Holy Habits: Reading Scripture

While on a mission trip to the Virgin Islands in 1996, I discovered my life verse. A life verse is a Bible (or verses) that summarize our understanding of God, our faith journey, or what we strive to be. In the middle of the Virgin Islands, with no power and nothing to do, I began to play a game with a friend of mine. We would take turns calling out random verses, and the other person would have to look up the verse to see what it said. When he called Philippians 2:3, I read, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” The verses that follow describe our attitudes should be the same as that of Jesus. It was a powerful moment as I felt God speaking directly to me in that moment, so I committed the verse to memory and committed my life to studying this awesome book.

Most of us know what the Bible is, but how many of us know how to engage with the Bible. John Wesley described scripture as our primary witness to the Word of God, and, as Christians, we believe the Bible contains everything we need to understand God’s plan for salvation. The Scriptures are rich with an understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to God, but so many people have never experienced the power of scripture because they do not know how to engage with the Bible. For many of us, we tend to read the Bible as a history text book or newspaper instead of reading scripture as the living Word of God.The Bible is God’s Word revealed to us – it is the story of God’s relationship with humanity and the love and grace of God as expressed to all of humanity. Whereas our relationship with God may begin as a fact finding mission, we eventually move into a relationship that is beyond information – through relationship, we experience transformation. Think about it, before you have a relationship with someone, you learn about them – you want to know what they like and don’t like, what kind of things they do for fun, and who their friends are. You use this information to then begin a relationship (if you just continue to gather information with no relationship, that is called stalking and that is creepy). As the relationship deepens, you move from information to transformation.

One of the habits we can use to read the scriptures is a spiritual practice known as Lectio Divina that dates back to early Christians. Lector Divina is rooted in the belief that through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are indeed alive and active as we engage them for spiritual transformation. Hebrews 4:12states, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The practice of Lectio Divina is a practice of moving with Scripture to encounter God’s Word as it is revealed to us. It is similar to dancing – you may feel clumsy at first; but the more we try, the more we learn to move in rhythm.

TRY IT THIS WEEK: Begin with silence as this allows you time to quiet the chaos and center on God. Choose a passage of scripture (I am choosing Luke 19:1-10 this week) and read the scripture passage out loud as you move through the following exercises:

  • Movement 1, Lectio (Read): Read the passage once, listening for the word or the phrase that strikes us.
  • Movement 2, Meditatio (Reflect): Read the passage again; reflect on the way our life is touched by God’s Word
    • What is it in my life that needed to hear this word today?
    • Where am I in this text? What do I experience as I allow myself to be in this story?
  • Movement 3, Oratio (Respond): Read the passage one more time, listening for your own deepest and truest response. In silence after the reading, allow your prayer to flow spontaneously from your heart as fully and as truly as you can.
  • Movement 4, Contemplatio (Rest): In this final reading you are invited to release and return to a place of rest in God
  • Movement 5: Incarnatio (Resolve): As you emerge from this place of personal encounter with God to life in the company of others, resolve to carry this word with you and to live it out in the context of daily life and activity.

The practice of Lectio Divina should be a practice that takes time. Do not try to rush this practice. In our prayer meeting next Wednesday, I will be leading the meeting using Lectio Divina and I invite anyone who wishes to participate to join us at 5 PM on Wednesday in the Sanctuary.

I hope you have a great weekend and I look forward to being with you in worship on Sunday at 8:45 and 11:00!

Together with you,
Matt

P.S. This Sunday is Communion Sunday, and we will be receiving a special Altar Offering in each of the services as we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. The special offering will be collected for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). This agency of the United Methodist Church is often the first to respond when disaster strikes. Over the next year, it is my prayer that our church will become more active in the ministries of UMCOR and you will hear more about the wonderful work UMCOR is doing all around the world. If you are unable to be with us this weekend in worship but you would like to make a special contribution to UMCOR, you can make your contribution online (do not use this link for regular giving). For more information about UMCOR, please feel free to contact me at matt@roystonfirstumc.org.