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Discovering Lectio Divina: Bringing Scripture into Ordinary Life

Are you looking for a more devotional approach to Scripture – one that focuses on contemplation and spiritual formation. Here’s a shout-out for Discovering Lectio Divina: Bringing Scripture into Ordinary Life by James C. Wilhoit and Evan B. Howard … 

Discovering Lectio Divina is a great read if you’re looking for a fresh engagement with the Word, to grow in faith, and experience more of God. To titillate your curiosity, here are some selected quotes:

The practice of the devotional reading of Scripture … is to employ the Scriptures as a doorway into transforming intimacy.

Lectio divina … engages the human dimension with the Word and the Spirit of God. We bring ourselves to the text: eyes, questions, circumstances, heart – all of us. We watch as we read, noticing how the reading process is shaped by the Spirit. We allow the Scripture to soak into us and reprogram our heart, changing the very concerns and ideas that control our beliefs and feelings.

Lectio divina is the reading of a lover: the relaxed waiting that is as attentive to the relationship as it is to the text.

The emphasis in Scripture is on satisfying our thirst rather than trying to satiate it or deny it.

The Bible is not all sweetness … it offers both a sweet and bitter word.

With regard to the reading of Scripture, we long to have our association with “sacred text” lead to a more “sacred life.”

Biblical meditation is a path to wisdom, to flourishing, to enlightening, and it is the central piece of lectio divina.

The Scriptures are not just a place where we read about God … they are a place where we receive from God.

Rather than living on in mindless autopilot, where our pace of life or our addictions to media and distractions pull us from the reality of the moment, we choose in lectio, to focus on our being present to the present – being present with this text right here, in my life right here.

The very act of choosing to read Scripture is an act of redirecting our thoughts to the things of God.

Lectio divina … is where reading and prayer are bound together. It is a reading that comes out of a life with God and leads into life with God.

We must employ means of reading the text that are publicly shared and adjudicated. Still, we all have our own gift to offer to the church’s comprehension of Scripture, and we have our own ways of receiving from the text.

We are not infallible readers, and we must come to the text with a deep awareness of our weaknesses. We come to the text in humility when … we are open to hear the challenge of the divine Other.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Reading the Bible in Context

When I was learning to read, I was taught to open the first page of a book and read from the beginning to the end. I didn’t start in the middle, skip to the end, or just read the juicy bits. That wasn’t allowed. The emphasis was on reading to understand the entire story, and our comprehension tests reinforced the importance of coming to grips with the characters, plot and other details as they related to the whole.

In my early adult years I was given a Bible and told, “Start reading in the Gospel of John”. I opened the first page of the book, but it was called Genesis, not John. I was a little confused. Searching through the Bible I eventually found John toward the back of the book. I wondered why my friend had suggested I skip everything that came before John. Were the other parts of the Bible not important?

I started attending church services at much the same time as I started reading the Gospel of John. The way the pastor read and spoke about the Bible left me befuddled and bewildered. Most of the time he used isolated texts that he seemed to pluck at random from the book. It was like playing hopscotch – we jumped here there and everywhere.

Then someone gave me a Promise Box. It contained little cards with random Scripture verses. All my Christian friends were using them. We’d pull a new card out in the morning and carry it around with us during the day. Sometimes we’d quote it, chat about it, memorize it, or give it to someone. Now I understood. Obviously the Bible wasn’t meant to be read like other books. It was something you mined for nuggets.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of my story. Maybe because I’m inquisitive, or maybe it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but I wanted to read the Bible from the beginning, one book at a time, until I got to the end. So I did. And I found out that the Bible is much more than a collection of people’s favourite verses. It truly is God’s Story, and like any story it has characters, settings, plots/themes, conflicts and resolutions.

Reading through the Bible opened my eyes to something very important. I discovered that many of the texts I’d been learning, in isolation from their context, could be manipulated to say, or be applied in ways that weren’t true to the story as a whole. In fact after reading through the Bible it became evident that some of the verses I’d heard from the pulpit or learnt from my Promise Box, sometimes meant something entirely different when read in context.

Context is vital for biblical interpretation. In a culture that values instant access, instant answers, and instant everything, it can be tempting to take short-cuts with how we read the Bible. But if we do, we do so at our peril. When we read the Bible we must correctly handle the word of truth (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). And the correct way to handle the truth is to read all of it.

Here’s my concern. If we separate texts from their context we can undermine the authority of Scripture and are more likely to misunderstand the Bible. Or worse, when we use texts isolated from their context, we can distort the truth and justify almost anything we want to say or do.

So here’s a shout-out for reading the Bible in context. Be diligent. Take time to understand each text against the background of its immediate text and the book within which it’s found.

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scripture to be given for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which thou hast given us in thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Anglican Prayer)

Recommended article: Not Everything in the Bible is Biblical, Jeff K. Clarke

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Reading the Bible

“Focus on reading the Scriptures …” 1 Timothy 4:13.

Reading the Bible should be for the Christian what eating and drinking is for the common man.

So what’s involved with reading the Bible? Is it snacking on a verse a day, digesting a book in one sitting, or something else?

While a verse a day has some value, it doesn’t help Christians grow. A verse here and there simply cannot sustain us spiritually. Bible reading is about something more than a few, brief, preferred encounters with the Scriptures.

Yet a verse here or there is the reality for many professing Christians. Somewhere along the way a slew of us came to believe that Bible reading is something that only takes a few minutes a day. How so?

For those of us subsisting on a diet of what Philip Yancey calls Scripture McNuggets, let’s stop kidding ourselves, we’re not reading the Bible! Bible reading is more than a catchphrase, more than fragmentary bits, more than a short-lived inspirational text, more than samplings of verses isolated from their historical, literary and cultural contexts.

Maybe one of the reasons why we’ve equated Bible reading with small readings, is Facebook. Social media has altered the way we read. The average university graduate in North America only reads one real book a year after graduating, yet interacts with the equivalent of two books a year reading Facebook posts.

Facebook, so it seems, has hard-wired our brains for sound-bites and little more. But, as Pavlov discovered, brains can be conditioned. For those who are willing, our brains can be spiritually reconditioned to seek His Face and read His Book!

So what’s involved in reading the Bible (as distinct from snacking on it)?

At the most basic level, Bible reading should involve what Glenn Pauuw refers to as big readings, i.e. “natural segments of text, or whole books, taking full account of the Bible’s various contexts”.

Why big readings? Because the Bible is not like other books – it’s a corpus – a living whole (cf. Hebrews 4:12). And as such we need to enter into it and become a part of it through lectio continua, i.e. continuous reading in sequence over a period of time.

So how do we read consecutively over a period of time? In bite size meaty chunks! While the size of our spiritual mouths and appetites will vary, our personal Bible reading, as a bare minimum, should include whole forms of longer readings from the Old or New Testament every day.

Billy Graham, for example, found it helpful to read something from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs every day. To this end we recommend Scripture Union’s online Bible reading guide, theStory™. It takes the reader through the whole Bible in 4-5 years with either New or Old Testament readings from Monday to Friday, a Psalm on Saturday, and Proverbs on Sunday.

Now some may protest that big readings have too much in them – more than one can digest – more than one can understand. On one level this is true; every word, sentence and paragraph possesses multiple relationships to the whole and surpasses our understanding. So none of us will ever fully understand or plumb the depths of the Word. But let’s not limit Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:3. And let’s not limit the capacity of the Holy Spirit, to teach and guide us in the way of truth (cf. John 14:26).

Reading the Bible adequately not only involves lectio continua, it also requires us to read large enough chunks to understand and locate what we’re reading within the context, literary structure, form, themes and genre of the book, and ultimately, the Bible as a whole. In this sense, we should aim to read the Bible in such a way that it becomes a set of books we intimately know, a story we simmer in, with words that are constantly transforming us.

Of course we cannot do lectio continua by ourselves – at least not adequately. Personal Bible reading must be tied to communal Bible reading. The Bible is first and foremost our story and then, in a secondary sense, it’s my story. That means that when we read the Bible as big readings we must also read it as members of a big family – as one of many listeners and participants (past and present) who are part of God’s plan to save us from sin and give us fullness of life in Christ (cf. John 10:10).

Much more could be said. All told, Bible reading needs to be slower, smarter, sizeable and shared.

Have your say. What would you add to help us think through what it truly means to read the Bible?

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5