Scripture Engagement Practices Overview
Having described the foundations of Scripture engagement, it is now time to plunge into some actual Scripture engagement practices. The goal with Scripture engagement, and all spiritual discipline practices, is never to try to do them all; that just isn’t possible and wouldn’t be helpful anyway. The practices aren’t the goal. Knowing God and being changed by him is the goal. These practices are tools God uses to meet us and change us through Scripture—his Word. Don’t treat these practices legalistically instead, enjoy them as a means to meet your Creator and Savior.
Below is a brief overview of a variety of ways to engage the Bible. Use these descriptions to help you decide which practices you would like to explore in more depth on this website. By clicking on the name of the practice you’ll be directed to 1) a more detailed description of the practice, 2) practical tips for starting that practice, and 3) a list of suggested resources if you want to learn more about the practice. Some of these practices are likely to appeal to you more than others, which is just fine.
Please read this section before you start any of the practices. This section is about preparing yourself before you engage with Scripture, probably the single most important aspect to making your time with God’s Word meaningful.
Engaging the Bible and praying are the primary methods for developing a deepening relationship with God. While many tend to think of prayer and Bible reading as separate spiritual practices (e.g., first pray, then read the Bible), they can be even more powerful when combined into one practice of “praying Scripture.” Numerous ways to pray Scripture are explored in this method of Scripture engagement.
The Picture It method of Scripture engagement (also sometimes called Imaginative Contemplation or the Ignatian Method) gives you the opportunity to engage your imagination. God has given us the biblical stories so we can connect with them on all levels, learning who he is and what he cares about. In this method, you place yourself in the stories of Scripture in an attempt to better empathize with the people of the Bible and “experience” their stories. With the Picture It method, you are no longer just reading a book—you are living a story. This is especially helpful for those who tend to connect to Scripture on a purely cognitive level, allowing them to experience more of the emotion of the text.
A Scripture journal is a conversation with God. It is meant to be a place where you can safely record and reflect on your raw thoughts and feelings, ask questions, search for patterns, and develop your own thoughts with the Holy Spirit as your guide. Being candid with both God and yourself deeply enhances spiritual growth. Confession to God results in an open and honest relationship with him that allows the Spirit to continue to shape and mold you into Christ’s image.
Engage Through Art
Images connect with our emotions and can convey deep truths; they can be powerful triggers to help remember the stories and connect with the truths of the Bible. A good piece of biblical art can give “fresh eyes” for familiar passages. The artist becomes your companion who points out details of a passage that you might have passed over in merely reading. Since art is often complicated and takes time to understand, it requires you to slow down and helps you meditate on a passage. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, you combine the resource of art and the inspired words of the Bible, allowing you to encounter the God of the Bible in a new way.
Contemplating a passage of Scripture is a long-standing spiritual practice in the church, often called Lectio Divina (Latin for “sacred reading”). The four traditional stages of contemplation are reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. The steps were created simply to provide structure and guidance for people who wish to learn how to perform this practice. Contemplation is best practiced with passages that you have at least some familiarity with; it is not intended to introduce you to something new in the Bible. The purpose of contemplating Scripture is to allow you to experience it and reflect more deeply on what you know.
In storying, a teacher tells a Bible story by memory to a group of people. The listeners then retell the story together back to the teacher as best as they can. The teacher than tells the story again until all of the listeners have the story in their memory. The group then discusses the story and relates their own lives to the story. The goal is for the listeners to learn the story so they can share it with others, in a sense becoming walking, talking Bibles. Storying is a particularly powerful means of engaging Scripture in a small group setting. Storying cultivates interaction among the group members as they come together to try to retell the story.
We are created for community and wired to speak with others. The things in our lives that are on our hearts naturally come out in our conversations, and those conversations result in our turning those ideas over in our minds (in other words, what we talk about often leads to what we think/meditate about). A consistent theme in the Bible is that God tells us to speak to others about what he has said to us—we aren’t to keep his Word to ourselves. Instead, his Word is to be on our lips, and we are to speak Scripture to one another. By speaking about Scripture with other people, you will deepen your connection with God’s Word.
Memorizing Scripture is one of the most effective means of Scripture engagement. Because Scripture engagement is about reflecting on the Bible and mulling a passage over in our minds, having a passage memorized makes the process of reflection available to you at all times. Memorized Scripture allows you to dwell continuously on a passage throughout the day. Suggestions for what to memorize and how are given in this section.
Singing the truths in the Bible enhances your experience with God through his Word both emotionally and cognitively. Excellent music stirs our hearts, enhancing the feelings that are associated with the message of the lyrics. The lyrics of songs are poetry, and poetry, because of its extensive imagery, also helps us feel the truth of a message in a powerful way. Singing Scriptures can deepen your thinking about God by helping you meditate on God’s truth. In addition, the power of song to help you remember is irrefutable.
Hand Copying Scripture
Hand copying Scripture is simply writing passages of Scripture by hand word-for-word. Writing the Bible by hand offers the unique opportunity to participate in an activity that forces you to slow down the process of reading and encourages a more reflective engagement with God’s Word. It gives more time to think about what you’re writing and to dwell on the meaning and implications of a passage. Hand copying is a focusing activity that combats quick, surface-level reading. Copying is also an aid to memory and helps you to perceive details in a passage that you might overlook otherwise.
Manuscript Bible Study
The Manuscript Bible Study method is a small group Scripture engagement practice that has been around for over 60 years. People gather together to observe a passage where they see more details as a community than they would as individuals. Individuals first mark their manuscript (a printed version of a passage), looking for key words, promises, contrasts/comparisons, illustrations, repetition of ideas, structure of the passage, connections, etc. They also develop questions they have about the passage. The group then shares their observations and questions and works together to answer those questions from the Bible. The group then processes and applies the passage together.
The church has a long history of dramatizing Scripture, probably because drama can help us to engage both our minds and emotions. Sometimes truth becomes clearer and takes on more meaning when it is fleshed out through a dramatic presentation. So often there is something memorable and moving about watching a story unfold that is being dramatized before us. With a bit of creativity, Scripture stories can come alive before people’s eyes. We can put ourselves into good stories that are acted well, “trying on” what characters are thinking and feeling, often seeing ourselves and the world in a new way. Dramatizing Scripture can help you engage both your mind and emotions.
Public Reading of Scripture
The Bible was meant to be read, but it was also meant to be heard. To hear someone read Scripture is a different experience than to simply read silently to yourself. A well-prepared and gifted reader can bring out meaning in a text through voice inflection, rhythm, and intonation. A talented reader can present the Word of God to a group or congregation so that the listeners experience the Bible in a rich and powerful manner. Suggestions for reading the selected passage out loud (either by yourself or with other people) are given in this section.