God’s personal invitation for you
We are toward the end of February in a new calendar year and a new decade. This generally means that those who made New Year’s resolutions to tackle more or deeper reading of the Holy Bible are likely stalling or at least losing steam.
If you are looking for apps that help with consistency in the study of scripture, try:
- Dwell app
- NRSV Bible
- DAB (Daily Audio Bible)
- Holy Bible
- Soul Shepherding
- Upper Room Disciplines
Keeping up with the devotions available in a hugely over-saturated market can seem overwhelming, and chronological or topical plans to read through the whole Bible in a certain period of time can prove difficult without partners on the journey (the downside of engaging some of the functions of these apps by yourself).
To maximize a thirty-minute window to spend time with the Bible in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening, there are three great guiding questions that can help you, without moving from devotion to devotion that interpret the text for you based on topics or themes:
- What is a word or phrase that the Holy Spirit is giving me in this moment for this time?
- If I entered into this scripture, what would I feel? What in my life, my family, my community, and my world would relate?
- What is God’s personal invitation for me from this scripture passage?
These questions stem from a practice from the 6th Century Church called lectio divina, or “divine reading.” To modernize the ancient meaning, think of 4 R’s in experiencing a passage of scripture:
Read – what is a word or phrase the Holy Spirit is giving me in this moment for this time?
Reflect – if I entered into this scripture, what would I feel? What in my life would relate?
Respond – what is God’s personal invitation for me from this scripture passage?
Rest – take a moment to contemplate and rest in God.
Whether in your own personalized prayer space, at a table, or at a desk, place both feet firmly on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Assume a relaxed posture. Take note if you are carrying any stress in your shoulders, chest, or hands. Breathe deeply. Read the passage out loud the first time. Let’s assume we are reading Ecclesiastes 4:12:
“One may be overcome, but two can defend themselves; a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
After reading aloud, ask yourself what word or phrase the Holy Spirit is giving you for this moment and in this time? Take time to consider this question. Read through again if you need to. Do not rush. Be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit’s word or phrase may not come directly from the passage.
Read it again, this time silently, and ask yourself what you are feeling and what situation in your life relates. Take time to consider this question. Do not rush.
Read it a third time and ask what God’s personal invitation for you is from the scripture passage you are reading. This time, respond to what God is inviting you to do by writing it down or writing or saying a prayer. If you are not accustomed to writing down a prayer that is flowing from your mind and your heart, it can be a powerful experience. I encourage you to try it.
If your pastor or teacher announces their study or sermon’s scriptures ahead of time, this practice of the 4 R’s can better position you to receive what God will have for you in those moments.
My biggest problem in these practices is distraction. One of my capstone courses in seminary was on prayer and spirituality, and we spent the entire semester training ourselves in the practice of meditation and contemplative prayer. In the first week of the class, I fell asleep the first time we engaged in contemplation. By the end of the semester, we had worked our way up to thirty minutes of contemplation.
In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, giant of spiritual disciplines Richard Foster calls contemplative prayer an immersion in the silence of God. He speaks of the need for so many in this world to receive the wordless baptism of silence in the presence of God. In these silences, distractions and nonsense can fill up all of the margin I’ve created in my consciousness. Foster developed a very easy and fun way to compartmentalize and dismiss these distracting thoughts. He calls them the red balloons.
Completely ignoring distracting thoughts when studying the Bible is impossible for almost everyone. Rather, give the distracting thought a small amount of intention by acknowledging its presence. Here is the fun part:
Envision the space of your mind becoming a clear, blue sky. Using the power of your imagining, place distracting thoughts into bright, red balloons that are slowly rising through the sky. As a distracting thought emerges, acknowledge it, place it in the balloon, and gently bat it away. After practicing this for three years, I can tell you personally that it works and my sky keeps getting clearer.
By pairing the 4 R’s with scripture and the act of contemplation – and including Foster’s practice for acknowledging and dismissing distractions – you can really maximize a short period of time each day to search scripture and be empowered by the Holy Spirit in your scripture reading.