Lectio Divina

imageWhen we seek spiritual transformation, our bible reading practices diverge onto two separate paths. We read from cover to cover repeatedly throughout our lives in order to know the scriptures. As we invest in this practice, we make the Scriptures our own and our knowledge of God expands. The benefits of consistent reading are manifold; our love, obedience and understanding increase, but this increase comes at the expense of a relatively fast reading pace. Reading for transformation takes a different pace, a slower velocity in which we breathe deeply and immerse our souls in the Scripture, reading with our hearts.

The practice of lectio divina (divine reading) has a long history among God’s people. It is a slower, meditative form of reading in which we approach the Scriptures in smaller segments, seeking to hear the whisper of God more than the accomplishment of a reading objective. We seek out more than an understanding of the words on the page. Divine reading has as its purpose our spiritual transformation through the submission to the scriptures, allowing it to flow through the processing of our eyes and brains and to settle into our hearts to do its work.

“To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches.”– St. John Chrysostom

The unit of reading may be a passage, a sentence or phrase or even a single word. Lectio divina is not study, it is reflection and meditation on the Scripture. It relies upon the Spirit to guide and direct our reflection on the reading, to shine the light on what God wants to communicate to you and me specifically. As we develop in the practice, our meditation leads to praying the scriptures to start a new cycle of understanding. The word we hear in response helps us to apply the passage or verse. Obedience follows from application, and transformation from these.

There are four components to the spiritual practice: listening, reflecting, praying and obeying. We will look at each of these separately in the posts that follow in the coming days. This may be a good time to subscribe so that you don’t miss any part of this series. Grace and peace until we meet again.

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Bible Reading Plans

Planning the Scripture Habit

imageSoul growth doesn’t happen by itself, it requires effort, devotion and commitment. As recent posts have endeavored to show, reading the Bible regularly in an ordered fashion is one of the most important practices to develop early on. Getting into the Word (and the Word into you) opens the conduit to God to hear Him speak.

Starter Plan

If bible reading is new to you, a plan that starts in Genesis and ends in Revelation is not recommended. The narrative history of Genesis and Exodus will sweep you along and then you will hit the wall of Leviticus and Numbers. These books are important, but tough going for new readers and they tend to break down the momentum. An alternative plan that I discovered at The Christian Library has great potential in keeping up your pace while giving you a broad sweep of Christian thought. Over the course of five or six weeks, devote yourself to reading in this order:

Mark – It is written in chronological order

Matthew – Based on Mark and much more detailed

John – Written so that you might believe and includes material not in the other Gospels

Luke/Acts – Written by the same author who records the history of the early Church

Galatians – A condensed explanation of the change in dispensations between the Old Testament Law and the New Testament Grace

Conclude this plan by reading the remaining New Testament books. If you devote yourself to an average of 5 chapters per day you will find yourself enriched by the Word of the New Testament in a little over a month. More importantly, you will have developed the important habit of time reading the Scriptures.

Alternative: The 21 Day Challenge

Lifetime Plans

The most common plan that readers follow enables you to read the entire bible over the course of a set period, usually a year. A plan that covers the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation presents you with a few chapters from each book every day. As the months pass by, you will accomplish a feat that many in the Church have never done, reading the Bible in its entirety.

Some plans sample both the Old and New testament each day. For example, this 365 day plan from BibleGateway opens up Exodus 7-8 and Matthew 15:1-20. The readings are short enough that you will have time to not only read the scriptures, but to spend time pondering their meaning as well.

I would suggest that you avoid plans that subdivide too much. Some reading sequences include the Old Testament, New Testament, a Psalm and some selections from Proverbs each day. The reading units become very small and the skipping through the pages leads to discontinuity in your understanding. If you are interested in this type of reading, perhaps you can take a selection from the Psalms once weekly and make that the reading for the day.

Alternative: Bible-Reading

Concentrated Plans

A reading plan that is attractive to both new and experienced bible readers is one which spends a year or some other period of time concentrating on the New Testament alone. The core of modern Christianity is Jesus, and this is His story. The pace is slower but it also enables you to focus your attention on the history, ideas and truths uniquely found in the New Testament. It is also a good place to start your habit of scripture memorization. Start with John 3:16.

The Old Testament also benefits from a long concentration. Complex law and ritual become clearer when you slow down and are able to spend time thinking about why God brought these to His people. The triumphs and failures of Israel and their ultimate effect on the people of Jesus’ time help you to comprehend the New Testament more fully.

Other concentrated plans center around certain books or types of books. For example, the many Epistles (personal letters) make up a good reading plan that give you a unique insight into the writer’s lives and battles, and the issues that confronted the Church then and now. The Pentateuch ( the first five books of the Bible ), the Psalms and the four Gospels and Acts all have benefit for the reader as points of concentration.

Alternatives: Bible Reading Plans

Avoiding Lethargy

Struggling to read the Bible day after day is a common malady. It is a practice that requires training because, for most people, the discipline to read the Scriptures in our distraction-filled world is not easy to come by. Even those who develop the habit find themselves becoming bored by repeatedly poring over the same pages year after year. One of the things that I do to avoid this threat is to read a different translation each year. This year I’m back in the NIV (New International Version), but last year it was the ESV (English Standard Version).

Build some slack into your reading plan. If you are new to Bible reading and trying to develop the habit, 365 day plans can fill you with guilt if you get a day or two behind. The usual result of this is to abandon the plan and the practice. Set up your plan so that you read every other day or five days a week. Both methods give you open days to catch up so you are less likely to give up.

More Than Just Turning the Pages

According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are 168,000 bibles sold or given away each day. Over the course of a year, that amounts to sixty one million, three hundred and twenty thousand bibles that make their way into peoples hands annually.

The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed with movable type, starting a revolution in publishing and society that changed history.

The Barna polling organization says that 92% of American households have a Bible in them.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen (Genesis 1:1 .. Revelation 22:21 – the first and last verses in the Bible)

imageThere are thousands of interesting facts about the Bible. For example, it has 66 books written by 40 different authors over a span of about 1,500 years. These may be important facts to hold in our heads, they point out an important distinction that we need to bring to our bible reading. Knowing about the Bible is not the same as knowing the Bible.

Bible reading takes many forms in the church family, from not reading at all to those who have the Good Book virtually memorized, breaking down the text into a series of bible verses. The scope of the reading varies as well. Some read the Bible from cover to cover repeatedly, some never venture outside of New Testament while still others read only specific bible verses as they proof-text their way to the truth. While all reading of the Bible is beneficial, not all methods lead to the kind of spiritual growth we are meant to enjoy.

We’re interested in the kind of reading that adds to our spiritual depth and strength. For some of us, this is going to take the form of establishing a regular schedule of scripture reading. For others, a slower pace is required, perhaps camping on a single passage or verse for a few days or weeks and letting God speak meaning into our lives through the words. The important thing is that our reading becomes more than just turning the pages after the words have moved under our eyes. We’re seeking an encounter with God every time we open the book.

We’ll start in the next post with getting in the habit and sticking with it.

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Digging In

imageIt is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork for human freedom.

Horace Greeley

The foundation of all spiritual development is rooted in the Scriptures. It is on the pages of the Bible that we learn who we are and where we came from. Our need for redemption is established and the great gift of mercy in Jesus is recorded from a number of perspectives. God’s principles for living together are spelled out and explained. Although it is often portrayed as constrictive, the Word is our freedom.

Bible reading is the first of the spiritual habits that we are going to explore and seek to apprehend. We are not going to read simply to turn the pages and for the sense of accomplishment. God speaks to us through the Word. He lives in the pages, displaying His character for us, and recording His interactions with those who came before us. We will be reading to hear Him speak to us so that we are shaped by His hand, rather than by the dominant culture.

We’ll start with establishing a reading plan and getting into the habit. Do you currently follow a plan? Are you more of a free-form reader? I look forward to hearing from you.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

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