Prayer and Devotional Reading

The Spirit often uses devotional reading and prayer to encourage spiritual growth. When you sit down with your Bible and listen to the Lord with your heart, you are engaging in devotional reading. The focus is less on analysis and study and more on a personal, intimate time of communing with the Lord. During such times the Spirit uses the Word to renew your soul. Don’t think that every time you pick up your Bible you have to do an in-depth word study or observe fifty details in the text. Sometimes you need to be still and enter into the living presence of God, where you can drink deeply of his Word and respond in heartfelt worship.

An ancient way of reading the Bible that focuses attention on prayerfully listening to God and allowing him to transform us is known as lectio divina (Latin for “holy reading” or “prayerful reading”). This approach to the Bible complements the Journey approach to biblical interpretation we are teaching you in Grasping God’s Word; both are important. Traditionally, lectio divina consists of five phases:

  • Silencio—Prepare your heart to hear from God by slowing down. Get settled in one place and begin to quiet yourself before the Lord. As you cast your cares on him, intentionally begin to let go of the hurry and noise that often prevents us from listening to God. Now is the time to slow down.
  • Lectio—Select a passage of Scripture and read it slowly and out loud. Forget about reading quickly. Slow down. Use your imagination to picture yourself as part of the setting. Resist the temptation to analyze or judge the text or use the text to develop a message for someone else. Focus on listening as if God were speaking directly to you.
  • Meditatio—Read the passage again, pausing to let the words sink deeply into your mind and heart. As a particular word or phrase catches your attention, repeat it several times. Without trying to overspiritualize the meaning, ponder what God seems to be saying to you through these words. How does this word or phrase connect with your life right now?
  • Oratio—Respond by praying the passage as you read it a third time. Enter into a conversation with God. Honestly and truthfully talk with God about what he seems to be saying to you through this passage. Now is the time to respond to God. How does the passage make you feel? What action or attitude is God calling you to embrace? Respond from your heart to what God is saying.
  • Contemplatio—Rest and wait patiently in the presence of God. As you give God’s Spirit time to work in your life, yield to him. Entrust your past, present, and future to the Lord in light of what he has spoken. Ask the Lord to continue to do his transforming work throughout the day as you continue to listen. Conclude with a prayer of thanksgiving.

When approaching the Bible, whether using the Interpretive Journey approach or devotional reading, we strongly encourage you to do so prayerfully. As Fred Klooster notes, Paul repeatedly prayed that believers would grow in understanding through the work of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9–14).[6] Notice the relationship between prayer, the Spirit, and understanding in Ephesians 1:17 –19:

17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

There is really no substitute for prayer when reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Communing with the divine Author through prayer can only help us understand what he is saying to us through his Word.

In summary, when it comes to biblical interpretation, having the Holy Spirit does not mean that the Spirit is all we need, since he will not make biblical interpretation automatic. He expects us to use our minds, valid interpretive methods, and good study helps. The Spirit does not create new meaning or provide new information, but he does enable us to accept the Bible as God’s Word and grasp its meaning. The Spirit will not change the Bible to suit our purposes or match our circumstances, but he will work in our lives as interpreters. He restores us to our senses and helps us grow up spiritually so we can hear his voice in the Scriptures more clearly.

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