Last week, I asked a bunch of you how you go about using the Bible and the study of its contents to actually nourish your soul and meet with God. I got some great responses both here and on Facebook. This week, I wanted to put up how I ended up approaching this during the class I taught at my church. It’s super short, not very deep, and much more can/should/will be said. For what it is, I hope it’s genuinely helpful and speaks to how we might meet God through the Scriptures.
How do we move from the Facts of the Bible to the God of the Bible? From knowing the Bible, to knowing the Person? From Scripture being informational to formational?
The Meeting Place of God
As I said in the first class I taught, the Bible is not the passive “Revelation of God”. It is the place through which the Holy Spirit actively “reveals God” to us. When it comes to the Bible, we should start thinking more in verbs, not nouns. The Bible is “simply” a meeting place for God and his people, where he might meet them as he desires, by His Spirit.
When we meet God in Scripture, its the convergence of four things: Us and our faith, God and His Spirit.
Therefore, the task of the Christian that wants to meet God in Scripture is this: stir up and feed your faith and cry for the Spirit.
That’s scary. It means we can’t control or manufacture our “meeting with God”. And the simple fact is that many times, we will cry out for the Spirit and he won’t seem to show up. But we can never separate the Spirit from our Bible reading and study. This is why many churches have a “Prayer of Illumination” spoken each week before the sermon.
Know that God wants to meet his people deeply. Many times, even “dry times” when the Spirit does not come, even after crying out for Him, it is to stir your faith all the more, that you might eventually meet him all the more deeply.
This is the context in which this battle for meeting God is taking place.
The Soul’s Breathing
When we approach the Bible, what do we actually do? What’s the posture and framework of our souls?
We let them breathe.
We inhale Scripture, but that’s not the end. Inhaling too much will kill you. We must exhale as well, which is responding to the “nutrients” we have just received. The Christian family has found many ways to do both of these things, and have sometimes even used different terms for this process. C.S. Lewis used the terms contemplating and enjoying.
So where does Bible Study (the class I was teaching, commentaries, etc.) fit into that?
Well, first, an important tension: on one hand, we need to believe that those things we glean from Bible Study and knowing more “facts” about the Bible are good, but at the same they’re not necessary for a full spirituality. Many of us know that person that couldn’t care less who wrote what books of the Bible, when, and why, but they’re intimacy with God is one we could only dream of.
The information is not in itself what brings about change and depth of spirituality.
So what good is it? Removing the barriers to desire, access and meaning.
The hope is that the “information” of biblical study would removed some of the things that keep us from the Bible. We’re usually intimidated by a perceived gap between us and the Bible (a gap that’s very really, by the way). We don’t know how to approach it and access it, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know how to gather meaning from it. This leads us to have a diminished desire to approach it at all.
More “knowledge” of the Bible can help break down those barriers and facilitate time in the Bible.
If the Bible’s like a window through which we look, hoping to see an amazing sunset, then Bible Study, hopefully, will be like window cleaner to see the sunset more easily, more clearly, and more accessibly; leading us to want to see that sunset all the more.
First: Pray, Pray, Pray
- Plead with the Holy Spirit to come
- Without Him moving we will not meet God no matter how often we open the Bible
- Pray Scripture
- Find a method. Do it.
- Read lots, read little.
- Study Intentionally, read casually
Stick very close to to Psalms
- Pray Psalms
- Take them clause by clause
- Start with small verses.
- Suggestions: Isaiah 1, Ephesians 1 & 2, Romans 8
- Psalms are hard
Sacred Reading techniques:
the Scholastic Way: sacra pagina
- focus on a particular text
- ask questions of the text
- ask questions of yourself from the text
- focuses on the objective, theological, cognitive
- might be easier to start here, but it’s not the fullness
the Monastic Way: lectio divina
Since early 400s C.E., this has been in use in the Christian family. This makes this the oldest systematic way to read the Bible worshipfully. lectio divina consists four sections that one slowly moves through:
- Reading (lectio): short passage of Scripture, systematically chosen. The place and posture in which this is done is important. Begin with a brief one-line prayer to to prepare your heart. Read the text over and over until it’s in your short-term memory. Submit yourself to these words. Let them form you and ask questions of you. Try and stop the impulse to quickly find the “nugget for the day” or “application”.
- Meditation (meditatio): this is slow. Let the text inside of you and just ruminate in your heart. Try to “translate” the text into images, rather than words. Reflect on the text; maybe even journal your thoughts. Put yourself in the story in your mind–imagine how all five of your sense would be engaging in this moment. Spread your focus as equally as you can on the mind, emotions, and will. The Psalms are a great place to begin practicing this.
- Prayer (oratio): this is the time for our hearts to respond to what we have read and meditated upon. It is whatever the natural response of our heart is to this text. Sometimes it will be praise, others time confession, repentance, adoration, petition, etc. Be free in this. You will probably oscillate somewhat between Meditation and Prayer
- Contemplation (contemplatio): this is the culmination of the time in Scripture. Meditation and prayer flow out of us as communication to God. This is the most mysterious of the components of lectio divine. Having drawn near to God and communicated to Him, this is the time of silence and receptivity and communing with God. It is the sweetest part, and the most difficult to describe. It is inner stillness and wordless knowing and resting; it is sitting the very presence and prayer of Jesus Himself, by His Spirit.
Do you all have any other thoughts or ideas on this?