This is the sixth entry in a series of posts by Brian Hardin, author and founder of Daily Audio Bible. In his previous essay, Living the Bible in Community, Brian considered what it would mean to live and worship as a community, rather than as a collection of individuals. Here’s his latest essay, drawn from Brian’s book Passages: How Reading the Bible in a Year Will Change Everything for You.
Life isn’t a race to the end but rather a gift given moment by moment. If we want to experience the abundant life God offers, we have to release our controlling, productivity-oriented approach to engaging faith and Scripture. So how do we give Scripture a spacious place to work in our lives? The answer lies in the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina.
In the early church of the 200s, some Christians chose to withdraw and seek God in the desert as a way of life. They lived an austere and simple existence, and it was in the desert that the ancient practice of lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”) began. Lectio divina is an unhurried, contemplative reading of a portion of Scripture, and it can give us a great framework for experiencing God through Scripture, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Practicing lectio divina begins when we withdraw to a quiet or still place, with no agenda, checklist, or anticipated outlook in mind.
Lectio (read), the first step, is a slow reading of a brief passage of Scripture while listening for God to speak through it. We read it with a listening heart and invite God to speak to us through it. As we slowly read repeatedly, we look for any word or phrase that draws our attention. When we identify this word or phrase, we begin to meditate upon it.
Meditatio (mediation) is a time of quiet reflection in God’s presence. Our goal is not to force ourselves into a mystical experience or even into deep insight, but to focus our affection and attention on God. We quietly read the words he’s led us to in Scripture and slowly chew them. We interact with them, invite them to shed light on our thoughts and experiences, and permit God to connect these truths to our lives. Through this process we allow it to become his personal Word to us, speaking directly to our issues, decisions, hopes, and dreams—and his will for us in all of it.
The third step is oratio (prayer). We respond to what God has spoken to us through Scripture. We often think of prayer as primarily talking to God, but what Scripture invites us to is conversational intimacy with God. We aren’t coming to God with demands and petitions; rather, we’re consecrating ourselves and asking that he take his Word into the deepest and most intimate places in our lives. We’re inviting Christ into the places he’s exposed or the moments he’s taken us back to so that he might heal us and set us free (Luke 4:18).
Finally we enter into contemplatio, or contemplation, a time of rest. Here we entrust ourselves to God as we reflect on what he has spoken. We listen for any other words he may want to speak. We remain as still and close as friends or lovers who do not have the frantic need to fill the space with words. In contemplatio we come to a place of reverence and silence once again as we are released to fulfill God’s purposes for us that day.
In practicing regular times of lectio divina, we not only allow the Holy Spirit to remind us of who we are and what our mission is; we also grow in intimacy with God. As this intimacy deepens, we become more like Christ.
Watch for the next post in this series later this month! In the meantime, you can read more of Brian’s writing in Passages, or follow his work at Daily Audio Bible. You can keep up with him each day at his blog, Twitter feed, or Facebook or G+ pages.