The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

April 30, 2012

Study the Bible through Lectio Divina

By: 
Laura Abrams

In InterVarsity, we have a central belief that the scriptures in the Bible are God’s Word – and these words speak to us. The scriptures spoke to generations before us, and will speak to generations after us until Christ returns.

Typically in InterVarsity, we love to study the scriptures inductively—taking into account the context of the text, making observations, drawing reasonable inferences, and applying these truths to our lives as the Holy Spirit guides us.

But, inductive study is not the only way to let our lives be shaped by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. Lectio Divina, Latin for “Divine Reading,” is a devotional reading of scripture that has existed for over 1,700 years. This practice emerged when literacy rates were low, and accessibility to written texts was few and far between. Communities of believers used this method to enable followers of Jesus—with or without a copy of the Bible (or an ability to read it) — to receive God’s word and consider how to respond.

Practicing this spiritual discipline, in addition to inductive study, opens us up to more ways to hear from, experience, and respond to God—individually and communally.  A benefit of Lectio Divina is that there is less temptation to read solely in order to consume information (a temptation of studying inductively). In whatever way you interact with the Bible, scripture is meant to be read with ears open to hear God’s voice through his Word and respond!

To practice Lectio Divina yourself, select a passage of scripture (if you don’t have one in mind, start with Isaiah 55 or Psalm 23). Set a timer for 20 minutes (so you don’t think about how much time you have left), and go through the following exercise slowly. Enjoy the time. Listen to the Spirit.

To Practice Lectio Divina

Silencio (silence): Prepare to enter this devotional time by singing a hymn, reading a Psalm, or praying. Thank God for life and his presence. This time is for you to slow down and focus. Sit comfortably, alert, and relaxed. Try, if you can, to put away your thoughts of the day and ready yourself to listen. Start with a simple prayer, “Lord, put me in a place to enter into your presence.”

Lectio (reading): Read the passage aloud (or silently, if you are not in a place where you can read aloud). Listen for a word that sticks out to you (for example, in Psalm 23, it could be “shepherd” or “dwell” or “green pastures”). Read the passage again. If one word or phrase stood out the first time, see if it does the second time. Begin to repeat this word or phrase to yourself and let it resonate with you. If nothing sticks out, that is okay; just read again! Imagine someone taking a highlighter and pointing out one word or phrase. Remember, this is not a performance-driven exercise (spiritual devotions are not meant to be about performance, they´re meant for worship of our Most High God!). Focus on spending time with God in his Word.

Meditatio (meditation): Reread the passage. Meditate upon your word or phrase and ask God how this word speaks to your life. This could be a realization, feeling, sensory perception, image, thought, etc. Let your imagination be engaged, as well as your heart and mind. As these images, thoughts, and feelings come to you, take time to think about them. When you feel like praying, move to the next phase.

Oratio (prayer): Pray what you most desire to say to God, then listen! Journal and write down thoughts that come to mind, and what you believe God is speaking to you. Listen to the Holy Spirit to discover a possible invitation relevant to today, the next few days, or the year to come. It could be an action to take, a truth to discover about God, a way of life to change, someone to forgive, or something to celebrate. As you sense God bringing the time to a close (or your timer goes off!) pray to close the time.

Contemplatio (contemplation): Pray that you will be able to respond to God in the ways he´s spoken. Celebrate hearing from God and simply be still. Reflect on the experience. Regardless of how you feel, thank God for the chance to encounter him and his living Word. Ask God to bless you, especially if you feel called to an action.

Just as is true with any spiritual practice, you may feel like you have heard nothing—even to the point that you feel irritated. This is ok and natural. Do not feel you have to perform in this prayer practice. In Creating a Life with God, Daniel Wolper writes:

“If encountering God’s Word were easy, there would be no need to practice prayer! Prayer is not a product, it’s a relationship. Even if you did not experience the wonderful event that you imagined, God knows your intention. You wanted to spend time with Jesus, and in some way, although exactly how is a mystery, you did. So express your frustration to God; ask for help and for the strength to try again. God does not require that we be successful, just faithful.”

As is the case with all spiritual disciplines, the more you practice, the more familiar it becomes. And while it’s not about perfection, the Christian life is about faithfulness. May you, and your Christian community, discover more of Christ and how to live for him through his Word.

If you are interested in reading more about Lectio Divina, check out Creating A Life with God by Daniel Wolpert and The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. 

Laura Abrams is currently serving through InterVarsity Link in Dominican Republic with the local IFES group, Asociación Dominicana de Estudiantes Evangélicos. She worked for five years with InterVarsity at Trinity University, her alma mater, where her experience as a student and staff grew her belief in prayer's immense importance in participating in God's mission.  

Comments

k
I think we need to be careful about criticizing method versus those who practiced them just because one group used a method poorly does not mean the method is itself wrong. An example of this is the crusaders using prayer piety and our Lord's name in the atrocities they did, this poor use does not negate the usefulness of prayer, or piety,or saying our Lord's name. Many believers negatively view the honest scholarship and the study of Philosophy theology that theologians and apologists (such as William Lane Craig, and Lee Strobel) partake in since it does not get them out of their offices and asks to many questions (in their opinion), but this does not negate the the importance of these pursuits since they end up edifying the body. Furthermore I have read some of the writings about the mystic fathers and like all works outside of scripture they are flawed but they do contain much insight and useful information for us today as do the writings of Augustine and Luther and C.S. Lewis. Are they scripture no but that doesn't mean there are not things we can learn from their studies. And about disobeying the great commission the reformation did just as much ignore it since they originally believe that it had been accomplished (see the us center for world missions website for resources on this and its sister the site perspectives org). It took a bold man with a missionary mindset to kick start the protestants into a missions mindset for the great commission ... William Carey.
When I was a student in InterVarsity, I absolutely loved my time studying the Word of God. I especially appreciated their faithfulness to scripture. However, I can see that this, along with other mystical and heretical practices are signs of the times. You didn't talk about the fact that this practice developed among the ascetics, who disobeyed the Great Comission and separated themselves by going out on mountain tops to try to gain some kind of deeper, extrabiblical revelation from God. Repeating mantras and visualization is not the way to the heart of God. It is, however, the way back to experiential "Christianity" and back to the Catholic church. Traditions are wonderful, but these traditions will ultimately lead toward mysticism and nosticism, as we attempt to travel a road that neither we nor our fathers knew.
"Extrabiblical revelation from God?" How can lectio divina be extrabiblical when it is the Scripture you are contemplating? Has a word or concept or direction never jumped off the page while you read or studied the Bible? Lectio divina assumes that Scripture is God's Word and that He will speak through it to the listening heart. SBH
Agreed. The point is not to "spookify" reading the Bible. And it's certainly never appropriate to read in a manner to "get what you want from God." That being said, there is no more propensity in Lectio Divina than in inductive study to do this...because plenty of people manipulate the text to say what they want it to say...in an "inductive" study, included. I depends much on our disposition before God than solely the method used to engage the text. Lectio Divina is simply one more way to listen for God's voice. You must always practice discernment personally, and in community. This way of studying is not meant to replace other ways, it's simply a way to make sure we are not only studying with our minds engaged, but also with our hearts engaged. You should always do this with any scripture reading, whether inductive study, bible study in a group, listening to a pastor's sermon, reading a commentary, or reading in the manner of Divine/Holy Reading aka Lectio Divina. It's really not significantly different than saying "that part of the pastor's sermon really spoke to me" because something jumped out at you...it's the same if a piece of scripture stands out to you...you need to use discernment if what you are hearing is from God. In reality, all reading of scripture is "Divine Reading" because the Word is God's and it has power.
This seems to trade on the need to spookify reading to get what God wants for you, and thus goes against the sufficiency of Scripture or at least against testing what you get out of the process - especially if it is assumed that this way of doing lecto divina. But if the Bible is God's Word already, then we already are capable of doing lecto divina with the plain sense of the text. We should start by identifying a clear unit of text and read it listening for the emphases within the text on what is important or imagining what possible desires and emotions may reasonably go with the expressions and choice of words. The meditation would be the mind's search after the meaning of the text and its uses until we see why it was important that God include this text in His Word. Then we have the real bombshell and blessing which will naturally inspire our gratitude and thanksgiving along with the deep desire to see that such be truly realized in our life together. I don't think that I have "protestantized" the practice of lecto divino but rather given its original spirit in Thomas Aquinas. And I have not denied the supernatural element, since God works by creating purposeful things where nothing was before, even in our minds and hearts. If that means that necessarily all bible study is lecto divina, so much the better.

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