Learning to pray in a new way
Introducing Lectio Divina
Christians throughout the ages have prayed using a technique called lectio divina - a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures. Lectio divina is a latin phrase that literally means “divine reading.” This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition. It is not a mystical reading of Scripture; it is rather an extremely practical way of praying God’s Word as you read it. It’s also a highly effective way to memorize it.
You will be trying it yourself. Let me walk you through how it works.
Step one: establish the right time & place
Selecting a time for lectio divina is very important in order to regulate you. You need to teach yourself when to expect to pray. Committing to this time is a critical part of developing a rhythm and habit of communing with God. To begin, set aside a minimum of 15 minutes. As you get used to the practice, you may want to increase the time.
The place to pray free from excessive noise and distractions. This means it should be isolated from other people, cell phones, visual distractions, etc. For those of you who do not have this luxury, feel free to listen to non-distractive music (e.g. instrumental music, certain worship songs). The same place should be used if possible, especially at first. Familiarity with a location reduces the possibility of distraction. One may wish to pray at the office or in a room with the door closed. You can even do this in your car, but be sure to leave it running with the A/C on: don’t confuse visions of heaven with a heat stroke!
Step two: pick the passage
Lectio divina begins with meditatively reading out loud and slowly a short passage of Scripture. I’ve picked your passage each day using a Psalm from our summer sermon series. Once you’re comfortable with this practice, you can choose other passages of Scripture. Narratives and Psalms work particularly well because they are vivid. Choose no more than ten verses at first, and explore longer passages of Scripture as you grow more comfortable.
Step three: transition into the right attitude
Before you to read the Psalm, it is important to transition from the normal state of mind to a more contemplative mood. Sit silently. Take a few deep breaths. Ask the Holy Spirit to guard and guide your meditation. Ask God to open your senses to the beauty of Jesus’s work for His people. To help you do this, I’ve put a prayer from Arthur Bennett’s The Valley of Vision at the beginning of each devotional.
Step four: read the text three times
This step is where lectio divina technically begins. Read the passage at a slow pace three times. During this time consider one word or phrase that stands out to you from the text. Pause for a few seconds of silence between each reading. Again, your focus is on one word or phrase, not the entire passage. After you read the passages the third time, allow yourself one minute of silent reflection before God. Focus on that one word. Say that word audibly. “Blessed,” “counsel,” “walk,” “way of the righteous,” for example. Say it out loud. It will feel weird at first, but saying it out loud is intentional to engage your whole body in prayer, not just your mind.
Step five: read the text one more time
Read the text another time (the fourth reading). After you read the text again, allow yourself one minute of silent reflection before God. Focus on something you sense (see, hear, feel, taste, smell). Put yourself into the setting of the text. Imagine it. Say what you sense audibly. “I hear the sound of the bubbling stream and the leaves of the fruit-bearing tree,” for example.
Step six: read the text a final time
Read the text one final time (the fifth reading). After you read the text again, allow yourself at least a minute of silent reflection before God. Focus on something God is calling you to do in light of this text (e.g., a command to obey, an area of repentance, a relationship to heal, an aspect of God ’s holiness, what Jesus has accomplished for you, etc.). How does this verse speak to your life circumstance today? Say out loud what God is calling you to do.
Step seven: contemplation
This final rhythm moment is a simple, loving focus on God in stillness and silence. Imagine yourself walking in obedience in light of the smiling gaze of your Heavenly Father who loves you and is proud of you. This is a beautiful, wordless communion with the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. Rest in his presence; simply enjoy the experience of being with your Heavenly Father as His child.
Try this with a group:
You may choose to do this exercise in a group. For the first time, one person can lead the exercise and read the selected Scripture. As the group grows more comfortable with one another, consider having a different person read the passage each of the five times. Give everyone permission to be silent together and not feel the need to break the silence too early. Follow the seven steps and encourage everyone to share out loud their words, sense experience and calls to obedience. Hearing how the Holy Spirit directs each member by God’s Word is one of the beauties of this practice. Close the time by praying for each other.