How To Read the Bible? Part 1
We are diving into St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians this summer. As we are getting started, I want to offer some resources for how to go about reading the Bible. There are many different methods to reading the Bible, but our primary posture each time we come to the Scriptures is a posture of expecting God to meet us and speak to us through His Word. Here I want to suggest two major ways that we can approach the Holy Scriptures: Sacred Reading and Bible Study. This post will address a Sacred Reading of Scripture. I’ll follow up with a subsequent post that will focus on Bible Study.
A Sacred Reading of Scripture (sometimes called Lectio Divina, which is Latin for “Divine Reading”) is a practice of reading, meditating, and praying the Scriptures in order to cultivate communion with God. This is a traditional monastic practice where the heart is the primary listener.
In this practice, we read the Scriptures and focus in on specific words, phrases, ideas that the Holy Spirit is drawing our attention to. As in any method of Scripture reading we ask the question, “God, what do you want to say to me through your Word?”
Sacred Reading Guide
You can practice a sacred reading of Scripture in different ways by opening up yourself to the Word and the Holy Spirit. Here is a simple guide to help you as you enter into this practice:
Step One - Reading
Begin by reading the passage slowly several times through. If you are reading Colossians along with us, start with the Colossians 1:1-14. During the first reading, just take in the words. As you read a second and third time, attend to the follow questions:
Ask God to enable you to enter into the passage with your mind to grasp the facts of the passage: the who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Ask God to enable you to enter into the scene with your own senses: what would you have heard, what would you have tangibly felt, what would you have smelled, what would you have seen?
Ask God to enable you to enter into the scene with your emotions. Is there one particular character or group of characters with whom God is inviting you to identify? Is God inviting you to enter into the emotions of each person in the passage? What would that person have felt emotionally—happy, sad, confused, angry, joyful, contented, surprised?
Step Two - Meditation
In the meditation step, we are asking what does this text means for my life right now. Read the passage through again and pay attention to a specific word, idea, or phrase that strikes you in a personal way; something that might jump out to you—perhaps a particular metaphor. Once you land on that word, idea, or phrase you don’t have to finish reading the whole passage. Hold on to that word, phrase, or idea. Slowly repeat it, linger over it, give it your attention. Ask yourself, “How does this word or idea touch my life today?” Be silent for a few minutes to reflect on how the word or phrase connects to your life. Meditation is the discipline we practice to keeping the memory active in the act of reading (things slip out of our minds so quickly). Repetition is needed here. Journal the word or phrase and sit with it. Follow up by journaling the connection between the word or phrase and your life.
Step Three - Prayer
Through mediation on the Scripture, we are enter into an intimate encounter with God that leads us into prayer. Take the thoughts, feelings, actions, fears, convictions, and questions you have meditated on and offer them to the Lord in prayer. Having met with God through his word we respond to him with our own words. Prayer is a simple conversation with God. This conversation can come in various forms: we ask petitions, we give thanks, we ask forgiveness. For example, if you feel thankful for something that God has done for you, then pour out those feelings of thanksgiving. If you feel convicted about a poor relationship, simply apologize, request forgiveness, and ask for guidance on restoring the relationship. If you feel a specific anxiety about something in your life, present it to the Lord and pray for the guidance and peace.
Step Four – Contemplation
This final stage (though frequently overlooked) is one of vital importance. The “task” in this stage is to simply be silent in the presence of God. This is one of the most essential aspects for building a growing relationship with the Lord. Just “be” with God. Although talking to God in an important part of our relationship with God, in contemplation we take on the role of listening. It is in these moments of being with God that we open up ourselves up to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We conclude this step by asking, “What conversion of the heart, mind, and life is the Lord asking of me?”
As we move through Colossians, I want to invite you and encourage to practice reading the Scriptures sacredly and creating space for the Holy Spirit to speak to you directly through the specific words in Scripture.