelation of God.
Here is a word from the Word. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. . . . God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:15-19, NIV)
Abba, I open my mind and my heart to You.
I am thankful for the Spirit Who makes the Word alive in me.
I ask that the seed of Truth will grow into a beautiful way of life
that honors You, that causes other to desire You.
Bring faith, renew hope, inspire transformation is my prayer,
through Jesus Christ. Amen