Monday, November 8, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 2

Lectio divina is a fourfold rhythm of soaking in God’s Word that weaves together 1) our Scripture reading,2) our meditation on Scripture, 3) our prayer and 4) our quiet enjoyment of the Lord’s presence.

Over the past number of years as I have taught on lectio divina in various classes, retreats and seminars, many believers have expressed that they already practice various steps of lectio divina in their devotional time. In one sense none of this is new, which is good—it is simply part of our common practice as Christians, spending time in God’s Word and prayer. However, they also tell me that seeing the whole picture of lectio divina is really helpful to them. It gives words to what they have been doing; it encourages them to intentionally soak in God’s Word and his presence; and it helps them to see how the various rhythms fit together.

2. Scripture Meditation
After we have read a passage several times and put down our Bible, our time in God’s Word is not finished. Rather, it is just getting started! The second rhythm of Lectio divina is “meditatio”—meditation on the Scripture we have read. Here we ponder the passage and approach it from many different angles. We reflect on key words in the passage. We picture the events in our mind or even place ourselves in that setting. In short, we steep ourselves in God’s Word and allow it to saturate our minds, our hearts and our lives.

The Hebrew word for meditate relates to animals chewing the cud. After a cow eats grass and swallows it, it goes into the first stomach to begin digestion. Later the grass comes back up for the cow to chew the cud some more before it goes into the second stomach. So goes the digestion process throughout the day until the grass reaches the fourth stomach for final integration into the cow’s system. When we meditate on God’s Word throughout the day we do the same thing. We read it in the morning, chewing on it for awhile. Later that morning it comes to mind and we gnaw on it some more. Again in the afternoon, we reflect upon the passage and review it in our minds. As we continue to meditate on the Scripture throughout the day, it works its way into our whole being.

In meditation we also ponder how the passage applies to our lives. Asking questions such as, “How does this relate to me personally?” and “What do I need to change?” we seek to apply what we are learning. As the Lord commands in Joshua 1:8, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”

Placing Ourselves in the Passage
A fruitful way of meditating on Scripture is to imagine it in our minds. Take for example the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who comes to Jesus to be healed in Luke 8:43-48. To bring this account alive, we can picture the multitude of people pressing one another in an attempt to get close to Jesus. We smell the crowd. Then we see the woman who had bled for twelve years attempt to work her way closer to Jesus. Is she slipping in between others? Is she elbowing people to get past them? Those who recognize her pull back in surprise because she is unclean and not supposed to be out in public—they do not want to become contaminated! We hear their condescending comments but see her continue on, ignoring the humiliation. Finally she sees Jesus, and we watch as she rivets her attention on the hem of his robe. With one final thrust of her hand her finger tips touch it. Jesus reels around as power flows out of him and she is healed!

Meditation continues by asking questions that apply the passage to our own lives. How can I press closer to Jesus? What obstacles must I press past in order to reach him? What is it that I need healing for in my life? Do I want that healing as badly as this woman? Am I willing to ignore opposition and words of shame hurled at me in order to reach the Lord?

Another way to flesh out this passage is putting yourself right into the scene. Picture yourself as that woman. Feel her desperation! Feel her uncompromising drive! If you do so, you will learn this passage as you never have before—you will live our Scripture in ways you never thought possible.

A similar way of personalizing a passage of Scripture is by putting our name in. For the past three years, a verse I have meditated on again and again is Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” (NASB). In this passage, God is addressing his covenant people; therefore, as part of God’s people today, it applies directly to me. So when I review this passage, I place my name right in the verse: “I have called you by name, Glenn; you are Mine!” Every time I hear my name there it comes alive to me —even after doing so dozens of times over the past several years.

Listening to the Holy Spirit
We should pay particular attention to portions of Scripture that catch our attention. Robert Mulholland suggests that after you have finished your Bible reading, you should “return to those places where you experienced harmony or dissonance. . . . What is God saying to you in that experience of harmony? . . . Is the Word addressing you at some unrealized point of your life where you are hungering and thirsting for wholeness and life? . . . Is the Word calling to some deep emptiness that longs to be filled?”

Likewise we need to focus on the phrases that disturb us. The Holy Spirit gets our attention by making us feel uncomfortable when we hear his Word. Mulholland continues, “What is God saying to you in the experience of dissonance? Does the dissonance reveal something in your being or doing that is in rebellion against God? . . . Is God addressing some habit, some attitude, some deeply ingrained perspective that is inconsistent with God’s purposes for your wholeness? Is the Word probing some relationship that is not healthy?” [1]

The process of meditation becomes turbocharged when we make the effort to memorize a passage of Scripture where God is really speaking to us. The practice of memorizing invites us to reflect on the verses on a whole new level. It causes us to recognize what specific words are used and see what comes first, what comes after that and how they are connected. We pick up on repetition or cadence in the passage.

In addition, memorizing Scripture enables us to take the passage with us all day long. We review it again and again, reminding ourselves of what the Lord is speaking to us. In this way, God’s thoughts toward us wash over our heart and mind all day long and often into the night as we fall asleep.

One colleague of mine spent one and a half years soaking in John chapter 1. He would read a verse and steep his thoughts in that one verse for his devotional time. Then he would write the verse out on a card and put it in his pocket to review throughout the day. He and his wife memorized John 1 together and would quiz each other. In this way he committed the whole chapter to memory and reviewed it constantly.

Often I memorize passages that stand out to me during my Bible reading. I don’t do this so that I can be good a Bible quizzer; rather I memorize verses where God is speaking to me so that I can take with me throughout the day. Far more than I need food and water each day, I need God’s Word. It encourages me when I’m down and discouraged; it instructs me how I should walk; it corrects me where I am in sin; it renews my mind; and it constantly pours God’s love and acceptance and grace into every part of my life.

When I’ve memorized a meaningful passage, I find myself thinking about again and again during the day. As I lie down to sleep at night, the words come echoing back through my memory. I find myself feeding on the passage continually. As Joshua 1:8 commands, I begin to “meditate on it day and night.”

Putting it into Practice
Try it this week! After you have read a passage several times, stay sitting in a chair and meditate on the passage. Picture it in your mind. Place yourself into the story. Let God’s Word address you personally. Or, you may want to take a walk while you reflect on the passage. Let your mind approach the verses from different angles. Ask questions of the passage. Let it become alive to you.

Then, take one or more verses with you throughout the day. Try memorizing a key verse and review it throughout the week. As you do so, I pray that God’s Word would saturate your thoughts, your attitudes, your actions and the whole of your life. I pray that his Living Word spoken to you would indeed become the very air that you breathe!

[1] M. Robert Mulholland, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation. Revised Edition (Nashville: The Upper Room, 2000) pp. 151-52.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

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