[Here is part of an old piece I originally wrote for work, which I intend to serve as the introduction to a new post that is still in the hopper.]
My college pastor once commented, “There is a difference between studying the Bible and meeting the Author.” How tragic when we forget that simple truth! Bible study is important, but what is most important is encountering God in the text.
Sometimes there is an unspoken assumption in churches that spiritual maturity is a function of raw biblical knowledge. Consequently, some believers are intimidated in Bible study settings because they do not have a firm grasp of biblical content. At the same time, many seasoned Christians have memorized large blocks of Scripture but are stymied when it comes to letting the Word of God transform them from the inside out. James warned against reading the Bible and failing to be changed by it (Jas 1:22-24). If it does not result in life transformation, Bible study is “unbiblical”!
We are not the first Christians to struggle with this issue. John Bunyan spoke of “poring over” the biblical text so that it might touch the heart as well as the head. What Bunyan was describing is actually very similar to what Christians have been doing from the beginning. It is, in fact, one of the oldest traditions of Christian prayer.
Lectio divina, or “sacred reading,” is a time-tested method of communing with God through the medium of Scripture. It does not dispense with rational analysis of the scriptural texts, but supplements such an approach with one that is more conducive to “meeting the Author” rather than merely “studying the Bible.”
Classic lectio divina discerns four stages or movements. The progression is quite logical; for many Christians learning about lectio divina simply puts into words what they have already been doing—or striving to do—in their private devotions. There was a country preacher who described his sermon preparation in a way that exactly matches the classic stages: “I read myself full, I think myself clear, I pray myself hot, and I let myself go.” The four stages are:
1. Reading (“I read myself full”). This is not speed-reading, but reverential listening for God’s “still, small voice” (1 Kgs 19:12). It is listening attentively for what God is saying through the Scripture. The goal is not to cover all the verses, but to find a word or phrase that speaks to us in a personal way.
2. Meditation (“I think myself clear”). Once we have found the word that seems meant for us, we mull it over. We turn the word or phrase over in our minds to let God’s Word become God’s Word, for us.
3. Prayer (“I pray myself hot”). Now we are ready to offer the word back to God in prayer. We may dialogue with God about what we have heard. We are also often drawn to offer to God parts of ourselves that perhaps we had previously withheld.
4. Contemplation (“I let myself go”). The final stage is simply resting in God’s presence. Contemplation moves us beyond words; it is enough just being there.