In InterVarsity, we have a central belief that the scriptures in the Bible are God’s Word – and these words speak to us. The scriptures spoke to generations before us, and will speak to generations after us until Christ returns.
Typically in InterVarsity, we love to study the scriptures inductively—taking into account the context of the text, making observations, drawing reasonable inferences, and applying these truths to our lives as the Holy Spirit guides us.
But, inductive study is not the only way to let our lives be shaped by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. Lectio Divina, Latin for “Divine Reading,” is a devotional reading of scripture that has existed for over 1,700 years. This practice emerged when literacy rates were low, and accessibility to written texts was few and far between. Communities of believers used this method to enable followers of Jesus—with or without a copy of the Bible (or an ability to read it) — to receive God’s word and consider how to respond.
Practicing this spiritual discipline, in addition to inductive study, opens us up to more ways to hear from, experience, and respond to God—individually and communally. A benefit of Lectio Divina is that there is less temptation to read solely in order to consume information (a temptation of studying inductively). In whatever way you interact with the Bible, scripture is meant to be read with ears open to hear God’s voice through his Word and respond!
To practice Lectio Divina yourself, select a passage of scripture (if you don’t have one in mind, start with Isaiah 55 or Psalm 23). Set a timer for 20 minutes (so you don’t think about how much time you have left), and go through the following exercise slowly. Enjoy the time. Listen to the Spirit.
To Practice Lectio Divina
Silencio (silence): Prepare to enter this devotional time by singing a hymn, reading a Psalm, or praying. Thank God for life and his presence. This time is for you to slow down and focus. Sit comfortably, alert, and relaxed. Try, if you can, to put away your thoughts of the day and ready yourself to listen. Start with a simple prayer, “Lord, put me in a place to enter into your presence.”
Lectio (reading): Read the passage aloud (or silently, if you are not in a place where you can read aloud). Listen for a word that sticks out to you (for example, in Psalm 23, it could be “shepherd” or “dwell” or “green pastures”). Read the passage again. If one word or phrase stood out the first time, see if it does the second time. Begin to repeat this word or phrase to yourself and let it resonate with you. If nothing sticks out, that is okay; just read again! Imagine someone taking a highlighter and pointing out one word or phrase. Remember, this is not a performance-driven exercise (spiritual devotions are not meant to be about performance, they´re meant for worship of our Most High God!). Focus on spending time with God in his Word.
Meditatio (meditation): Reread the passage. Meditate upon your word or phrase and ask God how this word speaks to your life. This could be a realization, feeling, sensory perception, image, thought, etc. Let your imagination be engaged, as well as your heart and mind. As these images, thoughts, and feelings come to you, take time to think about them. When you feel like praying, move to the next phase.
Oratio (prayer): Pray what you most desire to say to God, then listen! Journal and write down thoughts that come to mind, and what you believe God is speaking to you. Listen to the Holy Spirit to discover a possible invitation relevant to today, the next few days, or the year to come. It could be an action to take, a truth to discover about God, a way of life to change, someone to forgive, or something to celebrate. As you sense God bringing the time to a close (or your timer goes off!) pray to close the time.
Contemplatio (contemplation): Pray that you will be able to respond to God in the ways he´s spoken. Celebrate hearing from God and simply be still. Reflect on the experience. Regardless of how you feel, thank God for the chance to encounter him and his living Word. Ask God to bless you, especially if you feel called to an action.
Just as is true with any spiritual practice, you may feel like you have heard nothing—even to the point that you feel irritated. This is ok and natural. Do not feel you have to perform in this prayer practice. In Creating a Life with God, Daniel Wolper writes:
“If encountering God’s Word were easy, there would be no need to practice prayer! Prayer is not a product, it’s a relationship. Even if you did not experience the wonderful event that you imagined, God knows your intention. You wanted to spend time with Jesus, and in some way, although exactly how is a mystery, you did. So express your frustration to God; ask for help and for the strength to try again. God does not require that we be successful, just faithful.”
As is the case with all spiritual disciplines, the more you practice, the more familiar it becomes. And while it’s not about perfection, the Christian life is about faithfulness. May you, and your Christian community, discover more of Christ and how to live for him through his Word.
Laura Abrams is currently serving through InterVarsity Link in Dominican Republic with the local IFES group, Asociación Dominicana de Estudiantes Evangélicos. She worked for five years with InterVarsity at Trinity University, her alma mater, where her experience as a student and staff grew her belief in prayer's immense importance in participating in God's mission.