Read the Book; Don’t Wait for the Movie
One of the key features of the evangelical stream is the centrality of the Bible. I grew up in a church where biblical knowledge was strongly valued. I don’t recall ever participating in organized “sword drills,” but I learned quickly that knowing the books of the Bible in order, being able to quote verses from memory, and flipping open your Bible to read along with the preacher were expected and applauded behaviors.
These days I’m more likely to talk about Bible reading than Bible study. For one thing, too much talk about “study” sends the wrong impression by focusing on the intellectual side. I’ve had people decline my invitation to participate in a home Bible study because they were afraid there would be homework and memorization involved! And I’m not talking about folks on the fringes?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùor beyond the fringes?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùof the institutional church but of solid, churchgoing people.
Another reason I prefer to talk about Bible reading is that there are many valid approaches to the Bible that don’t necessarily look like “study.” I would rather have a balanced approach to the Bible that includes all of the following:
- Reading large ?¢‚Ç¨?ìchunks?¢‚Ç¨¬ù of scripture to gain a basic overview.
- Studying smaller units (paragraphs) for in-depth study.
- Meditating on the smallest units (verses or even single words) for their spiritual impact.
- Memorizing as much scripture as you can (Ps 119:11).
- Doing what the Bible says! (see Jas 1:22)
Toward a Deeper Experience of Bible Reading
One method of praying the scriptures is what the ancient church called lectio divina or ?¢‚Ç¨?ìsacred reading.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù It is a method of ?¢‚Ç¨?ìgetting inside?¢‚Ç¨¬ù a scripture passage, letting it take up residence in one?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s spirit until it?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s transforming power is realized. The goal is to listen to God speak through the words of scripture, and then pray accordingly. I have written previously on the subject of lectio divina for Smyth & Helwys’ Learning Matters eZine; you can take a look there for additional information.
The four classical stages of lectio divina (with the ?¢‚Ç¨?ìproper?¢‚Ç¨¬ù Latin terminology) are:
- Reading (lectio). Acquainting oneself with what the passage says.
- Meditation (meditatio). Mulling over the text, praying with the mind. Using the imagination to enter the text, to identify with the characters or the situation that is described.
- Prayer (oratio). Praying through the text with the heart and the spirit.
- Contemplation (contemplatio). Moving beyond words to direct spiritual encounter. At this stage one ?¢‚Ç¨?ìrests?¢‚Ç¨¬ù in the text and listens to God.
The stages are somewhat artificial. There is no rule that says they have to come in this order. In fact, many people find that they go back and forth among them rather naturally. The point, however, is to move past a mindset of studying the Scripture to the place where we are actually praying the Scripture.
If this process sounds too complicated, perhaps the following description from Long and McMurry’s Prayer that Shapes the Future will help. A rural preacher describing his weekly preaching preparation, explained it this way:
I read myself full,
I think myself clear,
I pray myself hot,
and I let myself go.
Whether he knew it or not, that preacher had grasped the essence of lectio divina.